Available for purchase or to rent on digital beginning February 6th is the Jim Henson and Frank Oz directed classic ‘The Dark Crystal,’ which was a departure from their work with The Muppets and featured groundbreaking animatronics.
Moviefone recently had the pleasure of speaking with the daughter of Jim Henson and CEO of the Jim Henson Company, Lisa Henson about the digital re-release of ‘The Dark Crystal.’ She discussed the development of the project, why her father wanted to direct something darker and fantasy-driven, the movie’s advances in animatronics, the popularity of the movie, the future of the franchise and the legacy of Jim Henson.
Related Article: Brian Henson Talks ‘Labyrinth’ Digital Re-Release and Playing Hoggle
Moviefone: To begin with, can you talk about the development of this movie and why your father wanted to do something darker and more fantasy-driven after the success of ‘The Muppet Show’ and ‘The Muppet Movie’?
Lisa Henson: He was not expected to take this kind of turn. He was so successful with ‘The Muppet Show,’ and strangely, he himself decided to stop making ‘The Muppet Show’ and end it after five seasons. That was unusual at the time, but it was very indicative of his personality because he was restless. Even at the height of ‘Sesame Street,’ the Muppets stayed on ‘Sesame Street,’ but he himself decided he wanted to do a different kind of a show, a variety show with the Muppets. Similarly, when the Muppets were at the very height of their success, he was thinking that he wanted to do something else. He didn’t use the word immersive, but more immersive, where the whole world is brought to life. He met Brian Froud after seeing some of his artwork. Really, that partnership and that friendship kicked off the whole development of ‘The Dark Crystal’ because Brian was making creatures that my father knew could be built, but they had never been built before. He looked at those beautiful troll drawings that Brian did, and he had a lot of published work. I think that my father and the puppet builders knew that those things could be built with the techniques that they were starting to work on. He was experimenting as well with slightly different textures with the ‘Saturday Night Live’ puppets, with different sorts of realistic eyeballs. Instead of everything being a fluffy, furry character, these had different sorts of sculpted and molded texture. So, a lot of it was technical. He always wanted to solve a new technical challenge, but he was also very interested in a bigger fantasy world and was very attracted to the art of Arthur Rackham and other British illustrators who made a whole world of creatures. His dream project really was ‘Dark Crystal,’ and he was allowed tremendous freedom in the development. So, you asked about the development. The financier on ‘The Muppet Show’ gave him almost a blank check to do whatever he wanted for this fantasy film. He was able to have people drawing, sculpting, and coming up with new techniques. It’s like the world was developed even before the story was, and the script, which David Odell wrote was really coming in to focus later. So, this was a movie that was a classic world building exercise.
MF: Can you talk about the groundbreaking animatronics that your father helped create for this project?
LH: If you put yourself back to pre-CGI, pre-everything, they had no computer support to rely on either visually or even in terms of driving the mechanics. The contemporaneous puppetry is Yoda (from ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ and E.T. (‘E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial’), which in each case, was one character. The Henson Company was building an entire world with hundreds (of puppets). So that was sort of the scale of what they were trying to do, which was also amazingly ambitious. So, some of the same things that were being solved with Yoda and with E.T., whether it was eye blinking or fingers, all these things were mechanical and engineering challenges. Even the foam that something might become, the skin was a challenge, and everything was an engineering challenge. Then ‘Dark Crystal’ doubled, tripled, and quadrupled the challenge by the array of characters that they wanted to put on screen.
MF: The film was not well-received at the time of its release but has gone on to become a modern classic. Can you talk about the legacy of the movie, and did your father live long enough to see the movie become beloved by fans? If he was here now, what would he think about the fact that we are still talking about ‘The Dark Crystal’ almost 40 years later?
LH: I think it makes me wonder what it would’ve been like for him to live and see that both movies, both ‘The Dark Crystal’ and Labyrinth have become enduring classics that are extremely appreciated for the artistry and the innovation that went into them. At the time, ‘Dark Crystal,’ critically was complicated. It was respected on a certain level, but people felt a bit betrayed. “Why are the people who did ‘The Muppets’ doing something that’s a little scary?” But at the same time, there were people who appreciated it, and it did perform well internationally, and maybe even a little better in America than people feared. So, ‘The Dark Crystal’ performed well enough that he was able to get the financing with George Lucas’s help for ‘Labyrinth.’ Then ‘Labyrinth’ is the one that performed badly. So, they were not both failures, but the ‘Dark Crystal’ while it performed well was a little bit critically complicated because it was just so different from what people expected from him coming off ‘The Muppet Show’ and ‘The Muppet Movie’.
MF: The franchise recently expanded with Netflix’s prequel series, ‘The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance,’ are their plans for more live action ‘Dark Crystal’ in the future?
LH: We are always doing ‘Dark Crystal’ stuff. One of the things we have done between productions is publications and graphic novels. So, we develop storylines for the world of Thra, which if you didn’t know, it is the name of the planet in ‘Dark Crystal.’ So, we are always opening that world up with books and graphic novels in between productions.
MF: Finally, can you talk about your father’s legacy and the work of the Jim Henson Company that continues to this day?
LH: We have a lot of fun managing the legacy, and whether it’s making a brand new ‘Fraggle Rock’ show for Apple or making ‘The Dark Crystal’ prequel series, ‘Age of Resistance’ for Netflix, which was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. To be able to bring that world to life again, I never thought we would do it. With ‘Fraggle Rock’ as well, those shows were so beautiful and so complicated that being offered by today’s streamers the chance to go back and revisit and do puppet spectaculars again, it’s been wonderful and rewarding.
“Another World Another Time In the Age of Wonder”
1 hr 33 minDec 17th, 1982
Showtimes & Tickets
What is the Plot of ‘The Dark Crystal?’
On another planet in the distant past a Gelfling embarks on a quest to find the missing shard of a magical crystal and restore order to his world before the grotesque race of Skeksis find and use the crystal for evil.