Fairies and Fantasy: The Dark Crystal

First of all, let me just say that this is a much better movie than Jim Henson’s later feature-length puppet-show Labyrinth. It has a better script, a more organically-constructed world and a total lack of David Bowie in stretchpants. This does not, however, mean that it is without flaws.free stats

First, let me make sure I’ve got the story straight:

There is this planet with three suns. This planet was ruled by the Urskeks, who had this crystal, which apparently was crucial in keeping the planet in harmony. A thousand years ago, the Urskeks broke the crystal, which split them into two distinct beings, the peaceful Mystics and the vulture-like Skeksis. A prophecy foretold that a Gelfling, which is another creature who lives on this planet, will one day restore the crystal. The Skeksis didn’t want this to happen, so they undertook a reign of terror that all but wiped out the Gelfling. Now it’s a thousand years later, and the three suns in the planet’s area are about to align. If the crystal is fixed by that time, harmony will be restored to the world; if not, well, that part isn’t so clear, but I think it means that the Skeksis live forever or take over the world or capture the stars or something.

Okay. First off, a note on explanatory introductions. You know the kind, where the movie hasn’t started yet and a deep-voiced narrator intones: “In the mystic land of Urgh, a terrible darkness has overtaken the land as the evil emperor Zugg has imprisioned the good princess Thrak in the dark dungeon of Brell, which was located in the castle Aggghhh on the mystical island of Duhhhrrr” and so on. Note to screenwriters: don’t do this. Please. Why not? Because we haven’t met Zugg or Thrak and we don’t know why anyone is doing anything so we don’t care about any of that. No one has ever in the history of movies listened to the narration at the beginning of a fantasy. It does the opposite of informing the audience; it gives them a headache. The worst example of this I’ve ever seen is at the beginning of David Lynch’s Dune, where the first lines of the movie are a narrator intoning something about how there are four different planets in this story and they all have different political goals and are peopled by different kinds of creatures. I was there for the opening weekend of Dune in 1984, and when that stuff came on the screen my heart sank and I got sweaty palms: I felt like there was going to be a test at the end of the titles. The movie trailed off from there. I remember Sting in metal underpants and Kenneth McMillan drooling on some poor actress’s face, and then taking a plug out of some teenage guy’s chest and drinking his blood. And I think Kyle McLachlan was in it and his eyes glowed. Oh yeah, and there was a giant floating slug with a big brain and a vulva for a face, who for some reason was really important to the story.

Um, where was I?

The Dark Crystal starts with one of these impenetrable paragraphs of narration, describing the planet and the titular crystal and the vulture guys who worship it, intoned whilst we look at a picture of what looks like a coral Christmas tree on the Planet of Primitive Special Effects. Then, once that’s out of the way, before we’ve learned anything about the coral Christmas tree or why the vulture-guys worship it, we shift our attention to another place where some wrinkly dude makes a sand-painting, and we get another introductory paragraph about another bunch of characters we haven’t met yet. Then, unbelievably, we shift to a third location, where an elfy-looking guy plays a flute on a stream bank, and we hear another paragraph of introduction describing another bunch of characters we havent’ met yet. And with all this narration, we haven’t yet got one lick of storytelling yet, only a bunch of descriptive passages that have almost nothing to do with the images we’re seeing.

And then, after all that, the narrative that then unfolds, it turns out, is really quite simple and would have greatly benefitted from no introduction at all, much less three. If a movie has introductory narration it means that someone, either the screenwriter or the director, didn’t do their job right, forgot to tell the story in a series of images, and so in editing they had to scrounge around and find some shots of various objects that they could show to give us something to look at, whether they’re connected to the narrative or not, while the narrator tells us about stuff we haven’t seen, characters we haven’t met and political alliances we couldn’t care less about.

Moving forward:

In the village of the Mystics, Head Mystic tells Jen, The Last Gelfling, that it’s his destiny to find the missing shard of the crystal. He doesn’t tell him what he needs to do with it, just tells him he has to go to such-and-such place and get it from so-and-so. Then he dies. As he dies, we cut to the Crystal Castle (it turns out that’s the coral Christmas tree), where the vulture-guy emperor is also dying. A struggle for the dead emperor’s scepter ensues, during which one of the competitors, Skeksil, is shamed and banished. The new vulture-guy emperor sends his army of giant crab-guys out to find Jen before he gets to the shard.

So far, so good. A little pokey, but still hanging together.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet, Jen, confused and, frankly, a little miffed, heads out of town and makes it, without too much trouble, to the place he needs to get to. He gets the shard he needs from a crazy lady who runs an observatory, and she warns him that he must use it to “heal” the dark crystal or else the world will end. Because of, you know, the prophecy.

Now, I know there are always prophecies in these movies. Hell, The Matrix has a prophecy and it works just fine. But I find prophecies lazy. Who made this prophecy? When? Why? What happened to that person? But, all right, there was a prophecy and the prophecy says that only a Gelfling can fix the crystal. Why only a Gelfling? Who knows? It’s a prophecy.

Question: Head Mystic is dying, the Great Conjunction (the once-every-1000-years alignment of the three suns) is nigh, and so Head Mystic tells Jen of his destiny and dies. Here’s my question. If the Great Conjunction happens every 1000 years, doesn’t that give Head Mystic quite a bit of lead time to prepare Jen for his quest? He could have told Jen about his destiny a year earlier, he could have told him when he was a mere boy. No, he waits until the ticking clock is about to go off and he doesn’t even tell Jen everything he needs to know before he keels over and dies. Which, now that I think of it, if he had 1000 years of lead time, why didn’t Head Mystic just go get the goddamn shard himself? Jen wouldn’t have to go out of his way at all.

But, you know, you give a Mystic a 1000-year lead time and he’ll always leave everything to the last minute. So Jen sets off on his quest and, you know what? The rest of the Mystics do too! We don’t know where the Mystics are going, but every now and then we cut back to them slowly, slowly traversing the desert. Turns out, the Mystics are heading to the Crystal Castle! And they get there just in time to participate in the climax of the movie! Jen just can’t get rid of these guys!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Jen lights out for the territories, he gets the shard, he’s one step ahead of the giant crab guys, and he meets Kira, who’s a girl Gelflling, and her dog Fizzgig. They fall in love — hardly surprising, since they are the last two Gelflings left on the planet. What is surprising is that Jen, once he’s hooked up with Kira, and about half-way through the running time, literally stumbles across an ancient Gelfling temple, which tells him everything he needs to know about his destiny. And your humble correspondent hangs his head in shame.

Really? Stumbles across an ancient Gelfling temple? No other character could have given him his instructions? Noother character could have directed him to the ancient Gelfling temple? Kira couldn’t have said “You know, the elders of this village tell me of a ruin not far from here, they said I should go there if a male Gelfling with a crystal shard came by,” and then taken him there? There couldn’t have been an ancient scroll secreted in a locket given to Kira when she was an infant? Stumbled across the ancient Gelfling temple?

Anyway, so Jen and Kira get to the Crystal Castle, and right on time (end of Act II), Kira gets kidnapped and tortured and needs to be rescued. This is sigh-worthy enough on its own, but it actually makes the villains weaker. The villains, we are told, out of the blue, some time in Act II, in addition to wanting to keep the dark crystal broken, also seek to prolong their lives. To do this, they round up the local populace and drain their “life essence” out of their bodies with a piece of equipment they keep downstairs. Once your life essence is sucked out by this machine, you become a slave of the vulture-guys.

Why is this a bad thing? For the same reason Scaramanga is a bad villain in The Man with the Golden Gun: it gives them too many motivations. A good movie villain has one goal and one goal only. A villain might have a secondary motive, but it must be related to and dependent upon the primary motive. That is, a villain might try to kill the protagonist as a part of their drive to world conquest, but they must not kill the protagonist and also plot to steal the world’s largest diamond and also have a heat ray. When you give the villain more than one motive, it dilutes their power. Think about it, we talk about a scary villain as being single-minded. The Terminator, Hannibal Lecter, Dracula. What would we think of the Terminator if, in addition to wanting to kill Sarah Connor, it also planned to take over the computer-chip market?

So the first half of Act III of The Dark Crystal involves getting Kira out of her essence-draining trap and getting Jen to where he needs to be to heal the crystal. Much import is placed on how Jen needs to fix the crystal before the suns align, but we’re never really told what happens if he doesn’t. Do all the Mystics then die? What happens then? We’ve seen that when a Mystic dies, a vulture-guy also dies — obviously the vulture-guys don’t want the Mystics to all die. One of the vulture-guys mentions how the crystal will give them all eternal life, but if your eternal life fix was just a few minutes away, why would you bother draining the essence out of a Gelfling who happened by?

Anyway (spoiler alert), there are some complications on the way, but Jen gets the crystal fixed just as the Mystics walk in the door, and the crystal turns from purple to clear, and the Mystics and the vulture guys merge into one race of really-tall translucent alien dudes. So now I’m really confused — is this what the vulture guys were trying to avoid, turning back into these tall alien dudes? Because the tall alien dudes look ten times more immortal than the vulture guys. I mean, I really don’t get it, what was so great about being vulture guys that they wanted to stay that way?

As in Labyrinth, there is some fine puppet design, although in general I find the Labyrinth puppets to be more alive than their Dark Crystal counterparts. A rubber puppet, dying, in closeup, fails to generate much sympathy for me.


111 Responses to “Fairies and Fantasy: The Dark Crystal”
  1. blake_reitz says:

    Vulture guys have a good reason to want to avoid merging into a race of translucent alien bird dudes, it would mean losing their identity as…evil vulture guys? Anyway, evil likes being evil, and isn’t so hot on being neutral.

    Also, if they’re extending their life by draining the life of others, does that mean the good bird people live longer as a result? This means the good bird people were compliant in the genocide of the gelflings, so they could live long enough to see their prophecy completed. Yikes.

  2. mcbrennan says:

    This is apropos of nothing, but I hope to one day read your analysis of Disney’s sci-fi movie The Black Hole. (Have you seen it? It’s…really something.) Perhaps you should start a “what went wrong” series, a sort of Cinematic Autopsy.

    I remember Sting in his weird BDSM getup, and I remember Kyle looking the sort of handsome one sees in Sears underwear catalogs circa 1984, and I remember nothing else about Dune. And I’ve seen it like three times. No, wait, there was a big sand worm. He did good work later on in Beetlejuice. Then I think he went to work for Halliburton.

    You do realize David Lynch turned down Return Of The Jedi to make Dune. Speaking of films with impenetrable opening narration (well, a floating novella in space, anyway), a baffling and nonsensical plot and mountains of fake looking rubber-and-fur puppets.

    I liked this film reasonably well when I was young–well, I liked visiting the world it occupied, anyway; it was visually interesting and I was an easy mark for anything in the SF/fantasy genre. Also, sadly, I don’t think I applied critical thinking skills to any film I saw before Short Circuit. I like Henson but I don’t think he ever made a good film (except The Muppet Movie); the early Muppet stuff is far edgier and more honest and “real” than any of the film stuff he did. I heard they were making a sequel to The Dark Crystal and I’m curious how that’s even possible. It seems like the, um, story is totally resolved.

    • Todd says:

      The nice thing about the Star Wars opening titles is that they are completely ignorable. They don’t help you understand The Phantom Menace and you don’t need them for A New Hope.

    • More apropos of nothing: Speilburg was in line to direct JEDI as well, but Lucas’ departure from the Guild prevented it.

      • Todd says:

        Would that be the Guild of Calamitous Intent?

        • mcbrennan says:

          Wait, so was George Lucas The Sovereign? That would explain a great deal.

          Many directors…David Lynch, Sam Fuller, Jarmusch, Tarantino, Maddin…definitely seem like they could be Guild members. Lucas seems to me more of a Killinger type. Soft-spoken, well-meaning, and then through a series of what seem like perfectly rational and quite small compromises, you’re strapped into a seat with your eyes forced open, watching some crazed evil moppet scream “whoopee!” a lot.

  3. This film scarred me for life as a child and I have yet to revisit it. The visual design of it was just too real and fucked up for me.

  4. curt_holman says:

    “Where are the mucking Fuppets?”

    Do you remember those weird Muppet sketches from ‘Saturday Night Live’s’ first season? If memory serves me right, one of the main characters looked like the Skeksis.

    What do you think of the prologue of ‘Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring?’ It’s like nine minutes of exposition, but also contains the biggest battle scene of the film. I think Peter Jackson said that he wanted it to have the excitement of the opening stunt of a James Bond movie.

    I hate prophesies as plot points. One of my favorite horror/fantasy writers, China Mieville, has a book for Young Adult readers called Un Lun Dun, in which there’s a Book of Prophesies — most of which are untrue, particularly given the identity and fate of the book’s “Chosen One.” It’s pretty amusing — it’s kind of like reading a Harry Potter book and thinking “Wouldn’t it be interesting to follow these events from the point of view of Ron Weasley?’ and then have that actually happen.

    • Anonymous says:

      Re: “Where are the mucking Fuppets?”

      I’m currently watching the first season of SNL and I routinely skip over those Muppet sketches. The characters are ugly (and not interestingly ugly), the jokes are sub-sitcom lame, and they have really lax pacing that makes the sketches interminable.

      But a big surprise to me is how lame in general the first season of SNL was. For the first seven episodes that I’ve watched, only the Richard Pryor hosted episode was wall-to-wall good. The rest are filled with repeated faux commercials that weren’t very funny the first time, Chevy Chase mugging and smugging his way across the screen, kinda of lame Albert Brooks films, and the aforementioned horrible Muppets stuff.

      • craigjclark says:

        Re: “Where are the mucking Fuppets?”

        The main problem with the Muppets on SNL was that instead of having Henson’s people write the material that job was inexplicably left to the SNL writing staff, who hated doing the sketches — and it shows. (Head writer Michael O’Donoghue famously quipped, “I don’t write for felt.”)

        As for the season as a whole, it definitely has its rough spots, but I treasure it because it has the highest percentage of vintage O’Donoghue pieces. “Wolverines,” “Citizen Kane II,” “Police State,” “The Last Voyage of the Enterprise” — these are things to treasure. And I even kinda like Albert Brooks’s stuff, but I’m sort of inclined to in general.

        • Anonymous says:

          Re: “Where are the mucking Fuppets?”

          Well I only just finished the second Candance Bergen episode. And I may have been harsher than I really intended, but I was really expecting a lot. I’ve watched a lot of the Best of… DVDs so that’s a lot of concentrated hilarity and then of course the whole cast is so (rightfully) revered and that SNL is always explained as this mind-bending new thing. So to see that initially it was a struggling variety show was a little jarring. But I can see the sketches get weirder and funnier while the performances from the cast get better.

          Oh and the Albert Brooks’s films on SNL are funny in concept and sometimes execution, I just think they needed someone to edit them down. The one about Mr. Brooks becoming a surgeon just to try it was pretty funny but the joke was old 2 minutes in and it lasted nearly 10 mintues.

    • selectnone says:

      Re: “Where are the mucking Fuppets?”

      The day before I saw The Matrix, which I’d been avoiding spoilers for, someone told me “BTW, Morpheus is The One” 😛

      I was kinda disappointed when that twist didn’t crop up 😀

      • Anonymous says:

        Re: “Where are the mucking Fuppets?”

        I’m still disappointed that the Oracle wasn’t revealed as the true main antagonist.

        • Todd says:

          Re: “Where are the mucking Fuppets?”

          Or was she?

        • mimitabu says:

          Re: “Where are the mucking Fuppets?”

          main antagonist: lucifer, protagonist: jesus. man i hate the matrix trilogy so much. having a christ figure is one thing. having a large set of events that don’t make any sense unless you understand that you’re watching paradise lost: redux is a whole different (and infuriating) thing entirely.

          and that son/sun visual metaphor that closes the whole thing… thinking about it makes me wish i didn’t just eat.

          • Anonymous says:

            Re: “Where are the mucking Fuppets?”

            Exactly the reason why I liked my “Oracle as villain” twist. It would take a sharp turn away from the Christ mythos and turn it into the Theogony; with the machines as the titans and the programs as the gods.

            Basically, it seemed to me that the Oracle was manipulating everything in the first two movies, right down to engineering Trinity falling in love with Neo (good ol’ self-fulfilling prophecy) so that Neo would make the “wrong” choice in the second movie. I figured that she even set up the creation of Super-Smith (the cookie!), with all of this bent on destroying the machine AI’s individuality, and bringing the machines under her control. That way, the programs would never be in any danger of being shut down by the machines if they were ever no longer needed, and she and the programs would rule the humans of the Matrix (they’re real world; the humans and the machines love the physical world, but it means nothing to the programs) as a pantheon of gods.

  5. Prophecies piss me off, too, but I don’t think they’re inherently lazy, it’s just how they’re handled–which, granted, is often lazily.

    Like if there’s ever any question about the prophecy’s accuracy–that’s lazy–because any audience knows that every prophecy ever anywhere in the history of everydom has always come true.

    And aside from being lazy, it also sucks because, since the prophecy basically tells you what’s going to happen, you spend the next however long waiting for the prophecy to be fulfilled.

    At least The Matrix acknowledges that and never asks whether the prophecy is true–instead it asks to whom does it apply. But that’s still kind of a cop-out, because who else would the prophecy describe if not Neo?

    Not to sound like a pretentious twit, but I really like how Antigone handles it. Even 2500 years ago Sophocles knew that the audience knows that everything Teiresias says is going to come true–even the Chorus knows it–even Creon knows it–and we get some sweet inner conflict as Creon tries to deal with his fate. Best of all, almost immediately after Teiresias tells us what’s going to happen, a messenger comes in and says that it’s just happened. The prophecy’s fulfilled almost as soon as it’s declared, and the play moves on.

    • Todd says:

      The Matrix also did us the favor of having the prophet in question be a character in the movie, not some vague plot device from the mists of the dawn of time.

      • Haven’t seen DC in forever–or, more likely, never–but from reading your summary, it seems like the prophecy doesn’t even advance the plot.

        • Todd says:

          What the prophecy says is that only a Gelfling can fix the crystal. It doesn’t say why that’s the case, only that a Gelfling and only a Gelfling can do it. Plotwise, it also explains why the Skeksis have decided to wipe out the Gelflings — essentially the same reason Herod decided to wipe out a generation of Hebrew babies.

          My question about the Dark Crystal prophecy is who made it, when, and why. Since Gelflings have no special talents that I can see for crystal-repair, it seems to me that the prophecy was made by someone, probably a Skeksis someone, to justify the massacre of the Gelfling race.

          • faroffstar says:

            I like how Jen has to do it as he is the last gelfing, but then it turns out, 20 minutes later, that there is ANOTHER gelfing just hanging out with her dog in the swamp.

      • Anonymous says:

        And not just a character, but one of the most memorable and likeable characters in the entire film, despite her brief appearance.

        — N.A.

  6. shekb says:

    You got me thinking about this fantasy narration bit. Is it possible that the idea is to acclimate viewers to and immerse them in the impossible, crazypants world of the movie before the story gets going, and actually NOT to inform?

    I’m not saying this always works. I didn’t see the Dark Crystal> when I was a kid, so maybe that has something to do with it, but I was bored sick by the time it got going. Yes, the puppets are nice, but I am not that impressed with them that I can watch demos of them all day.

    A few times though, that narration really does it for me.

    First, The Fellowship of the Ring. The prologue dumped me right into Middle Earth and hooked me to the rest of a three hour movie.

    Next is the crawl in Star Wars. It’s reading in space. Buddy, this thing is not called Star Wars for nothing. We are starting in outer space, and by the way we have a lot of theme music to get through.

    I can’t tell you why these seem to be doing their jobs. Are they really working, or am I being rewarded for my familiarity with the material?

    I was really young when I first saw Star Wars, so I don’t know if I had any reaction to it or any other way of making sense of it. But once my memory started working, every time I saw that space crawl and heard the music, I got really excited. I was in for a Star Wars movie! Even though I ended up hating the Phantom Menace et al, I didn’t realize it until after Star Wars I was almost over, and maybe longer than that. Seeing the title sequence alone was worth the price of admission, since the adrenaline boost easily got me through to the middle of the second act.

    And with LotR, I’d already read the books and seen the other adaptations. Was that prologue doing good work, or was I just getting a little pleasure jolt for already knowing about stuff (“The Dwarf Lords? Holy shit, yeah! Oh, the Elven Kings, totally!”).

    • Todd says:

      The Star Wars titles certainly do pack a punch, but I think it has to do with the title design and the music. I, personally, have never gleaned one whit of important information from them. What the titles of Star Wars do is say “Let’s go! We’re going somewhere today! It’s gonna be great!

      I’ll have to watch Fellowship again (it’s on my list), but between you and me, I was still waiting for the movie to start when the movie ended.

      • Someone else wasn’t totally enthralled by Fellowship? Suddenly I don’t feel quite so alone in the universe.

        Of course for me the films didn’t even really get rolling until Return of the King. And I am not in general a Tolkien freak. Looking forward to The Hobbit, though.

      • You make the audience of any Star Wars movie sound like a dog who has just seen his human grab a leash…. Not that I’m saying that is inaccurate (or at least it was accurate up until Ep 1), but it amuses me.

        I generally don’t like narration, although every once in a while examples will come along and prove me wrong. I’m working my way through the first season of Burn Notice and the narration is delightfully informative. I end up feeling smarter for watching an episode. And I am sure the next time my family gets kidnapped by a drug lord who I’ve managed to piss off, all that knowledge is going to come in handy.

        • Todd says:

          “You make the audience of any Star Wars movie sound like a dog who has just seen his human grab a leash”

          That’s exactly how I felt at the beginning of The Phantom Menace. At the end, not so much.

          • Me too, me too. My heart was threatening to hammer its way out of my chest that night. By the end, I just had a horrible headache and urge to giggle the word “midichlorians” repeatedly. Ugh.

      • mimitabu says:

        it starts when cate blanchett gets onscreen, of course.

      • gazblow says:

        Opening Crawls/Narration

        I was just thinking about that very subject recently having watched two examples of terrible opening crawls/narration: Johnny Mnemonic and Aeon Flux. (Don’t laugh, we just got an HDTV and I went a little crazy last weekend).

        Johnny Mnemonic opens with a crawl telling us how corporations rule now and there’s this disease that affects people with cybernetic implants and mnemonic couriers deliver data stuck inside their heads blah, blah, blah. Absolutely meaningless and no help with the overplotted/underwritten story.

        Aeon Flux gives us a crawl, then a reference to the original series (fly trap eye bit), then some opening narration, then two more scenes of exposition. Godawful.

        I believe the answer to why this technique works sometimes: Star Wars (though not its antecedents; I agree with Todd that their main benefit is to say “IT’S A STAR WARS MOVIE! ARE Y’ALL READY FOR THIS?!?”), Fellowship of the Ring, Pan’s Labyrinth, maybe even Blade Runner.

        But Todd’s premise is absolutely correct – they should be unnecessary. But there are a multitude of examples where it works very well, for instance, Citizen Kane begins with a newsreel telling us a bunch of stuff about CF Kane before the movie gets going. However, Kane has been introduced as a character just prior to this. A mysterious character whose final word is “Rosebud”, but at least there’s the guy about whom we’re watching a movie. I find that when these things work, they focus on the antogonist’s goals rather than the protagonist (whose goal is usually to stop the antagonist from Ruling The World/Galaxy/Universe etc).

  7. buzzmo says:

    Re: narration: Yes! And fantasy films are not alone in this regard. Hollywood seems incredibly afraid that audiences are too stupid to know what’s going on without being told. “My father died, so I’m coming back home for the funeral. I’m not sure what will happen, but I’m really sad.” Man, it’s like films *without* narration are the anomaly these days.

    Re: prophecies: Another yes! Prophecies are a cop-out. At least, as mr_effulgence points out, when they are used for *justification* rather than *conflict*. E.g., the addition of a prophecy was one of the (many) mistakes made in the SW prequels. Isn’t it far more interesting when a character *chooses* to do something, rather than just because fate said so?

    • faroffstar says:

      unfortunately some audiences ARE too stupid. This isn’t really narration related, but last weekend we went and saw Tropic Thunder and at the beginning they show fake trailers for the fake actors in the film (i.e. Robert Downey Jr. is Kirk Lazerus, etc) and the woman next to me goes, “Wow…they sure are making some weird films these days.” and her companion said, “I think these might be part of the film.”

      what the hell?

    • mimitabu says:

      i think the addition of a prophecy to the phantom menace could have been a mildly interesting way to comment on the fact that everyone in the audience knows exactly what’s coming (and a large section of the audience knows the make and model of each vehicle it gets done in). that is, if, you know, the rest of the movie wasn’t such a piece of shit.

      • buzzmo says:

        But the audience does know. We don’t need a prophecy to lend an air of doom to Anakin’s story. We know what’s going to happen.

        Worse, the prophecy turns Anakin into a pawn of fate, which is BS. It diminishes everything about his story arc.

        • mimitabu says:

          i agree. i was just trying to see a way around it being bad, but in an alternate universe where the 3 prequels are as good as the original trilogy, there probably wouldn’t be any talk of a prophecy. and certainly nothing about mitochlorians:(.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I first saw The Dark Crystal a few years back, having been too scared of the Skeksis to see it as a kid. Y’know what? They’re STILL scary. It’s like Henson and co. were deliberately trying to traumatize kids for life.

    Aside from the puppet design, and Frank Oz’s amazing physical performance as Aughra the Seer (you can tell it’s him because of those amazingly expressive hand movements), I thought the film was a muddled mess. That said, I did like how while the boy hero is more of less useless, the girl hero is resourceful and brave and, unlike the boy hero, can fly. Nice reversal from the norm.

    Apparently, the sequel is/was being directed by animation wunderkind Genndy Tartakovsky, of Samurai Jack and those amazing Clone Wars series. If he brings his same gift for visual storytelling to the movie, the sequel could be pretty amazing.

    — N.A.

  9. stormwyvern says:

    I’m largely of the opposite view: seeing both films as adults, the puppets in “Dark Crystal” feel more real to me than those in “Labyrinth,” most of the time. It’s probably because, as you noted, the characters and performances are more in service of creating a convincing world than just doing some stuff that the Henson crew thought would be cool. I think one of the bigger problems for the film puppet-wise is that Jen and Kira can’t really change their mouth expressions, making for more than a few instances where their faces just aren’t conveying the right emotion. Still, I think the film excels at character design, as my husband pointed out to me the first time i saw it. Just from the screenshots, you can tell that the Mystics are a peaceful and gentle species, the Skeksis are the nasty corrupted ones, the Gelflings are the good hearted children of the earth, and Fizzgig is a slightly bad-tempered Pomeranian that’s mostly mouth.

    Though the film has its flaws, I do very much miss the time when there were movies like this that sought to build a world essentially from the ground up, because it doesn’t seem to be happening so much anymore. There are movies that take place in other worlds with strong fantasy and science fiction elements, but they generally tend to be based on something existing, not original creations. To be sure, a lot of thought went into creating films like the “Lord of the Rings” and “Narnia” movies, in the latter case probably more thought than the original author put in, but it’s still not the same as bringing a wholly original world into being. Even “Coraline,” which I’m really looking forward to, is based on a book. And even on the occasions where we get tastes of an original world, the result feels even less thought out than “Dark Crystal.” George Lucas can swear up and down that the Gungans have a fully realized culture, but all we actually get is Jar=Jar, Boss Nass shaking his wattles, and a bit of “culture” lifted from “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.” So while some of these fantasy films may have lacked in story, I do miss the feeling that I’m seeing a completely original vision on screen rather than one person’s interpretation of an existing and already popular story.

    • Todd says:

      Character design does count for a lot and rarely gets the attention it deserves. I look at a character like, say, Kim Possible, and I want to know more about her. She’s enormously pleasing to look at, is obviously smart, witty, dynamic and sexy. Similarly the Bruce Timm DCU. And while the puppets in Dark Crystal all look great, they don’t move as inventively or as expressively as they need to — they still look like puppets. In the case of Jen and Kira, they kept reminding me of the Thunderbirds.

      • ndgmtlcd says:

        Yes, they do remind me of the characters in Thunderbirds, now that you mention it. But they make me think even more of the “advanced” ones in Team America: World Police.

        At any rate Dark Crystal is sorely lacking in explosions and doomed-from-the-start giant-sized hi-tech inventions, or their wizardly equivalent.

  10. jestermotley says:

    A number of my friends are huge dark crystal fans, but I’ve honestly never been hooked on it. I don’t know why but as a kid and adolescent it always just seemed too drag-ass to me.

    Not that I need action all the time, but after you pointed out the narration i think that’s what did it for me.

  11. aerospace says:

    Without the narration, from what would Crystal Method draw some of their best sampling??

    Regarding your point on the weak bad guys [because of 2 goals], I disagree with your reasoning. Their goal was to live forever, as Skeksis. Skeksis only came into existence when the crystal was cracked. If you’re gonna be killing Gelflings to stave off a prophecy, why not use their life essence while you’re at it?

    About that life essence, it didn’t extend their life, it only gave the illusion of youth, and wore off quickly. The Podlings’ essence was weak, whereas the Gelflings’ essence was stronger. The Skeksis’ genocide of the Gelflings not only let them believe they had staved off the crystal prophecy, but also let them ignore the effects of age for awhile. It all made it easier to live the carefree, gluttonous lifestyle of the Skeksis.

    On to the Mystics… Sure, they knew they had 1000 years to prepare their Gelfling refugee to fulfill the prophecy, but the Mystics had resigned themselves in the belief that it would happen regardless. They had lived their 1000 years knowing they would travel back to the Crystal Castle for the Great Conjunction and the prophecy would be fulfilled no matter what steps they took. It didn’t matter what they did, the prophecy was a true vision of the future. Why make Jen anxious his whole life about having this huge responsibility hanging over his head?

    They took in the Gelfling and raised him because they are the compassionate ones, living in harmony, and did not condone the Skeksis’ evil ways. But the Mystics knew they themselves were physically weak, did not believe in violence, and were essentially powerless to put the Skeksis in their place. Then the oldest one decides he’s dying, what could it hurt to tell the kid what he’s meant to do, give the prophecy a nudge. But who’s to say, perhaps the prophet knew the old Mystic would tell Jen this info and it was all part of the vision?

    Ok, on to the ancient Gelfling ruins.. Maybe the Mystics believed everything Gelfling had been destroyed by the Skeksis. And when Jen ran into Kira, she was terrified to go there, her memories of it were only of BAD THINGS and who knew there would be a nice written explanation of all things just tapped into the stone walls? Kira’s upbringing was all Podling, she didn’t know much about the Gelfling legacy, either. Just the wing thing, but that’s because she’s a girl and HAS them.

    Ahhhh I could probably write more but now I just want to watch the movie.

    • stormwyvern says:

      My personal theory (and this is not me saying “It makes perfect sensel you just don’t understand it), just me thinking how all of this could make sense), is that only a Gelfling can restore the crystal because the Skeksis (who wouldn’t want to do it anyway) and the Mystics were both responsible for fragmenting the thing in the first place and, as aerospace points out, they are only half of a while being and while it would be easy to simply say that the Mystics are the good half and the Skeksis are the evil half, I don’t think that’s the whole deal. I think it’s quite likely that the Mystics are so completely passive that it’s impossible for them to be main actors and take it upon themselves to heal the crystal. All of the drive to actually make stuff happen went into the Skeksis. Aside from which, an actual fight between the Mystics and the Skeksis would end in a pretty nasty stalemate.

      If I remember right, there’s something in that opening narration about the Mystics performing their ceremonies and rituals even as the true meaning of these acts has been lost to them. I kind of wonder if either the Mystics or the Skeksis even remember that they used to be part of the same beings or that they were the ones who broke the crystal. (My guess on that front is that the Urskeks fragmented the crystal in an attempt to do something like end pain or evil or some other bad thing in their world and instead upset the balance between good and evil.) I could see where the Mystics would kind of have some idea that the crystal needs to be healed and that they have to travel to the castle once the events leading to the prophecy’s fulfillment are set in motion, but not understand why the crystal needs to be healed or what will happen when it is. Sam deal for the Skeksis; they only know that something bad will happen to them if the crystal is made whole again.

      Anyways, that’s how I’d explain it if I had to write an adaptation of the movie or something.

      • yetra says:

        I’m thinking the tall alien dudes were tired of being well rounded, complex entities, with good aspects and bad aspects to themselves. So they decided to take a time out from reality, and split themselves in half for a while to see what it was like to fully indulge in both good and bad vices, without grey areas, mixed feelings, obligations, etc… And so they set their “prophesy alarm clock” for 1000 years later, chosing a hobbit surrogate (since that worked so well for Tolkien) and went to town.

        It’s the equivalent of someone coming to you and saying, hey, you can split yourself into two versions, and one of you can meditate and philosophize and be one with the universe and positive and lovely, and the other one can indulge in all the nasty, hedonistic, sinful, evil behavior it wants. And in a year, you’ll merge back into one again, and you’ll have both of those memories and experiences under your belt. And no one will blame you for all the bad shit you did, or expect you to be all perfect like your good side was. Especially if you set it up so it looks like it happened accidentally, and it ended by you being “saved” by some cute little moppet.

        I’d totally sign up for that.

  12. chrispiers says:

    I doubt you’d ever want to torture yourself with an Uwe Boll movie but once my friends and I were drinking and watched ALONE IN THE DARK, which is a Very Bad Movie. It begins with opening text (which is narrated anyway) that seemed at least 3 minutes and completely confused everyone. So we just made fun of it and that was fun.

    • Anonymous says:

      Ah…Alone In The Dark. I thought of that movie as soon as our host mentioned the subject of bad opening narration.

      There are plenty of bad movies, but I can’t recall another film that convinced me it was utter crap before even a single image appeared on the screen.

      • Todd says:

        (thanks to julietvalcouer above)

        “In 1967, mine workers discovered the first remnants of a long lost Native American civilization – The Abkani. The Abkani believed that there are two worlds on this planet, a world of light and a world of darkness. 10,000 years ago the Abkani opened a gate between these worlds. Before they could close it, something evil slipped through. The Abkani mysteriously vanished from the Earth. Only a few artifacts remained, hidden in the world’s most remote places. These artifacts speak of terrifying creatures that thrive in the darkness, waiting for the day when the gate can be opened again. Bureau 713, the government’s paranormal research agency, was established to uncover the dark secrets of this lost civilization. Under the direction of archaeologist Lionel Hudgens, Bureau 713 began collecting Abkani artifacts. When the government shut down his controversial research, Hudgens built a laboratory hidden within an abandonded gold mine. There, he conducted savage experiments on orphaned children in an attempt to merge man with creature. Hudgens victims survived as “sleepers” – lost souls awaiting the moment of their calling.”

        What could be more straightforward?

  13. Todd says:

    I’ve never seen it, but I’m told Uwe Boll’s Alone in the Dark (see comments below) permanently retired the prize for the longest, most complicated, most ridiculously convoluted opening narration in the history of motion pictures. One free internet to the reader who can track down that narration.

    • IMDB is our friend. Sort of.

      Yeah, so–I got bored reading the first few lines of this.

      Prof. Lionel Hudgens: [narrating] In 1967, mine workers discovered the first remnants of a long lost Native American civilization – The Abkani. The Abkani believed that there are two worlds on this planet, a world of light and a world of darkness. 10,000 years ago the Abkani opened a gate between these worlds. Before they could close it, something evil slipped through. The Abkani mysteriously vanished from the Earth. Only a few artifacts remained, hidden in the world’s most remote places. These artifacts speak of terrifying creatures that thrive in the darkness, waiting for the day when the gate can be opened again. Bureau 713, the government’s paranormal research agency, was established to uncover the dark secrets of this lost civilization. Under the direction of archaeologist Lionel Hudgens, Bureau 713 began collecting Abkani artifacts. When the government shut down his controversial research, Hudgens built a laboratory hidden within an abandonded gold mine. There, he conducted savage experiments on orphaned children in an attempt to merge man with creature. Hudgens victims survived as “sleepers” – lost souls awaiting the moment of their calling.”

      • Todd says:

        Re: IMDB is our friend. Sort of.

        Strangely, I was with him right up to the word “orphans.” Then my brain went kablooey.

        • narzoth says:

          Re: IMDB is our friend. Sort of.

          Alone in the Dark has the abysmal distinction of not only having that long intro narration, but it also has to use long sequences of internal monologue voice-over during scene changes.

          I signed onto that movie expecting subtle Lovecraftian mystery-horror with a big reveal of an otherworldly monster or monsters. (You know…like the games.) What I got was a hack job that pretty much starts out with a voice-over telling you, “So, monsters and the occult are real and shit. Just so you know.”

          Thus was I introduced to the wonder of Uwe Boll.

  14. selectnone says:

    I wish I’d missed the first few minutes of Dark City, where Kiefer Sutherland gives a tacked-on-sounding voiceover that explains many of the things that were perfectly adequately explained later on, after I should have been gleefully wondering about up until they were revealed.
    That opening spoiler-speech stopped that movie from being the classic it might’ve been.

    The Golden Compass‘s intro did similar, offloading a knowledgedump of stuff that was wonderfully drip-fed in the original book, plus a bunch of expository info that had no bearing on the plot of that particular part of the overall story. Urgh.

    I don’t have an issue with scene-setting intro-monologues, which feel more like someone starting to tell you a story, but I utterly despise anything that strips the sense of wonder and discovery from something.

    • gwalla says:

      I got the feeling that the opening narration of Dark City that gives away the entire goddamn mystery was added due to moronic test audiences who came out of screenings confused. It felt completely tacked on. Without it, that could have been a halfway decent movie (even with the ridiculous huge Dragonball Z psychic fight that comes out of nowhere for the climax, and the Twilight Zone twist ending you can see coming a mile away).

  15. gdh says:

    The only opening narration I can remember actually liking was in 2010. It sums up everything that actually happens in 2001 (not much, it turns out) in a few short minutes, retcons in Bowman’s wonderful “My God, it’s full of stars!” line, introduces us to the character Heywood Floyd, and does it all in an engaging “mission report” format that’s still enjoyable in spite of its retro ’80s futurism.

  16. One of the vulture-guys mentions how the crystal will give them all eternal life, but if your eternal life fix was just a few minutes away, why would you bother draining the essence out of a Gelfling who happened by?

    Well, apparently essence is a great vitality picker-upper (if the Emperor had been able to score some essence of Gelfling, he probably would have lived through to the conjunction). Think of it as Viagra — yeah you could be long-lived and healthy, but the ability to have a erection is beyond price.

    According to the novelization, the reason the scientist skeksis wanted to drain Kira, despite the Conjunction being so close at hand, was that by drinking her essence, he would be strong enough to challenge the garthim master and become the new emperor.

  17. swan_tower says:

    Since I feel honor-bound to speak in defense of my genre, let me say that what you’re complaining about here is considered lazy writing in print, too. Prophecies out of nowhere, wise mentors with visible puppet-strings manipulating them from On High, and expository prologues might be common in the genre, but as a whole we’ve gotten very tired of them. (I dissect the prologue issue here, with attention to what constitutes a good prologue.)

    So, er, my defense is that The Dark Crystal is not good fantasy, at least not in those respects. 🙂

    Dune, like The Lord of the Rings, suffers the translation difficulty of high-density worldbuilding; if you chuck your average moviegoer (who is not necessarily accustomed to the particularities of the SF/F genres) into solar systems full of Bene Gesserit and Mentats and Sardukar and the Landsraad, they’re going to be lost. Half your SF folks will be lost, too, since it’s a lot easier to integrate exposition in prose than film, at least in my opinion. I think I’m more willing to forgive info-dumpy prologues there, since it’s better than a) leaving the audience adrift or b) info-dumping after the plot has gotten going. (In the LotR books, the story slams to a dead halt for the Council of Elrond, which is a scene that would give any modern editor an aneurysm. Jackson et al. tried every other way known to man to get that info across, and finally said, screw it, a prologue is the least of our available evils.)

    The Dark Crystal, however, has no particular excuse for its narration, since what it’s conveying is pretty childishly simple.

    • Todd says:

      I love you.

    • Todd says:

      The goal of the storyteller should be to put the audience, as much as possible, in the position of the protagonist. In the case of The Dark Crystal, that means that the story should be told from Jen’s point of view, so that we share his confusion and anxiety about what he’s supposed to do with the shard, instead of sitting there waiting for him to catch up to the narrative. The cuts away to the Skeksis’ world should serve to create suspense and tension as we see the two narrative strands come together at the end of Act II, and that’s it. But, because the screenwriters did not (or could not) do their job well, it looks like the narration was created to “help the narrative along” so that no one would “get confused.” The result is, instead of getting confused as the narrative progresses, we get confused right off the bat, and bored as well.

      • swan_tower says:

        What you’re describing is a major reason why so much fantasy has a clueless young protagonist encountering the world through the assistance of a mentor: it allows the writer to integrate the exposition with the rest of the story, feeding it in as the character learns about it. But that gets old pretty fast — especially since so few of the writers who do that bother to make their clueless young protagonist any different from his siblings in other novels.

        You’re right about how TDC should have been structured, but I suspect that, once again, it’s rooted (at least partly) in the unwillingness to commit to the genre. It’s fantasy, ergo it must be for kids, and kids are dumb, so we have to Explain Things To Them. Never mind that everything past that first clause is bogus. (Bad writing for children is a whole ‘nother rant from the bad writing of fantasy.)

        • Todd says:

          “(Bad writing for children is a whole ‘nother rant from the bad writing of fantasy.)”

          Tell me about it.

          • swan_tower says:

            I should add that the real challenge in spec-fic exposition isn’t handling the things the character learns; it’s handling the stuff they take for granted. One of the ways writers go wrong with this has earned its own name; if you’ve never heard of “As you know, Bob,” it’s a conversation wherein one person tells another person things both of them already know, for the convenience of the reader who does not know. To go back to the Dune example: Paul Atreides already knows about Bene Gesserit and Mentats, and who the Harkonnen are and why they’re feuding with the Atreides, and a great deal more than that. There are graceful ways to slip that info in, but they tend to take a lot of time, which is at a premium in film much more than in books. Add that to the absence of character thoughts and general narration, which are two of the good ways to slip in nuggets of info, and you have a situation I frankly find daunting. I think it’s no accident that almost none of the fantasy in film is secondary-world; the expository challenge there is so much greater. (The Dark Crystal, Dune, Lord of the Rings — all depend on expository intros, and all are secondary worlds. I’m not surprised.)

            • Todd says:

              This problem is not limited to the fantasy genre. I was just watching Oliver Stone’s Nixon last night, and there was a real forehead-slapper when, in the middle of a conversation between Nixon and Ehrlichman, Nixon stops in the middle of a sentence and says “You know, I’m glad we tape these conversations, John.” Then, just in case we missed it, he repeats it again ten seconds later.

              • swan_tower says:

                Well, people do say “you know X” or “as you know” in real conversation. If you’re leading in to something they don’t know, for example, you might start with reminding them of context. The Nixon line wouldn’t sound as bad without the “you know” on the front — but repeating it is a bit much, yeah.

            • schwa242 says:

              You may enjoy this then, which is along similar lines to the “As you know, Bob” problem.

  18. misterseth says:

    Todd, great review of one of my favorite films, even if you concentrated on it’s flaws (which I believe are irrelevant. Cmon! It’s fantasy!)

    -The narration. I’m not for or against your criticism of it, indeed, I’m neither for or against it’s presentation, but I believe it serves it’s purpose, setting up a story, and the characters. This is opposed to certain other narratives (Rocky Horror’s, being an example) when the narrative would barge in at inopportune times. Also, what Sci Fi/ Fantasy film HASN’T used narratives at one point? (One example would be ZARDOZ, which IMHO, needs narration, just to make sense of the plot!)

    -The story in general. While weak on plot, I always felt it was a good example of good triumphing over evil against insurmountable odds. Of course there is tragedy, and difficult decisions along the way, but in the end, the two are able to fulfill their destiny, and restore the world.

    One other thing that amazes me about this film was Jim Henson’s involvement. You have to understand, that until this film, I knew him as being one of the creators of the muppets, from the Sesame Street days. The marionettes and puppetry in DC were a far cry from the simple puppetry effects of Ernie, Bert, Oscar, etc. His talent, combined with the artistry of Brian Froud, produced IMHO a classic masterpiece.

  19. I find it a bit odd that a movie clearly aimed at youngsters would be put up to such unforgiving scrutiny. You know a child doesn’t really require much background details to a prophecy to buy into its validity as motivation, and the opening narration probably does give a child a good leg-up on the world they’re about to enter.

    I should know. The Dark Crystal hit me at a prime age (it came out two years before I was born, but still ended up in the VHS collection in my early years and was watched repeatedly), and for a child seven and under, it’s a beautiful imaginative movie and it’s better than most of the boring tripe put out there for that demo (especially in the 80s). Of course it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, but some movies don’t really need to.

    • Todd says:

      Here at What Does the Protagonist Want we take all narratives seriously, from Seuss to Kurosawa. There are lessons to be learned from all kinds of stories, even the patently absurd.

      “It’s for children” is a poor excuse for bad writing. “Children’s movies” can be done well or done poorly. The genre encompasses Labyrinth, which I find to be a mess, and Bambi, which is one of the most moving, most sophisticated narratives I’ve ever come across.

      The “it’s for children” excuse is especially outdated in today’s media environment, where the market is crowded and the audience (which includes parents) have a great deal of choice. (I also don’t necessarily agree that The Dark Crystal is “clearly aimed at youngsters.”)

      The Dark Crystal is passable in the writing department, but only just, which means that it must rely on its design and the novelty of its presentation to get by.

      • Well, whether Dark Crystal is primarily intended for children I guess is down to opinion. As for your other points…

        Until I see you dismantle a Sesame Street episode for being overly demonstrative and annoyingly spelling everything out for its viewers, I’m not buying this ludicrous position that pieces aimed at children have to be able to hold up to the scrutiny of an adult audience. You can pretend it’s an outdated mode of thinking, but it’s valid today and always will be, because children are children. When evaluating something aimed at that demographic, the metric has to be different.

        Of course, there’s those occasional top-to-bottom masterpieces like Incredibles that succeed for every age, but that’s such a rarity. And while it’s encouraging that children’s movies seem to give more and more credit to kids as time goes on, it still strikes me as unreasonable to not at least slacken your critiques when evaluating them. When you look at a children’s movie, you shouldn’t expect it to live up to your normal standards. Mainly because it’s usually not trying to.

        Bottomline, I think of it as a kids’ movie, and most kids of the era that caught it in the 80s loved it. There’s a reason for that. Doesn’t make it flawless by any means (and admittedly I can’t even watch the movie now without getting depressed at how far below my idealized memories it actually is), but at the time, the movie succeeded on its own terms, and was an ambitious beautiful creation that enthralled children of my generation. Ass now. Golden then.

        • Todd says:

          “Until I see you dismantle a Sesame Street episode for being overly demonstrative and annoyingly spelling everything out for its viewers, I’m not buying this ludicrous position that pieces aimed at children have to be able to hold up to the scrutiny of an adult audience.”

          Two things:

          1. Sesame Street is not a narrative. Its goals are distinct and different from that of a feature film. There is much to analyze in Sesame Street, but little to learn from it, narratively speaking.

          2. Sesame Street‘s goals are primarily instructive, and instruction is the opposite of drama. The Dark Crystal was not created to teach children how to read and count, it was created to enthrall.

          Inadequate narratives and excellent narratives exist in all forms of entertainment, whether the entertainment is directed primarily at children, adults, men, women or everyone at once. If you say it’s okay for a “children’s movie” to have an inadequate narrative because kids don’t know any better, it is, as far as I can tell, saying that children aren’t deserving of the writer’s best efforts.

          Do you think the creators of The Dark Crystal said “Eh, it’s for kids, who’s gonna care?” Of course not. The artists who worked on The Dark Crystal did everything they could to make sure their movie would be taken seriously and last for a good long time and be a work that one could turn to at many different stages of life and still draw understanding and inspiration from it. People watch The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars and Snow White all their lives — they are excellent narratives regardless of their “intended audience.” In the future, people will watch The Lion King, Finding Nemo and A Little Princess for the same reason.

          Examining narratives is a large part of what I do in my work, and consequently is a large part of what I do here in this journal. “It’s for kids” doesn’t get a narrative off the hook. Quite the opposite — a narrative intended for children should be cleaner, simpler, more dynamic and easier to understand than others, and The Dark Crystal fails on all counts.

          • and The Dark Crystal fails on all counts. In your opinion.

            Which is of course obvious, this is your journal. But the movie succeeded for me as a child, the narrative was easy and dynamic enough for me then, and it’s not the reason I find the movie bad now. And if you pay attention to what I’m saying, it’s not that I think a children’s movie automatically gets a free pass. It’s just that the criteria for succeeding as a children’s movie is incontrovertibly different than for something with a more mature bent.

            All opinion. Obviously. Anywho…

            • mimitabu says:

              whether or not the criteria judging the writing of “adult” movies and children’s movies should be distinct seems to be a finer point, but…

              it looks to me like you’re slightly mistaking where todd’s coming from here (if i have it right). a sloppy narrative isn’t bad because “You Should Do Better, Mr./Ms. Writer!”, it’s bad because it’s confusing, or boring, etc. its sloppiness consists in its being boring, or pushing the viewer out of the story, etc. the insight todd wants to make is NOT “see the sloppiness? because of that, it’s Bad.” the insight is “see how writing it this way bores the viewer, when they could have done it this way?”

              i can’t think of any examples offhand (because i don’t rewatch movies from my childhood that aren’t called star wars or indiana jones very often), but i distinctly remember being a completely spaced out, fantasy loving child, loving the fantasy of various movies… and sometimes, at certain points in the movies–the same points every time–suddenly i’d be turning the movie off, or focusing my attention on something else in the room, etc.

              my criteria for good was different then than it is now, but those same craftsmanship mistakes lose my (and many other people’s) attention when they occur in movies now. this isn’t trying to conflate things that hold children’s interest with things that hold adults’ interest, exactly… it’s acknowledging that the parts of a piece of work are made for reasons, and how these pieces get made have consequences. giving a viewer (of any age) a bunch of info about someone they’ve yet to meet has consequences, and its the responsibility of the craftsman (read that gender neutral) to appreciate/anticipate/ORCHESTRATE those consequences–no less than if they were building a house.

              to briefly summarize: it’s not that todd is saying that the dark crystal is bad because of X,Y,
              and Z, and therefore can’t be held up to the Great Movies. he’s saying that what the filmmakers/writers did in certain instances have certain effects on viewers, and that a lot of/most of these effects don’t actually vary much by demographic (especially regarding core story arch type things). this issue can still be argued, definitely, but i know i agree with todd and i wouldn’t be surprised if you ultimately do too.

              • Actually, he does list an X, Y and Z of why the movie fails (at least in response to me: “a narrative intended for children should be cleaner, simpler, more dynamic and easier to understand than others, and The Dark Crystal fails on all counts”), and none of that held true for me then. And, judging by the endless nostalgia-infested conversations I’ve had with my friends and sister, most of our demographic at the time had zero problems with the narrative at all. So you’re wrong in the demographic not mattering as far as his criticisms go. Kids don’t evaluate movies the same as adults, and shouldn’t be expected to.

                (And incidentally, as a child I loved the info that came with the opening narrative. I outright relished that shit.)

                Again, the narrative is fine for children. I know, I was one, it was fine for me. Better than fine in fact, it was damned superlative. That’s my sole point, that the narrative is fine for children, and maybe as a secondary point that it’s a bit of a vindictive move to dismantle something that’s not meant for you. It’s a failure of the critic to not evaluate something within its own natural context. Evaluating The Dark Crystal in the modern day, as an adult film, is basically just missing the point entirely. It’s like ragging on silver age comic books for having cheesy dialog. Yeah, it’s true, but why bother?

                And of course the movie could have been written better. Funny thing about that, every movie could.

                • mimitabu says:

                  every movie could have been written better, so now we shouldn’t criticize any movie. can’t we pull back and at least make sure we’re talking about the same thing? i still think you’re arguing “no my favorite movie is GOOD not BAD!” and ignoring clarification.

                  (also, see below about your experiences as universal. that’s a weird assumption you’re making. i never made it through this movie as a child, incidentally)

                  i’ll take this brief opportunity to ramble a bit more about the contentious distinction i made above, between “this movie is bad b/c of X” and “here’s where the writing’s weak and how it could be improved.” my favorite videogame is one called xenogears. it’s a typical console RPG of the era; story ripped off of neon genesis evangelion, protagonist’s progression taken straight from star wars (seemingly unimportant character starts out in small town, sees the big world, becomes crucial to the fate of that world). its charm, for me, comes from a few things:

                  (1) its disdain for the player of the game, which manifests itself via WILDLY variable difficulty levels of tasks throughout the game (no difficulty progression, no learning curve), obviously offensive and lightly-dealt-with subject matter (including the point of game being killing God, people being systematically murdered and their parts converted into goods for a richer class, etc), obvious plot problems (a main character is seen having a skyscraper-sized building dropped on his head, and returns to the story several acts later without explanation), occasional stretches of seemingly endless, identical landscape w/o any detail (one “dungeon” is a stretch of about 6 zones of what seems to be metal walls, if i remember correctly), absurdly harsh penalties for failure to complete various tasks (best example, you climb a mountain, which takes about an hour, but if you fail at a difficult jump at the top–the first difficult jump in the game–you drop to the bottom and must redo the hour climb). i was AMAZED when i first played it, often saying outloud, “what are you going to throw at me next??” a game that has no sympathy for its player can be really interesting.

                  (2) the crippling pacing/quality-evenness problems that came as a result of budget problems. this is related to (1), but it’s so overtly unintentional that it gets a new number. the game spontaneously switches from an exploration of a vast world to taking all freedom of movement away from you and delivering the rest of the story via narration (allowing you to control the characters again to act out a couple key events in the narration). again, i was like “what’s going ON here?? i love it!”

                  (3) inventive, audacious (if wearing its influences on its sleeve) story + detailed characters. convoluted plot that i still don’t fully comprehend after replaying it several times.

                  (4) its funny, whimsical tone (while people are working as slaves in a prison where trying to escape blows up your head, or fighting through a factory of human parts, etc).

                  two things here: one, i would NEVER try to come out and call most of these things objectively good features of a videogame. i wouldn’t, say, call it the best videogame ever (even with a qualification like “for such and such audience), and in fact there’s many other games i’d rank higher in virtue of easy to agree upon criteria. still, it’s my favorite. two, it’s a lot of other people’s favorite, too. the question for you is: are all those obvious problems that i find forgivable suddenly not problems because it worked in this game, for these people? should gamemakers not avoid things with obvious consequences for players, because some people liked xenogears? or is it valid to evaluate craftmanship and the consequences of making things certain ways?

                  i love an, all-told, shitty game, and still see room for the kind of evaluation in this journal entry. (: i wonder if i just obfuscated something.

                  • Heads-up, you’re missing things in my comments, so continuing to argue isn’t going to work out for you. I’m not taking offense at his attacking a cherished childhood favorite. I’ve already said I don’t find the movie good now (I honestly can’t sit through it), it’s not a favorite movie of mine by any means.
                    I’ve in fact repeatedly said it could have been written better. I’ve also pointed out that a good number of friends around my age and my sister all fondly remember the movie, which stands as a fairly decent sample size (I’d say 20-25 people). So I’m not speaking as though my experience was universal.

                    I’m simply arguing that he’s removing it from its context and failing to recognize its intended audience. Under this flawed style of evaluation, that the movie comes up short is hardly surprising. It’s pointless and seemingly vindictive to critique this film without weighing the historical context, or recognizing that the movie very genuinely works on a certain level for its intended demo.

                  • And of course the “every movie could be written better so we shouldn’t criticize any” idea is idiotic, and it should be obvious that wasn’t my point. But there’s value in recognizing what a movie’s trying to accomplish, and whether it succeeds on those terms.

                    If a movie is deliberately constructed for adults, then evaluate it as such. Primer for example is a genuinely good movie, complex and elaborate and enthralling. For adults. It is (usually) impossibly complex for children. It absolutely fails for kids who aren’t the type of geniuses that skip grades and have no friends. But that’s a failure that’s not worth pointing out because it’s not for them. I just see that as a two-way street. I don’t expect a kid to “get” Primer or, in fact, most adult films (er… I was going to clarify that I don’t mean porno here, but they’d probably be pretty troubled by that genre as well). And vice versa: an adult just shouldn’t expect the same sort of gratification from most children’s movies. And if one comes along that does satisfy at all levels, across age groups, then that’s the gravy, not the meat. (To steal someone else’s phrasing…)

    • swan_tower says:

      I think a movie for anybody should be held up to the unforgiving scrutiny of “does this accomplish its purpose in the most effective way possible?” Now, effectiveness varies from viewer to viewer, certainly; one person may see a problem another does not. And there’s definitely a variance depending on the intended audience. But sometimes it’s easy to see how the work could have been improved.

      To clarify what I mean, let me gloss a few of Todd’s complaints:

      1) A prophecy with no source. The question here is not, will a kid be okay with that? Yeah, they probably will. But coming up with a story about where the prophecy came from would enrich the story, and the writers missed that opportunity here. Maybe it would have made the movie too long; I don’t know. But they passed up the chance to add something, even if the absence didn’t take anything away.

      2) Intro narration. Here my question would be, would kids be able to follow if it were structured differently? I think so. If the film put you in Jen’s point of view and led you through all that information as he encountered it, then the learning process is natural. The path they chose is artificial, and has the additional flaw of not giving the viewer any up-front reason to care about the information presented. It’s generally a good rule of thumb to get your audience sympathizing with the protagonist from the start, and again, that opportunity has been missed. Kids like a reason to care as much as adults do, in my experience.

      3) Arbitrary behavior by the mentor. Again, a kid isn’t necessarily going to work through the logic of it and find the gaping holes. But this creates the impression that adults are arbitrary in their decisions of what to tell and when, which isn’t the message I would choose to send. Much better if the story made it clear that Jen was told certain things and not others because it was important to his growth as a person, for example.

      I know a number of people who write for younger readers. They think just as carefully about what they’re doing as a writer for adults does (or should); sometimes moreso, because they know their audience is so impressionable.

      • mimitabu says:

        also, i’d be shocked if (1) in this or other movies hasn’t caused many a kid to say “who says?” kids (and adults) often understand genre rules (read: cliches) and can thus silently gloss over logic/motivation problems, but it can still take ANYONE out of a story if you have characters believing (and being motivated by) something that we have no good reason to believe (or no reason that doesn’t make us explicitly think of the movie as a movie; “mehhhh, the prophecies in these movies are always true, so i guess it doesn’t matter who said it.”). whenever your viewer/reader has to make explicit their knowledge of genre/writing/whatever (and you’re not making some smartass self-referential joke), you’ve probably made a big mistake. i don’t mean reader-as-wannabe-writing-participant/critic type stuff like, “man, look how she inverted such and such convention!” (though even that is questionable), i mean, “why the hell is this happening? oh yeah, bond villains like elaborate torture devices. well, back to being fully immersed in this narrative!

        • You’re insane if you think that’s the thought process a child goes through when they’re watching The Dark Crystal. I promise.

          You’re falling into the same trap that is likely at the root of my contentions over this entry: adults forget what it’s like to be a child. Find me a child that instinctively has an issue with a prophecy out of the blue, or that has that problem, but justifies the prophecy out of the blue by reviewing genre conventions. Not happening.

          Kids’ movie = different.

          • mimitabu says:

            protip: you as a child != every child. i’d take the insane bet that some kids say “who says?” to nebulous prophecies in movies, at any odds.

            • Most children are more passive in their movie-going experience. Meaning they rarely question directives like that, or pause to contemplate whether genuine motivations are present.

              • charlequin says:

                I think your take on children as consumers of narratives here is incredibly patronizing. Kids do not have to be very old at all before they’re capable of both questioning the logic of events occuring in a story and reacting to errors or flaws in plotting.

                Haven’t you ever dealt with a child who wanted to only read or watch the “good parts” of a story?

                • Todd says:

                  Case in point: my son Sam (7) loved Speed Racer, but when I asked him if he wanted to see it again, he said he didn’t want to “have to sit through the whole movie just to watch the parts I like.”

                  Meaning, he found the races and the fights exciting and the parts about the history of auto racing and the capitalist machinations boring. And in this way he, in his 7-year-old way, gave the screenplay an excellent analysis.

                  • This isn’t me taking a dig on your son or anything, but isn’t it just as likely your 7-year-old only enjoys action scenes, and it’s as simple as that? Versus indicating him having an articulate understanding (whether conscious or not) of what makes a screenplay flow better, or what-have-you? That sole desire to be stimulated with action scenes is actually pretty typical of most 7-year-old boys, and Speed Racer aside (avoided it like the plague so I can’t speak to it), using it as an indicator that children are more scrutinizing of the narratives they’re exposed to is a large assumption to make.

                    Anyway, as I said earlier, a lot of comments were generated based on very basic differences in opinion, and I genuinely took interest in the conversation and wasn’t ever taking offense or trying to be smug or contentious. But some people are getting to that point, so I’m bowing out. Apologies for any perceived vitriol, never the intent.

                • I’m not at all taking a patronizing stance with children, and that’s in fact something I absolutely despise in people when I see it happen. And not to be an ass about it, but I likely understand children better than most, I’ve spent semesters studying child psychology, student teaching, and taken courses where assignments included writing children’s short stories which were graded based on actual children’s evaluations. I always did well with that, and normally because I understood that you can trust a child to handle more levels of subtlety than most adults typically assume.

                  The example you ask me about doesn’t necessarily indicate anything to tell me I’m wrong about anything. In fact, for one, my point’s never been that children can’t handle more complexity and craftsmanship in their narratives, and for two, a child who hates having to listen to adults talking about things they don’t understand will also likely want to only read or watch the “good parts” of a story. See below for specifics…

      • 1) It’s not a problem for children. That’s all. Should there be more? As far as I’m concerned, it’s a positive if it’s there, it’s not a necessity. Because it’s for children. You said it yourself, the absence didn’t take anything away. It’s now officially a criticism devoid of value.

        2) So the structure could have been done better. But evaluating the piece as is, children did not have a problem with the structure.

        3) Not sure what you’re referring to here. But as far as imparting messages to the viewership, I can promise children don’t leave this movie thinking “my parents arbitrarily tell me things” and contemplating revolt. And not everything meant for children automatically needs to reinforce every positive message we want our children to ingest.

        And never once have I indicated I think writers for younger audiences don’t carefully consider their craft, or that they don’t need to. It’s plainly retarded to want everything dumbed down for kids, excepting we’d somehow want dumb kids. I don’t. I do, however, understand the simplistic beauty of wanting to create unique imaginative worlds for our kids, and letting them enjoy it for enjoyment’s sake.

        This doesn’t require a narrative structure that will be completely fulfilling for an adult audience.

        It’s a simple truth. Sometimes a movie works for them and doesn’t work for us and that’s totally perfectly fine. It just seems a bit of a pointless move to tear something down like that without appreciating what it was in its original context and who it was intended for.

        • swan_tower says:

          It’s now officially a criticism devoid of value.

          . . . that’s kind of like saying “well, this meal was edible, but it would have tasted better with some seasonings, maybe a little salt” is a criticism devoid of value. If you honestly believe that, then your view of the role of criticism is coming from a different planet than mine and, I expect, our host’s.

          But evaluating the piece as is, children did not have a problem with the structure.

          You did not. Other children probably did not. But can you tell me with confidence that no child ever found the opening boring or confusing? And again, what if the meal would have tasted better if they mixed the rice in with the vegetables and meat instead of feeding it to you first?

          I can promise children don’t leave this movie thinking “my parents arbitrarily tell me things” and contemplating revolt.

          Consciously, no. But boy howdy do people (at any age) absorb unconscious messages and assimilate them or get annoyed by them or whatever. I don’t think every story needs to preach a positive message, but when sloppy storytelling coincides with a bad message, I see an opportunity for improvement. And really, “because that’s how I need it to go to make my plot work” should never be a writer’s answer for why something happens.

          I am not saying, nor (I think) is Mr. Alcott saying, that a movie for kids needs to be completely fulfilling for an adult audience. But we are saying that this movie could have been more fulfilling for its child audience — your own experiences at the time notwithstanding — and if some of those changes would happen to make it more enjoyable for an adult as well, that’s a nice side benefit.

          I’d be very interested to know how kids react to the movie now. Do they still find it as compelling as some kids in the ’80s did?

          • 1) Pardon the hyperbolic comment. My view of criticism is that it’s a practice that should always be applied with a mind towards propriety. As in, relax on the kids’ movies, they’re not going to typically gratify adult sensibilities.
            2) As I said elsewhere, I’ve got a pretty good sample size of other members of my generation that do fondly remember the movie. And why on earth would I even want to tell you with confidence something that will never be true of anything ever (there will always be somebody or some group that dislikes something, no matter how popular or successful or generally beloved it is)?
            3) Well, you’re a bit off, until Mr. Alcott recants some points. The impression certainly given by his review is that this movie is bad. Like, BAD bad, it’s shoddy, it’s poorly written, it’s illogical, etc. As far as being more fulfilling for its child audience? He doesn’t even recognize the film as being directed toward children. He’s reviewing this movie as he reviews all movies, by holding it up to his own personal adult metric, he’s said as much. This is kinda my whole issue: the movie is for children, the reviewer refuses to recognize that (and maybe it is just opinion so that’s legit), and regardless he doesn’t agree that the standards for a movie are different when it’s aimed towards children versus adults. It’s an odd view, especially coming from a parent.

            And this: “if some of those changes would happen to make it more enjoyable for an adult as well, that’s a nice side benefit
            …is actually a point I’ve already made: if a movie aimed at children can satisfy adult audiences as well, then that’s a great positive. But it’s worthless to expect it, then rip a children’s movie for not living up to that expectation.

            As for your last question, I’ve gotta assume The Dark Crystal now wouldn’t find much purchase with the kids these days. The effects are just too outdated, that was the major MAJOR roadblock for me watching this after a decade of idealized memories. It comes off as Thunderbirds-level laughable.

            • swan_tower says:

              Let me ask you this: do you think the kinds of things we’re suggesting would make the movie less appealing to its target audience?

              I don’t get that impression from what you’ve said. You seem to acknowledge that such changes might indeed make it better. But you still object to them, which means your argument sounds a lot like “they aren’t necessary, because this movie is aimed at kids, and we shouldn’t hold it to those standards.”

              Which is an argument I will never agree with. And I suspect it isn’t the argument you intend to make, either. But that’s how it sounds.

              I do, in fact, hold movies to the exact same standard regardless of audience, where that standard is “does this do its job as well as it could?” That shouldn’t change because kids or adults are swapped into the equation. The methods of meeting that standard will change, yes, absolutely. I mean, I might find The Dark Crystal more compelling if Jen suffered horribly in his quest. But that would detract from its job, which is to entertain children; the kind of suffering I’m thinking of isn’t to the taste of your average eight-year-old. That isn’t the kind of change under discussion here, though. I don’t see anything in our host’s criticisms that would make it worse for kids, and a great deal that would make it better.

              • You’re oddly both nailing my point and missing it entirely, somehow. I’m not arguing against his criticisms per se, I’m arguing with the sentiment behind them. He decries the movie for a failing narrative, but that narrative didn’t actually fail for the majority of its target audience. It fails for him, mainly because he doesn’t evaluate the movie in its original context.

                I’d guess, at the end of the day, I pick up a strong tone in the review that conveys the impression this movie was meant for adult audiences, and the absence of any sort of qualification or caveat that it is in fact not irks me. Of course the criticisms are valid, the movie could have been better. But it’s still ludicrous to nitpick at a child’s toy for not being fun for an adult.

                It’s like complaining the Power Rangers’ plots get repetitive. Yes, they do. And…?

                Or, possibly more aptly, it’s going to a brainless summer action flick and ripping it for being a brainless summer action flick. It’s infinitely more useful to recognize that, yes, for you, it’s a bad movie. But there’s a certain audience (idiotic though they may be) that will evaluate that movie by an entirely different set of criteria, and in that context, the movie can succeed despite failing for you. I’m not saying you can’t criticize that movie for being shit (because I usually do criticize those movies for being shit), I’m saying it’s ALWAYS worthwhile to include a look at the intended audience and original context and examine whether the movie is managing to succeed on those terms.

                And, especially as far as children’s movies go, usually doing that first preempts me perceiving any value in fully critiquing a children’s movie and knocking it for not meeting my normal standards.

                • mimitabu says:

                  she’s nailing and “missing” your point, because you still don’t understand what you’re disagreeing with. as people have repeatedly tried to clarify for you, there are script problems that could be corrected, thus making the movie better at doing what it sets out to do (entertaining children). emphatically, the truth of that claim DOES NOT entail the truth of the claim “the dark crystal doesn’t entertain children.”

                  also, your extreme relativism regarding criticism rejects a lot more than i imagine you realize. you seem to think that because, say, someone may like cars so much that they’d go see a movie full of car chases and plot holes and love it, such reactions need to be accounted for when evaluating said movie’s screenplay. this is tantamount to saying nothing needs to be accounted for when analyzing a screenplay, as long as someone, somewhere, likes it. “But that’s obviously false, therefore it’s not my claim!” fine then, what DOES it mean to script evaluation that all rules are inextricably tied to whether or not a certain audience “likes” the script? is the videogame i mentioned suddenly devoid of script/difficulty-level/LOGIC problems because i (and many others) happened to like it? it was targeted at people like me, but it still benefits from at least making sense, like any script.

                  anyway, you don’t want to go as far as rejecting the evaluation of scripts altogether, and strangely you don’t know you’re going that far. you also don’t want to deny that todd’s insights about the script of the dark crystal could have made it a better movie, had the writers took them to heart, yet that’s the only claim anyone besides you is making. this is why you think swan_tower is missing the point.

                  to put it another way, you’re saying that adult movies and children’s movies should be evaluated with different criteria. you then stretch this to entail that principles of good writing for adult movies/literature can’t be used to improve children’s movies/literature. those are, in fact, two separate claims; the first irrelevant to this livejournal entry, the second relevant, but obviously false. you only want to make the first claim, and are confused when people take you to know what claims you’re responding to. make sense?

                  and finally, try to keep it nice. i’ve been pretty civil myself, despite your complete lack of effort to understand any of my points or analogies. if you won’t go far enough to consider what people are saying, at least don’t get smug.

                  • This really isn’t worth responding to, as you’re reading into what I’ve been saying, decidedly reading it as smug, and apparently taking offense. I’ve already said my peace, if you can’t let it be without arguing it, despite it obviously being opinion, that’s fine. But you’re not getting any more responses from me. Show me where I was being smug, I’ll show you a reading you specifically opted for because I’m not giving in and agreeing with you. And I’m mainly doing that because you’re not actually paying attention to what I’m asserting.

                    For one, neither does he ever say nor do I ever assert he says this movie doesn’t entertain children. The concept of that even occurring is impossible if he doesn’t in the first place acquiesce to my insistence the movie is for children. For another, I know for a fact I’m not going so far as rejecting the evaluation of scripts altogether, because I outright claim his criticisms are valid. Get that again, since you’ve missed it several times already: Alcott is right about the weak spots in the screenplay. I’ve admitted this, supported it, repeated it many times over. Finally, this comment: “you then stretch this to entail that principles of good writing for adult movies/literature can’t be used to improve children’s movies/literature.” You’re going to have to show me where I imparted that little nugget of ridiculousness ever, anywhere. Good luck.

                    Yeah, this one got a bit smug toward the end, I apologize. It gets a little trying having to argue with people that aren’t actually arguing with you, but with some nebulous collection of assumptions about you.

                    I really do apologize for offending anyone, I can see people are actually getting worked up about a conversation I just genuinely found interesting. A few more responses to other people and I’m bowing out of this one. This is, as I already said earlier, obviously a matter of opinion. I only kept responding till now because the differences were honestly surprising and tickled my debate bone.

                    Sad thing about trying to have a valid debate, it doesn’t work when people get distracted by taking offense. My bad for whatever part I played in that.

                • swan_tower says:

                  I love me some brainless summer action flicks, but that doesn’t mean I cannot or should not look at one and say, y’know, when you strip away the pretty explosions, you’re left with a story that makes no sense, and it would have been much improved had the villain had a comprehensible motivation and the hero not done that thing that was as dumb as a sack of rocks. Brainless summer action flicks are fun, but summer action flicks with brains are awesome. And, as our host says below, the whole point of these posts is to strip away all that other stuff and look at the scripts to see how they’re awesome, or how they fall short of it.

                  So this, I think, is the confusion: you appear to agree with all the points about falling short and how those shortfalls could have been improved, but you find the critical tone of the post unfair because the shortfalls didn’t stop kids from liking it.

                  That’s what it sounds like, anyway.

                  • Not quite it, but it’s stopped being worth discussing the differences. The end-all be-all of my point is merely this: there is value in appraising a film’s original context, audience and intent. That’s it. Simple as bliss. Somehow people are getting worked up about a whole lotta nothing.

                    • mimitabu says:

                      …but how is that relevant to “the dark crystal would be a better movie (for kids) if you tightened up these script problems”? are you just making the observation, but not in response to the lj post? i believe you that you weren’t trying to be smug earlier (probably just internet-influence on how i read tone), so please believe when i say i’m not trying to offend by saying: go back and read your own posts, and watch how easily you slip between considering todd’s individual criticisms as “good pointers (that i agree with)” (apparently current position), and “unfair considerations for a children’s movie” (what your original position was taken to be, and i’m fairly sure really was).

                      lj debates aren’t important, but i think it would be pretty interesting for you to step back and work out “if my point is X, why did i post it (ie how is it relevant to todd’s post)?” and go on from there… it should be clear that you wouldn’t have just posted “i think children’s movies and adults’ movies try to do different things” out of the blue. you were saying that the script evaluation was invalid in virtue of the movie’s intended audience–but you now admit that his advice was good, and since that’s all todd was aiming at, you agree with him. you may not agree with him (or me, but i don’t write insightful script evaluation posts) about childrens vs adult crit criteria, but he hasn’t even weighed in on that issue but to say you and he seem to disagree on it.

            • Todd says:

              Let’s get a few things straight here.

              First, I do not “review movies.” I analyze screenplays — what works, what doesn’t work, what excels and what lags behind. My analysis is based on my training as a screenwriter and the title of the blog: “What does the protagonist want?”

              Second, your argument is that “children’s movies” should not be judged by the same criteria as “adult movies.” Fine. On this we disagree, and that’s that. When I go into a studio executives office and pitch them a crappy narrative, they don’t go easy on me because “it’s for kids,” and that’s my business. It should be the business of anyone writing narrative drama, but that’s not my lookout.

              Third, I do not say that The Dark Crystal is a “bad movie.” In fact, I say the opposite, in the opening sentences of the piece. I say that I greatly prefer to Jim Henson’s other puppet movie, Labyrinth, which truly is a “BAD bad” movie, riddled with conceptual errors and glaring narrative missteps.

              As it is not my purpose to “review,” I do not. I say that, generally speaking, I like the movie. Then, that said, I go on to examine the flaws of its screenplay, which are crucial to understanding why it succeeds or fails. As The Dark Crystal is full of much imaginative design, it passes the time and provides its thrills, but it has several glaring errors in its screenplay which hold it back from being, say, The Wizard of Oz and for the purposes of discussion I point that out.

              Why this should give you such offense I still don’t understand.

  20. faroffstar says:

    Not really related to the review, but my cousin and I used to re-inact the Skeksi emperor’s death scene at the beginning over and over again… “I am still emperor….…”

    out of curiosity:
    Since I’m about 8 weeks away from bursting into motherhood, I wonder if your children have any interest in these older movies, like the Labyrinth or Dark Crystal? Special effects are so much more advanced nowadays and children’s movies, in general, have gotten a little smarter.

    • Todd says:

      I bought Labyrinth and Dark Crystal thinking that my kids might like them, but now I dunno. Their tastes don’t seem limited to 21st-century fare, they enjoy all the old Disney movies, going all the way back to Snow White. They like Star Wars and Indiana Jones, although Sam was curiously unimpressed by E.T. As a writer, I have pretty low tolerance for crap in my kids’ lives, so I tend to be careful about what I show them. I find Scooby-Doo stupid but harmless, but I’m just fine with them watching Spongebob and Jimmy Neutron and Fairly Oddparents, the writing on those shows is pretty smart.

  21. greyaenigma says:

    Don’t forget that this movie provided several of John Hodgman’s 700 Hobo Names.

    Regarding narration, one of the things I found most jarring about Clone Wars was that the opening crawl was spoken. Why ruin the tradition? Also, the music was just oddly… off.

  22. johnnycrulez says:

    I want you to know that you convinced me to order Primer.

    Also, I’ve never been a big fan of Requiem for a Dream. I like Pi, but Requiem just feels really heavy handed.

    • craigjclark says:

      The argument could be made that Requiem‘s heavy-handedness was the entire point. Personally, I found it both exhilarating and draining the first time I saw it (in the theaters) and picked up the DVD soon after it came out, but it was a while before I felt like I was ready to tackle it again. It’s certainly not the kind of film that one throws in the DVD player on a whim.

      • Todd says:

        I adore Requiem, it blows me away.

        One night I invited Urbaniak over for a movie night and insisted he watch it, thinking he’d enjoy the performances. He did not like the movie one whit.

        • craigjclark says:

          It certainly is a polarizer. I saw it with a small group of friends, one of whom is overweight, and I guess the Ellen Burstyn subplot hit too close to home for her because afterward she said she was never going to see another movie that I recommended ever again.

          All I said was, “Let’s go see was the new Darren Aronofsky movie.” How was I supposed to know it was going to be that intense?

    • Geddit! Heavy handed! Cause the guy loses his arm! Ha!


  23. Maybe they would’ve been super-immortal-evil-bird-guys.

    And they would’ve used the darklithium crystal to power their starship that would travel to the forest moon where they could vampirize the life essenses of fuzzy bear midgets.