Although Jim Henson is most associated with The Muppets, his fantasy features — The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth — are also fan favorites and cinematic classics.
FANDOM caught up with Lisa Henson, Jim Henson’s daughter and current CEO of the Jim Henson Company, to reflect on The Dark Crystal’s legacy ahead of its special theatrical re-release next week.
Henson shared some of her earliest memories of the film, behind-the-scenes secrets, and also what’s in store for the fantasy franchise, which she likens to Star Wars.
The Genesis of The Dark Crystal
Henson recalls her father’s foray into fantasy.
“[He] was living in London and working on The Muppets. He was starting to take an interest in classic fantasy imagery like Arthur Rackham and other early illustrations. He was introduced to the work of Brian Froud and just loved Brian’s illustrations and started thinking about doing the unnamed big fantasy film,” she explained.
“The key idea behind it — and still what makes it innovative today — that there are no humans in it. It is an all-puppet fantasy world,” Henson added. “It was a big dream of his for many years.”
Making that dream come true required Froud’s insights.
“I think one of the reasons it was so successful was that he worked with Brian Froud from the beginning,” Henson said of her famous father. “He brought Brian over to New York, had him meet the puppet builders and learn about puppet creation so the process of making those 2D illustrations into 3D was very collaborative.”
Making the Movie
Interestingly, the last part of The Dark Crystal to come together was the story and dialogue — the opposite of how most films are created today.
This movie had a long time of development where they finding the way the characters should look and finding the world and developing the rules of the world.
“The Gelflings, the Skeksis, the Mystics — all of those characters were in some form of development before the storyline was ever figured out,” Henson explained. “The actual script of The Dark Crystal was the very last thing that came to past because so much of it was written in post. Much of it [was shot] in fantasy languages and had to re-record in English language.”
“I think it was in perhaps similar to the amount of lead time something like a Pixar movie would have where they do a lot of preproduction and they take their time to find a movie,” she added.
The Dark Crystal Today
The 1982 fantasy-adventure returns to nearly 700 screens nationwide on four dates: February 25, February 28, March 3 and March 6. Fans can buy tickets at https://www.fathomevents.com/events/the-dark-crystal.
“It’s exciting to see a film like this on a big screen,” Henson says of the re-release. “These sets were like the original sets of the Star Wars films and other films of the eighties. They were all hand-built, unlike so many films today that utilize CGI. It’s well worth seeing them on the big screen to see that level of detail. The characters as well are very finely detailed.”
Henson’s favorite scene? The banquet of the birdlike Skeksis.
“Seeing the Skeksis excess and debauchery and the crawlies and the disgusting-looking food, there’s something just irresistible about it,” she explained.
Legacy of the Dark Crystal
The framework that her father, Froud and the work countless others put into The Dark Crystal universe is something Henson wants to preserve and grow.
“The Dark Crystal is unique among all the things that my father produced — as well all the things that The Jim Henson Company controls today — in that it presents itself as a complete fantasy world. It has a history. There’s a sense of geography. Getting to know that fantasy world and treating that it’s real is a big priority for me and the entire team here,” Henson explained.
Indeed, there have been a series of creation myths by Froud that delve into the origins of the various races. There’s a series of YA books — prequels from before the movie where the Gelfing clans are thriving. An upcoming Netflix series, The Dark Crystal: The Age of Resistance, will also delve into the past. And there’s a set of graphic novels, entitled Power of the Dark Crystal, that takes place after the film.
“It’s like our mini Star Wars,” Henson says. “It’s a world that has a past, present, and future.”
It’s that Star Wars-like world-building that excites creators and fans. A new generation of fans can catch The Dark Crystal when it returns to theaters, as well as explore the lore and universe at DarkCrystal.com. Both serve as great jumping-off points.
Jim Henson called the film his “proudest work,” and his daughter agrees, telling FANDOM, “I know he would be happy to know these films were recognized over time.”
Lawrence is Editor in Chief of FANDOM. He grew up loving X-Men, Transformers, and Japanese-style role playing games like Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy. First-person shooters make him incredibly nauseous.