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Up until Peter Jackson tackled the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, I looked upon THE DARK CRYSTAL ($27) as one of the most ambitious live-action fantasy films ever made. Without a single human being on the screen, directors Jim Henson and Frank Oz tell the story of THE DARK CRYSTAL completely through elaborate puppetry. Using mythic archetypes, THE DARK CRYSTAL covers a lot territory that will seem familiar to those fans of the fantasy genre. However it is the strangeness of the characters and the world they inhabit that makes THE DARK CRYSTAL one of the most visually interesting films of the 1980s, as well as a personal favorite from that decade.

The story of THE DARK CRYSTAL takes place on another world that has been ruled for a millennia by a cruel and evil race known as the Skeksis. Prophecy tells that the Skeksis rule will be brought to an end by small, peaceful creatures known as Gelflings, a people that has been all but wiped out by the fearful Skeksis. However, a gentle, but powerful race known as the Mystics have managed to save a Gelfling named Jen from the genocide, so that he may play his part in the foretold prophecy. The rest of the film follows Jenís quest to restore a missing shard to the dark crystal, thus healing it and depriving the Skeksis of their source of power.

Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment has made their Superbit DVD edition of THE DARK CRYSTAL available in a 2.35:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for 16:9 displays. This really is a terrific looking transfer, one that has been made even better by the high bit rate presentation. The image is crisp and very nicely defined, which really allows one to appreciate the details of the puppet characters and the production design that brings this alien world to life. Colors appear very nice, with good saturation and stability, although there are moments where the hues will remind one that they are watching a twenty-year-old film. Blacks are decidedly inky, whites appear clean and the image provides a nice sense of depth. Additionally, shadow detail is on par for an early 1980ís production. The film element used for the transfer does display some minor signs of age, but is generally in very good shape. This being a Superbit title, noticeable digital compression artifacts are virtually absent.

THE DARK CRYSTAL is offered with 5.1 channel soundtracks in both the Dolby Digital and DTS varieties. While the image on the DVD is very, very good, the soundtrack doesn't hold up as well, having a somewhat dated sound that lacks the fidelity and clarity that one finds in brand new all-digital tracks. There is a bit of harshness here and there, plus the bottom end isnít as deep as it would have been, had this been a brand new film. Individual sounds and even the channel separations arenít as cleanly defined as they would be in a mix designed to be discrete from the ground up. Given these limitations, this track has obviously been transcribed from the pre-matrixed Dolby Surround stems.

Additionally, the forward soundstage tends to dominate, with the surrounds primarily providing ambient and musical fill. Dialogue is fully understandable, but some voices occasionally sound a bit canned. I am quite fond of Trevor Jonesí score, which sounds reasonably good when amplified. Differences between Dolby Digital and DTS are completely negligible because of the age of the soundtrack. Overall, this is a completely serviceable early 1980s soundtrack. Subtitles have been provided on the DVD in English and Spanish. The basic interactive menus offer access to the standard set up and scene selection features. No supplements are provided on this Superbit title, since all of the storage space on the DVD has been utilized to maximize video and audio quality.

THE DARK CRYSTAL is a wonderful fantasy movie and a personal favorite. The Superbit process ekes every bit of quality out of the films visuals, making this the best looking edition of the film released thus far. Since the original DVD release of THE DARK CRYSTAL also offered the sixty-minute documentary The World Of The Dark Crystal, which isnít contained on the Superbit version, I think a lot of fans may end up owning both DVDs.



The Dark Crystal (Superbit Collection) (1982)


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2003 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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