The Dark Crystal appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. In terms of transfer, the fourth time was the charm, as Crystal finally offered excellent visuals.
Sharpness seemed excellent. The movie always came across as nicely well defined and accurate. At no time did I discern any issues related to softness, as the flick stayed crisp and distinct. Jagged edges and moiré effects also created no concerns, and I detected no signs of edge enhancement.
Due to the production design, Crystal offered a fairly subdued palette that tended toward an “earthy” look. Within that spectrum, the tones looked very accurate and lifelike, and when the hues brightened, they really came to life. For example, the scenes in the Skeksis palace demonstrated many gorgeous colors; check out their purple robes to see what I mean. Black levels consistently came across as wonderfully deep and rich, while shadow detail looked appropriately dense but never overly thick.
The main area of improvement compared to prior discs came from the source flaws – of lack thereof. Whereas the other releases could be grainy and a bit dirty, this one seemed very clean. Almost no source concerns ever appeared during this smooth transfer. All of this meant the movie looked terrific and finally earned an “A” for visuals.
I thought that the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Dark Crystal was also an improvement over what I heard on prior releases. It favored the forward soundfield, and that domain offered a pretty wide spectrum of sound. The soundscape seemed nicely broad, and it opened up matters fairly well.
Surround usage appeared limited. For the most part, the rear speakers simply reinforced forward elements. That meant mostly music from the surrounds, though some effects – such as the chant of the Mystics – also cropped up back there. Nonetheless, this remained a very forward-oriented track.
While not excellent, the quality of the audio seemed satisfactory. Speech came across without much edginess and appeared reasonably natural and concise. Effects lacked great dimensionality, but they could show okay range at times, and they didn’t seem particularly rough or distorted. The music fell into the same realm, as the score was a little restricted but clear and more than listenable. At no point did the audio threaten to dazzle me, but for material from a 25-year-old flick, I thought it worked pretty well.
This new “25th Anniversary Edition” of The Dark Crystal mixes old and new supplements. I’ll mark elements exclusive to this DVD with an asterisk, so if you fail to see a star, that piece cropped up on prior releases.
On DVD One, we get an *audio commentary with conceptual designer Brian Froud. He offers a running, screen-specific discussion. As expected, much of the time he covers character and visual design issues, but he branches out into other areas as well. We learn about the film’s development, collaboration with Jim Henson and others, influences, construction of the puppets and puppeteering, and a few connected subjects.
Given the intense focus on the technical side of things, I feared that the commentary would become dry and dull. To my relief, Froud proves warm and engaging throughout his chat. He gives us great insights into various aspects of the production as he lets us know a lot about the designs and their execution. There’s a lot to like in this informative and enjoyable chat.
As we move to DVD Two, we find a very good 57-minute and 23-second documentary about the film called The World of The Dark Crystal. This piece was created at about the same time as the film itself. It consists of a nice balance of interviews with all the key creators and some wonderful footage shot on the set of the film. The latter really is fun, since it gives us a firsthand look at just how Henson and company worked their magic. The documentary talks a little about the origins and inspirations for the project, but the nuts and bolts are the focus, which seems appropriate. Many times I don't care for documentaries that are from the same time period as the films themselves - they usually lack historical perspective - but this one works well.
A two-part documentary called *Reflections of The Dark Crystal lasts 36 minutes, 42 seconds. We hear from Froud, the Jim Henson Company’s Brian Henson, screenwriter David Odell, puppeteer/performer David Goelz, performer Kathryn Mullen, and puppet designer/builder Jane Gootnick. “Reflections” examines the project’s origins and story, creating the film’s world, character design and concepts, building the puppets and challenges connected to their performances, and some reactions to the end product.
“Reflections” offers a pretty decent glimpse of various film subjects. I must admit it doesn’t fascinate me, partly because we already get so much good info from Froud’s commentary and the prior documentary; this one become a little redundant at times. It also includes too many movie shots. On its own, I think “Reflections” satisfies, but at this point in the package, it’s not the most compelling piece. I still believe it’s worth a look, though.
Under Extra Scenes, we get two components. The “deleted funeral scenes” go for three minutes, 50 seconds. These come from a section early in the film when both the leaders of the Skeksis and the Mystics die. They're actually fairly powerful scenes, so I'm not sure why they were omitted; the filmmakers probably thought they didn't move along the story, but that's just my guess. Since they come from a workprint, the quality of the clips isn't great, but they’re still interesting pieces of footage.
More curious are seven scenes that appear in the finished film. They are offered in the supplemental section in their workprint form and they have the “original language” on them. All together, they last 20 minutes and 36 seconds. To be frank, I'm not completely clear what this is supposed to mean. Sometimes we hear bits where the Skekses usually speak a language other than English, and when we see Aughra, Frank Oz performs her voice, just as he did on the set. (Oz did the physical puppeteering for the character, but Billie Whitelaw provided her voice for the released film.) However, some of the voices seem to be the dubbed ones we hear on the finished print.
My guess is that the workprint offers the voices the way the filmmakers originally intended them to be when the film went into release but that they changed them after the workprint was completed. I figure that they decided to make the Skekses speak English because there were too many subtitles, and they lost Oz's performance because it sounded too much like Yoda. (The character of Aughra shares some similarities with that Jedi master as well, so it probably came across as too much of a rip-off). These are just my theories, so if anyone knows the facts, I'd love to hear them.
We get a few more supplements as well. Character Illustrations displays 16 drawings of the Mystic and Skeksis characters. Finally, Previews gives us ads for Labyrinth, MirrorMask, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 20 Million Miles to Earth and “Ray Harryhausen In Color”.
Despite the ample space available, this 25th Anniversary Edition of Crystal drops a few features from the prior releases. Oddly, the “Character Illustrations” used to come with biographies of the creatures; those go bye-bye even though they were pretty cool. We also lose talent files, a look at the tale’s origins called “The Mithra Treatment”, more drawings and storyboards, and Crystal trailers. The 1999 disc also included an isolated score, but that didn’t show up for the Superbit or Collector’s Edition releases.
While I won’t be melodramatic and call these omissions unforgivable, they seem unfortunate at best and really tacky at worst. I have no idea what purpose it serves to drop features from the prior releases. They weren’t big ticket items, but this two-disc set should have been the source of all collected Crystal supplements; why lose existing items?
At no point does The Dark Crystal threaten to become a great movie. I appreciate all the work that went into its creation, but the lush setting doesn’t come with a compelling story. That dooms the film to be mediocre. The DVD presents excellent visuals as well as pretty good audio and a very nice selection of supplements.
Since this set comes as the movie’s fourth DVD release, the important question becomes how it compares with its predecessors. In terms of film presentation, it’s easily the best. It offers by far the strongest transfer we’ve seen. Audio has been fairly consistent across the four DVDs, but this one is at least as good as the others, if not better. Extras are also superior to prior discs, though the fact we lose some components from the old DVDs disappoints. Nonetheless, the superior picture quality makes this the Dark Crystal to have, and that goes for fans who already have one of the previous releases.
To rate this film, visit the Superbit review of THE DARK CRYSTAL