Here is the transcript of Adam J Marsh’s introduction to The Dark Crystal from earlier tonight.
Welcome to tonight’s rare cinema screening of The Dark Crystal.
This is an odd movie. It’s strange from many different angles as you will see. It’s a strange movie for the creators of the Muppets to be making. It’s a strange movie to be predominantly aimed and marketed to children but the strangest thing is when you’re sat watching this, you’re thinking – How did they ever get the money to do this?
Jim Henson & Frank Oz had built their reputations on Sesame Street (1969) plus variety show appearances, and one off TV specials throughout the 1970s. They had a year stint on the inaugural season of Saturday Night Live before launching the legendary Muppet Show on television screens worldwide in 1976. Such success demand to be seen on the big screen and in 1979 The Muppet Movie (1979) arrived and again in The Great Muppet Caper (1981). Both big hits.
So that is where the Henson Company were in 1982.
Now I want to show you a clip that demonstrates who the Henson Company saw as their audiences. Here is the pitch video for the original Muppet Show.
Now the landscape in Hollywood in the late 70s and early 80s was very different to the landscape of today. Hollywood was coming through a crisis, the collapse of the studio system and the failure of movies that had worked for decades. A new breed of cinema was proving to be very successful. The B Movie had become the A movie with blockbuster with hits like Jaws, The Exorcist, Superman, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and of course Star Wars. So during this period, movies that you would never think would have money thrown at them, were having money thrown at them! Movies like Excalibur, Raise The Titanic, Popeye, Dune and of course the legendary Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension to name just a few from that time period.
This uncertainty in Hollywood was concurrent with the boom in hard fantasy that was evident in publishing. J R R Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings was selling like hotcake when it was reprinted. Which led to a feature film animation by Ralph Bakshi in 1978. Animator Bakshi had already had a hit with the adult animation Fritz The Cat and other fantasy film like Wizards (1977) and Fire And Ice (1983) based on the work of illustrator Frank Frazetta.
The other big player in fantasy in the 1970s was Conan. From 1966- 1977, the Robert Howard series of Conan books were being reprinted and continued by new writers Lin Carter and L Sprague De Camp. Marvel comics were publishing, very successfully, Conan The Barbarian comics from 1970 onwards, Savage Sword Of Conan (1974 onwards) and Red Sonja (1977) comics. This success led to a violent feature film Conan The Barbarian in 1982.
But Jim Henson and Frank Oz made children’s stories and wink wink skits that appeal to college kids and freaky long haired dirty cynical hippies. However, the third collaborator in this production definitely brought the Fantasy Chops to the table.
Illustrator Brian Froud had made his name with a series of books throughout the 1970’s. Adaptations of Shakespeare, HP Lovecraft. Then in 1979 he published with writer Alan Lee the seminal book Faeries. He came to the attention of Jim Henson from a book of mythic inspired art entitled Once Upon A Time. Henson paired him up with writer David Odell, writer of the Supergirl movie and Masters Of The Universe which might explain those films fantasy elements. The two began crafting the world of the Dark Crystal.
Often considered a flop on release that became a cult hit with the release of DVD, The Dark Crystal actually did turn profit on original release. It was made for $10 million dollars and grossed $40 million. The re-release on DVD of both The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth did convince Henson Company to fund a low budget feature film by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean called Mirrormask in the mid 2000s.
Now don’t get your hopes up, but a sequel has been announced The Power Of The Dark Crystal. This was announced in 2006, with director Genndy Tartakovsky of Samurai Jack fame hired to direct and produce. Then nothing…and more of nothing…and a bit more nothing until 2010 when they announced that the production had been retooled with the original screenplay by Odell being reworked and director Tartakovsky being replaced by The Spierig Brothers (directors of Undead, Daybreakers and Predestination). Oh because this was 2010 people…it would be in 3D!! Then nothing, then director Shane Abbess (Infini) was hired and then left….and more nothing until May 2014 when they announce that the film was still in development….
So don’t get your hopes up for a return to this visually rich world just yet. But for now, send yourself to Another World, Another Time in The Age Of Wonder.