Production Designer:Harry Lange
The swamp-dwelling creature called “the Nebri” is not listed among the onscreen character performer or character voice credits.
According to an Apr—May 1983 issue of Cinefantastique, writer-director-producer Jim Henson first conceived the idea for The Dark Crystal in 1975, while creating realistic-looking puppets for “The Land of Gorch,” a variety segment on NBC’s Saturday Night Live (1975— ). In addition, Henson was reportedly inspired by an illustration of Lewis Carroll’s 1889 poem, “The Pig-Tale,” published in an unnamed 1975 children’s book. The image featured crocodiles in “ritzy surroundings,” which Henson then recreated in the film’s “Skeksis” dinner party scene. Using the working title, The Crystal, Henson brought the idea to his producer on The Muppet Show (syndication, 1976—1981), Lord Lew Grade, who was convinced of the story’s appeal following the success of Star Wars (1977, see entry). In 1977, Henson launched into the early stages of preproduction at the Henson Associates Muppet workshop in New York City, where he considered setting up production headquarters across town at Astoria Studios. After conceptualizing the basic creatures and world of The Dark Crystal, Henson began to develop the story in Feb 1978. Around this time, Henson’s licensing vice president, Jerry Houle, noticed the fantasy illustrations of Brian Froud, whose books, The Land of Froud (1977) and Faeries (1978), appealed to Henson’s vision of The Dark Crystal. The 15 Jan 1981 edition of Film Journal suggested that another unpublished book by Froud titled, Gnomes also inspired Henson. Froud signed an agreement to be involved in the film, ...
The swamp-dwelling creature called “the Nebri” is not listed among the onscreen character performer or character voice credits.
According to an Apr—May 1983 issue of Cinefantastique, writer-director-producer Jim Henson first conceived the idea for The Dark Crystal in 1975, while creating realistic-looking puppets for “The Land of Gorch,” a variety segment on NBC’s Saturday Night Live (1975— ). In addition, Henson was reportedly inspired by an illustration of Lewis Carroll’s 1889 poem, “The Pig-Tale,” published in an unnamed 1975 children’s book. The image featured crocodiles in “ritzy surroundings,” which Henson then recreated in the film’s “Skeksis” dinner party scene. Using the working title, The Crystal, Henson brought the idea to his producer on The Muppet Show (syndication, 1976—1981), Lord Lew Grade, who was convinced of the story’s appeal following the success of Star Wars (1977, see entry). In 1977, Henson launched into the early stages of preproduction at the Henson Associates Muppet workshop in New York City, where he considered setting up production headquarters across town at Astoria Studios. After conceptualizing the basic creatures and world of The Dark Crystal, Henson began to develop the story in Feb 1978. Around this time, Henson’s licensing vice president, Jerry Houle, noticed the fantasy illustrations of Brian Froud, whose books, The Land of Froud (1977) and Faeries (1978), appealed to Henson’s vision of The Dark Crystal. The 15 Jan 1981 edition of Film Journal suggested that another unpublished book by Froud titled, Gnomes also inspired Henson. Froud signed an agreement to be involved in the film, and began designing puppet prototypes in Jul 1978 alongside Tim Clarke, Wendy Midener, Fred Nihda, Lyle Conway, Leigh Donaldson, Tom McLaughlin, and Sherry Amott, who each supervised various elements of construction and character design. The first five months yielded preliminary designs that were only used as background puppets for the final film.
Studio notes in AMPAS library production files reported that in Jan 1979, Henson asked Sherry Amott to investigate the possibility of moving the production to London, England. Following the well-received Jun 1979 theatrical release of The Muppet Movie (see entry) and the continued popularity of The Muppet Show on television, Lord Grade agreed to move forward on The Dark Crystal if Henson promised to first film a Muppet sequel, The Great Muppet Caper (1981, see entry). With the two projects scheduled back-to-back, Henson hired screenwriter David Odell, writer of The Muppet Movie, to begin the screenplay for The Dark Crystal, while production headquarters relocated to a workshop Henson had purchased in Hampstead Heath, London, in Jul 1979. However, production notes indicated that the filmmakers were forced to transport crucial crewmembers between London and NY on a rotational basis, unable to accommodate the large size of the production team all at once. In London, Ammot consulted professionals of various trades, including jewelry-makers, doll-makers, and pottery artists, and, as reported in Cinefantastique, the group expanded to over 400 technicians during the next two years. In production notes, producer Gary Kurtz revealed that to satisfy union rules in the U.K., the production was required to create new union titles, using the word “animatronics” to generically describe the duties of crewmembers that held responsibilities across multiple art, design, and special effects departments.
To develop the materials necessary to build the puppets, Amott spoke with a rubber company called Dunlopillo. With the help of Linda McCormack, who does not receive onscreen credit, Amott eventually enlisted the Malaysian Rubber Producers’ Research Association, which supplied the large quantities of rubber to mold the puppets’ latex foam bodies. Cinefantastique stated that once puppet production began in Jun 1980, the film’s foam latex supervisor, Tom McLaughlin, enrolled in a rubber technology program at the University of Akron in OH, and returned with 2,000 pieces of puppet foam created from 3,300 gallons of foam latex mixtures. Although he is not credited onscreen, production notes mentioned that special make-up effects artist Dick Smith worked as a consultant with the team modeling the latex. Production notes indicated that finding correct custom eyes also proved difficult, since taxidermy eyes would too-closely resemble reptiles or fish. Because the eye-makers at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum were unable to create eyeballs with red irises like Froud had designed, Amott found an artificial eye company called Nissel, and worked with a designer named Frank Osborne to cast eyes using plastics imported from the U.S.
On 15 Jun 1980, LAT announced that The Dark Crystal was planned to begin production following the sequel to The Muppet Movie, there referred to by the title, Muppet Movie II. Cinefantastique confirmed that puppet construction officially started Jun 1980, in anticipation of the completion of principal photography on The Great Muppet Caper.
Each individual character presented its own challenges throughout the construction process. Cinefantastique claimed that Gelflings “Jen” and “Kira” were originally imagined as furry blue creatures, but were eventually made to look more human. According to Wendy Midener, the earlier, animal-like designs “proved an obstacle to making Kira look pretty.” The characters were also prototyped as six-year-olds, but were later remodeled to resemble sixteen-year-olds for the final film. Despite their human appearance, Henson had decided early in preproduction not to use live actors with makeup effects. Instead, production notes stated that the Jen and Kira puppets were sculpted around the hands of Henson and Kathy Mullen, their performers, while oil-based makeup was added on top of the foam latex to achieve the correct skin tone. Cinefantastique indicated that any remaining space within the puppets’ heads was filled with mechanisms and radio-control devices to enable facial and eye movement. The Gelflings’ right arms were operated by an additional performer, and sometimes required the use of specially-built cable-operated limbs.
The Skeksis were designed by Froud during his first 1978 meeting with Henson in New York City, and were drawn as “refined and elegant, with a bright, glittery look.” Production notes revealed that the Skeksis were originally called “Reptus,” and the initial models were constructed by Henson’s puppet builder, Don Sahlin, prior to his death in 1978. Creative supervisor Sherry Amott claimed that she and Marie Kastell co-supervised work on the Skeksis design. Neither Sahlin nor Kastell are credited onscreen. According to Skeksis unit creature design and fabrication supervisor Sarah Bradpiece, the “Chamberlain” character was constructed from foam latex, while the remaining Skeksis were made from a material called Scotfoam, which allowed builders to cut pieces that would cover the creatures’ complex aluminum and plastic framework.
Amott stated that a year before she began work on The Dark Crystal, Henson had hired “Podling” unit creative developer Bob Payne to work on the first “Mystic” prototype. Wendy Midener, Faz Fazakas, Tom McLaughlin, and Mary Ann Harms also contributed to prototype development, although Harms is not included in onscreen credits. According to Cinefantastique, character performer Brian Muehl worked with the New York City dance group, Mummenschanz, which was known for its contortionist style of movement, to develop the stance of the Mystics. Conception of the “Garthim” began Dec 1979 and was finally approved Aug 1980. Ten Garthim costumes were sculpted from over 590 pieces of Styrofoam, plasticine, and fiberglass, and weighed about seventy pounds each. Production notes reported that construction of the “Landstriders” began Oct 1980, under the supervision of Valerie Charlton. Early prototypes designed the creatures as hairy spiders, but the technical challenges of the design proved too difficult to film. Instead, Charlton observed the bodies and movements of giraffes, modeling a costume design that required performers to wear forty-eight-inch carbon fiber stilts. “Fizzgig” was created using a mixture of opossum, raccoon, fox, lamb, and lion’s tail fur, collected from old articles of clothing. Rollin Krewson, Fizzgig’s creative supervisor, used tweezers to attach each individual hair to an elastic, knitted base composed of small squares of material that had to be hand-sewn together. Eight different models of Fizzgig were built, each with its own unique function or control, and each taking a week to make. Although he was initially a round ball of fur, Krewson added feet later into production.
The 17 Dec 1980 Var indicated that Lord Grade, owner of ITC Entertainment, expected principal photography to start Apr 1981, and that the film would be his most expensive production to date. The 15 Jan 1981Film Journal anticipated a Christmas 1981 release.
According to production notes, principal photography began 13 Apr 1981. However, Cinefantastique reported that filming began 1 May 1981 at the EMI Elstree Studios, following twelve weeks of rehearsal, while production charts in the 14 Jul 1981 HR indicated a start date of 4 May 1981. Since Jun 1980, Swiss mime Jean Pierre Amiel trained the character performers’ hand and body movements, and continued to work as a performer for the Mystic “Weaver” and Garthim. Each performer controlled the mouth movement of their puppet and recited dialogue aloud, since the characters’ speech was to be rerecorded by voice actors in post-production. In addition, three to four additional operators assisted with the auxiliary movements of each puppet. Certain characters, however, required more complex internal controls. From Nov 1980 to Apr 1981, special mechanical designer Tad Krzanowski constructed cables for twenty-two Skeksis heads and two “Aughra” heads, each of which contained anywhere from twelve to sixteen mechanisms. Supervising video engineer Ian Kelly developed an advanced television monitor system that allowed the directors and cinematographer to view the footage being simultaneously recorded on film. According to production notes, Kelly met with Henson and senior camera assistant Maurice Arnold in May 1980, before principal photography began on The Great Muppet Caper. Over the course of eight weeks, Kelly built a multi-monitor system for The Great Muppet Caper that would later be reused on The Dark Crystal, which Cinefantastique claimed could record close-up images of each puppet onto three-inch portable screens strapped to the operators’ bodies. Music composer Trevor Jones, who had been hired in Feb 1980, created six pieces that could be played on set while filming took place, including the Podling dance and Skeksis funeral music. Jones scored over three hours of music, all of which was used for the film’s promotional materials and events. This marked the final film of director of photography, Oswald Morris, who Cinefantastique noted temporarily came out of retirement to participate in both The Great Muppet Caper and The Dark Crystal.
Production notes indicated that filmmakers began to fall behind schedule, prompting Henson and co-director Frank Oz to establish a second unit, led by producer Gary Kurtz. Additional exterior photography was completed on location in Yorkshire, England, Chobham, England, and on the back lot of Henson’s Hampstead studio. The 18 Sep 1981 DV reported that principal photography had concluded. Cinefantastique estimated production costs of $3.34 per second, which resulted in a final budget of $26 million.
In production notes, Kurtz claimed that the project used many more miniatures and matte paintings than had originally been intended. According to Cinefantastique, matte paintings were produced at Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) in San Rafael, CA. The movie’s final shot was not conceived until Jul 1982, following a crew screening of the film in London; the image was filmed in San Rafael and editing was not completed until Sep 1982.
As reported by Cinefantastique, Universal Pictures scheduled a 28 May 1982 release date, hoping to emulate the summertime financial success of Star Wars. In Jan 1982, the studio screened an incomplete cut in Washington, D.C., and received extremely negative reviews from audience members who claimed to be confused by the unclear storyline. As a result, Universal postponed release, citing heavy box office competition. Although the Skeksis were originally intended to only make noises, Henson had hired linguist Alan Garner to develop a Greek and Egyptian-based language for the creatures. To clarify the plot, Henson rerecorded the Skeksis dialogue in English and added voiceover narration by Joseph O’Conor at the opening of the film, explaining the shared origin of the Skeksis and Mystics. Henson also trimmed the runtime from 101 minutes to 94 minutes, and had voice actress Billie Whitlaw rerecord Aughra’s dialogue to convey a lighter, more humorous tone. With these changes, the film received a more positive reception from Detroit, MI, test audiences.
A 23 Aug 1982 NYT article indicated that The Dark Crystal was to be released in 700 theaters 17 Dec 1982, prior to which producer Gary Kurtz had been showcasing the film at various science fiction conventions. On 1 Sep 1982, Var stated that Universal had originally intended to open the film with 70mm prints in various major cities on Thanksgiving weekend 1982, before expanding release the following month. Universal was forced to reschedule for the Christmas holiday, due to a lack of 70mm-equipped theaters available during that weekend, though only twenty of the 800—1,000 theaters were ultimately expected to project the film in 70mm for its new Dec 1982 date. However, the Apr—May 1983 issue of Cinefantastique indicated that the film’s release was delayed due to additional complications. According to Henson, Universal planned to open the film in summer 1982, but was unable to secure theaters for the desired Jun 1982 weekends and decided to show The Dark Crystal in Jul 1982 or Aug 1982. Eager to relieve its recent debts, one of the film’s financiers, Associated Communications Corporation (ACC), agreed to Universal’s terms. Henson worried that a summer release would hurt the film, however, and personally fronted the $2 million interest that would accrue if the distributors postponed the release until 17 Dec 1982. Shortly before the movie’s premiere, Henson reportedly paid ACC an extra $16 million to buy back rights to the film.
In addition to the suggested $20 million production budget, NYT indicated that Universal planned to spend $7 million in marketing costs, through “heavy” television promotion and other various campaigns. However, Cinefantastique reported a final total cost of $54 million, including production, marketing, and advertising expenses. According to NYT, along with multiple contemporary articles published in science fiction magazines, the film was featured at the World Science Fiction & Fantasy Convention during Labor Day weekend 1982, in Chicago, IL. In winter 1981, Universal issued a twenty-second teaser trailer and a series of artistic posters that purposely did not include the film’s title. In summer 1982, thirty and sixty-second trailers were attached to 2,500 prints of E.T. (1982, see entry) during its theatrical release.
On 16 Jul 1982, Publishers Weekly announced that Henson Organization Fund and Holt, Rinehart & Winston planned to publish a novelization of the film, written by A. C. H. Smith. The Oct 1982 edition of Hollywoodland stated that U.S. publications also included an art book, a “making of” paperback, a Marvel comic book, and a storybook illustrated by Henson’s London-based artist and designer, Bruce McNally.
A 19 Oct 1982 press release found in AMPAS library files announced that an exhibit titled, “The Art of The Dark Crystal” would run 20 Oct 1982 until 21 Nov 1982 at the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles, CA. Hollywoodland reported that exhibits were also expected to open in New York City and London from 19 Oct 1982 to 28 Nov 1982, featuring props, photographs, artwork, and materials detailing the creative process. NYT announced that a designer fashion line would also be made available in clothing retailers in select cities.
On 25 Nov 1982, LAT reported that a benefit screening for the Craft and Folk Art Museum was scheduled at Universal Studios in Studio City, CA, on 16 Dec 1982. The University of Southern California (USC) Cinema-Television Alumni Association hosted the film’s official West Coast premiere at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, CA, on 14 Dec 1982. According to a 22 Dec 1982 Var news item, Henson was honored at a 13 Dec 1982 premiere at the Loews Astor Plaza Theater in New York City, benefitting Channel 13 public access television.
The 7 Mar 1983 HR stated that The Dark Crystal had earned more than $40 million in domestic grosses since its 17 Dec 1982 release, while collecting $225,000 in its first five days at forty-four theaters in the U.K.
According to a 3 Feb 1983 DV brief, The Dark Crystal received the Main Award from the International Festival of Fantasy Films.
On 14 Jan 2009, DV reported that Melissa Segal would oversee the relaunch of consumer products and movie deals at The JJim HensonCo., which included a remake of The Dark Crystal. In addition, the 4 May 2010 DV announced that Australian filmmakers Peter and Michael Spierig would co-direct a sequel titled, The Power of the Dark Crystal, replacing Genndy Tartakovsky, who had been attached to direct the project four years earlier. The film, written by Craig Pierce, was reportedly based on an original script by Annette Duffy and David Odell, and would be produced under the Ambience Entertainment branch of Australian production company, Omnilab Media. Executive producers included The Henson Co.’s Brian Henson, Lisa Henson, and Jason Lust, Cinemarket Films’ Peter D. Graves, and Omnilab’s Christopher Mapp, Matthew Street, and David Whealy. Brian Froud would return as a conceptual designer under Australia’s Iloura special effects firm, which had already begun preparations on the film’s CGI elements. The Power of the Dark Crystal was to be filmed in 3D and would incorporate live action among Henson’s puppets. Principal photography was expected to begin that year in anticipation for a 2012 or 2013 release. However, as of Nov 2013, neither a remake nor a sequel to The Dark Crystal has been produced.
End credits contain special thanks to Dennis Lee and Alan Garner. Credits also include the following statements: “Made at EMI Elstree Studios, Hertfordshire, England,” and “A Henson Organization Ltd. Production for ITC Entertainment Ltd.”
In another world, during the Age of Wonder, the land is desolate and dark. One thousand years earlier, a shard was broken from the great Crystal and forged two races: the gentle urRu Mystics and their cruel counterparts, the vulture-esque Skeksis. Only ten of the Skeksis remain, ruling the kingdom from the castle where the Crystal is housed. They cheat death by drawing life from the sun’s light, deflected into their eyes through the power of the Dark Crystal. When the Crystal cracked, the Mystics moved to a faraway desert, but now only ten remain, practicing rituals of ancient wizardry with the hope of reviving their ailing leader. A Gelfling named Jen lives among the Mystics after the Skeksis killed his entire race. The Master Mystic tells Jen that he must fulfill a prophecy and find the Crystal’s missing shard. Before the Master dies, he instructs Jen to follow the path of the Greater Sun to Aughra, a seer who will help guide him, and Jen embarks on his journey alone. Meanwhile, in the castle, the Skeksis emperor dies. When Skesis Lord Chamberlain attempts to usurp the throne, his peers object, and order him to compete in a “trial by stone.” Chamberlain and his challenger, the General, use large, curved blades to cut into a block of stone until the General chops the stone from its base and wins the throne. The Skesis strip Chamberlain of his clothes and banish him from the castle. They move to the Crystal room, where the Crystal shows them images of Jen’s journey. Fearing the prophecy, the General orders their large, beetle-like Garthim soldiers to retrieve Jen and bring him to the castle. ...
In another world, during the Age of Wonder, the land is desolate and dark. One thousand years earlier, a shard was broken from the great Crystal and forged two races: the gentle urRu Mystics and their cruel counterparts, the vulture-esque Skeksis. Only ten of the Skeksis remain, ruling the kingdom from the castle where the Crystal is housed. They cheat death by drawing life from the sun’s light, deflected into their eyes through the power of the Dark Crystal. When the Crystal cracked, the Mystics moved to a faraway desert, but now only ten remain, practicing rituals of ancient wizardry with the hope of reviving their ailing leader. A Gelfling named Jen lives among the Mystics after the Skeksis killed his entire race. The Master Mystic tells Jen that he must fulfill a prophecy and find the Crystal’s missing shard. Before the Master dies, he instructs Jen to follow the path of the Greater Sun to Aughra, a seer who will help guide him, and Jen embarks on his journey alone. Meanwhile, in the castle, the Skeksis emperor dies. When Skesis Lord Chamberlain attempts to usurp the throne, his peers object, and order him to compete in a “trial by stone.” Chamberlain and his challenger, the General, use large, curved blades to cut into a block of stone until the General chops the stone from its base and wins the throne. The Skesis strip Chamberlain of his clothes and banish him from the castle. They move to the Crystal room, where the Crystal shows them images of Jen’s journey. Fearing the prophecy, the General orders their large, beetle-like Garthim soldiers to retrieve Jen and bring him to the castle. On a rocky cliffside, Jen finds Aughra and follows her into her cave, which contains a spinning orbital replica of the universe. She presents him with a box full of crystal shards, instructing him to select the correct one and return it to the Crystal before an alignment of the three suns called the “Great Conjunction.” He blows into a Mystic music pipe until one crystal glows purple. Suddenly, the Garthim break in and destroy Aughra’s home, but Jen escapes. While Jen hides in the forest, the shard shows him images of a creature breaking the giant Crystal. He discovers Fizzgig, a fluffy monster, and Kira, another Gelfling. When Jen and Kira touch hands, they telepathically exchange their histories: Jen explains his life learning among the Mystics, while Kira lived among the forest animals. As the Skeksis feast in the castle, the Garthim return with Aughra. Infuriated that she is not Jen, the Skeksis command another search. While floating down a boat on the river, Kira spots a Crystal Bat and shoots it with a slingshot, explaining that the Skeksis can see whatever the bats see through the Crystal. The bat, however, emerges from the water and catches sight of the travelers. Kira takes them to her adoptive guardians, a clan of friendly Podlings, who dance, play music, and feast. However, the Garthim break into the Podlings’ village and capture many of the inhabitants. Kira and Jen run for safety into the forest and they fall asleep in each other’s arms. In the morning, Kira shows Jen an abandoned Gelfling temple, where he finds a carving that reads: “When single shines the Triple Sun, what was sundered and undone shall be whole, the two made one, by Gelfling hand, or else by none.” They are interrupted by Chamberlain, who tells Jen he is a Skeksis outcast and offers to help them. Skeptical, Jen refuses his aide and he, Kira, and Fizzgig make their escape on the backs of two rabbit-like creatures that stride on long, stilt-like legs. At the castle, the Skeksis use the light beams of the Dark Crystal to drain the life from the Podlings and turn them into slaves as the Emperor drinks their “essence.” Kira and Jen encounter the Garthim in a field and free a cage of captured Podlings. To escape the Garthim, Kira grabs Jen and jumps off a cliff, opening a pair of wings to coast them gently to safety. Meanwhile, the nine remaining Mystics travel across the land toward the castle. In a cave tunnel underneath the castle, the two Gelflings again encounter Chamberlain, who captures Kira and brings her to the General. A rockslide buries Jen underneath a pile of boulders. Instead of immediately killing Kira, the General decides to first drain and drink her essence. As the life drips out of her, Kira uses a chant to summon the caged animals around her to set her free. The creatures knock her Skeksis captor into a fiery pit below. The three suns move closer in the sky, and the Mystics approach the castle. Jen stirs himself from the rubble and falls into a dark hole, surrounded by Garthim. The soldiers smash a hole in the wall, and Jen uses the portal to climb into the fiery pit below the castle’s torture room. Aughra directs him to Kira, and the Mystics hum a magic chant to put the Garthim guards outside the castle to sleep. Jen finds the Crystal chamber and watches as the Skeksis surround the jewel, awaiting the Great Conjunction. When the Skeksis notice both Kira and Jen in the room, Jen jumps on top of the Crystal, but drops the shard. One of the Skeksis throws Fizzgig into the fiery pit and Kira uses her wings to retrieve the shard. She throws the shard to Jen, but the Skeksis stab her and she dies. Jen replaces the lost shard and the Crystal emits a bright beam of light, causing the Garthim and the castle to crumble. The Mystics enter the chamber and surround the Crystal, which projects individual beams of light that lift them into the air. They are transformed into their original ghostly, luminescent urSkek forms, a combination of the Mystics and the Skeksis. One of the urSkeks explains that in their arrogance, they had shattered the Crystal and severed their race in two. As Jen holds Kira’s body in his arms, the creature revives her. The urSkeks and the Crystal dissolve into a colored mist, which turns the castle into a crystalline, silver structure and restores life and beauty to the land.
This film's end credits begin with the statement, “Most of the principal actors in Citizen Kane are new to motion pictures. The Mercury Theatre is proud ... >>
News items in the 22 and 28 Feb 1978 Var and DV announced filmmaker Steven Spielberg’s intent to develop a project for Universal Pictures, titled ... >>