This is not a film review. This is purely my response as an artist to the artistry at work in the design of the film, which in my view is absolutely second-to-none.
Much of the film’s design is down to the excellent and unique work of Brian Froud. His imaginative and organic designs are an astoundingly good match for the weird and wonderful tale Jim Henson was trying to tell. One only has to see the designs for the Castle of the Dark Crystal to see how his unique vision shaped the film. He is to the world of the Dark Crystal what H. R. Giger was to the world of Alien, but more so, because Froud’s vision informed the entire design ethic and shape of the film.
Looking at the cultural expressions of the Mystics and their dark counterparts, the Skeksis, one is struck by the opposite ends of the design spectrum. The Skeksis, in body and in clothing, are all vicious claw like structures and dark reds. They are redolent of a fading tatty majesty.
The Mystics are earthy, soft, and their art is smooth, rounded, with nothing of the sharpness of the Skeksis. It has a sense of being natural, at one with nature and the universe, with it’s suggestion of stars and moons.
The design is just overwhelmingly wonderful – one can sense the joy with which Froud embraced this job. Ever since I saw the film when I was 13, I have loved it – it appealed even back then to my artistic soul. The music too, with it’s wonderfully sweeping and mysterious themes by Trevor Jones, served to imprint this film on my psyche.
But for me there is one very simple aspect of the overall design of the film which encapsulates the whole aura of this wonderful world – and it’s the design used in the film’s name text, seen in the above youtube clip. When I was 14 I bought myself the album of the original score, and I have the album cover on my wall in front of my workspace, because I love it so much. It looks like this:
The flow of the text is beautiful – the rounded quality of the letters themselves perhaps echoes the aesthetic of the mystics, whereas the hooks and points perhaps echo the Skeksis, in all their skeletal talon-like glory . The richness of the colour, with that wonderful rose crystal interior bound by the gold edge – is a reference of course to the crystal itself, bound perhaps by the cruelty and abuse of the Skeksis. The way the letters fit into the spaces created by each other makes this a really very clever piece of design.
For many, the world of the Dark Crystal has been reopened recently with the release of “Age of Resistance”, which is well worth a watch. It expands on the mythology which first burst on our screens in 1982. But nothing can quite capture that sense of uniqueness and wonder which the film brought to us back then. The film begins with the narrator’s voice intoning, “Another world, another time. In the Age of Wonder.” And that’s what the film delivers, in it’s wonderful cohesive design, it’s beautifully manufactured costumes and sets, even down to it’s publicity artwork. It is a triumph of design.