Jim Henson Fantasy Collection - The Dark Crystal / Labyrinth
| First of all, I have to fess up and admit that I am a huge Muppet fan. I may not be a fan of all things Henson - Fraggle Rock always left me a bit bored Ė but I can watch the adventures of Kermit and friends happily for hours.
One of the things that I especially loved about Jim Hensonís work was his detours into fantasy. And they were real detours. His fantasy work was inspired and bizarre yet still appropriate for all ages. As with all his work, and the best family entertainment, you donít grow out of it. It remains as magical, powerful and impressive to an adultís mind as it does to a child.
This can be seen in this DVD set that collects his two fantasy masterpieces, The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth along with a recent production of his studio, Mirror Mask which was somewhat of a disappointment. Fortunately, these first two films show was a wonderful film maker Henson was and what a loss his death was to story telling and film making in our culture.
The Dark Crystal uses all puppets to tell the story of a young, unassuming gelfling who has to set out on a journey to save the universe from the evil forces seeking power. Typical fare for a fantasy story, for sure, but the magic comes from the wonderful characters that populate this world. These personas are magical both in their characterization, the voice actors and the writers who give them voice, but also in their beautiful creation. This was Hensonís first foray into such a magical, otherworld and he experiments beautifully with the creation of truly alien forms.
The puppets constitute a multitude of differing forms from traditional puppets to the hand held kind that resemble his Muppets to life size characters maneuvered by people inside to all kinds of mechanical wonders. He mixes these together to create a complete world that is a joy to experience. The Henson company will be returning to this world to create a sequel and I just hope they can find a story that is worthy of this legacy.
Because The Dark Crystal is an achievement not solely in the technical and artistic sense. It is a beautiful story as well. This is the secret to any good movie making. A beautiful film without the story to back it up (as in Mirror Mask) is a sad thing indeed.
Fortunately, Henson was a masterful story teller and Labyrinth is another example. This is a very poignant tale about the coming of age of a young woman. Like Peter Pan in this way, Labyrinth is about the end of innocence. Therefore it plays both sides of the coin being a story for children as well as for adults. There is the awakening of sexual energy, the acceptance of responsibility and the romanticization of childhood idols. Labyrinth is a darkly grown up film that remains accessible to children.
The choice of David Bowie as villain (if that can truly be the right word for his role) is a telling part of Hensonís creation. His music, which he contributes to the film, is anything but childlike.
Labyrinth is also notable for an early performance by the outstanding Jennifer Connelly who shows a great deal of the promise she would eventually deliver as well as a great deal of the incredible beauty she has grown into.
This set is worth having for just these two films. While I donít hate Mirror Mask I do feel itís a big disappointment. I hope the Henson company will honour his legacy with new and equally beautiful films that touch that special dark place that children are able to access and we often forget as adults.