I freakin’ love The Dark Crystal! Let’s watch it! Time for our first real dialogue exchange between characters, 6:26-9:43 on the Blu-ray.
Dark clouds are shown in the sky, and wind rustles tall grass. This shows a storm is coming, literally and metaphorically. In the foreground of the next shot, we see a nest full of goofy-looking birds as Jen (now fully clothed, thankfully) runs by in the background. That’s right, Jen runs. This is the first of many shots in the movie where Jen is portrayed not with a puppet, but with a stuntman. On the Blu-ray’s commentary, Brian Froud says this is not cheating, and that the goal was never to make an all-puppet movie, but an immersive experience. As such, the filmmakers did everything they could to immerse viewers in this world, and that included several shots of this stuntman as Jen.
We get our first close-up of Jen as he rounds a corner, wind blowing in his face as he pulls his shirt and vest tightly to him. He runs past a stone with round symbols carved all over it, which the camera holds on for a few seconds. These circular patterns and symbols are everywhere in the valley of the Mystics. Speaking of, Jen then runs up a ramp along the side of the valley wall, passing several of the Mystics. On the valley floor, we can see a Stonehenge-like circle of stones. Brian Froud’s book The World of the Dark Crystal states that these are the “Standing Stones,” which generate energy to protect the valley from outsiders. The walls all around the valley floor appear to be stones precariously balanced on top of one another. This image is later referenced in the manga Legends of the Dark Crystal, in which a Mystic builds a small tower of stones in this same style, to make a point about everything being in balance.
It’s very windy as Jen runs past, and this helps further establish the reality of this alien world. Jen and the Mystics’ hair and clothes blow in the wind, along with curtains and wind chimes in the background. This helps “place” them in the scene. The wind is really hitting them, so it feels real to the audience.
Jen enters his master’s home. The canon tells us the Master’s name is urSu, but the movie just calls him “the Master,” so I’ll call him that here (try not to confuse him with Lee Van Cleef). There are gourds and what looks like a bunch of handmade necklaces hanging all over the place, and the walls are carved with more circular symbols. Jen has some of the circular symbols on his vest as well. The Master’s blanket prominently features a circle-in-a-triangle-in-a-circle symbol, which is foreshadowing the Great Conjunction to come.
Jen asks the Master what’s wrong, but the Master is not one for small talk, launching right into a speech about this big prophecy and how the three suns will meet. “You are in danger, Gelfling,” he says. This guy is closest thing Jen’s ever had to a parent, yet he addresses Jen as “Gelfling?” Maybe he means it as an honorific, like a father saying to his kid, “Son, get in the car.” Of course, we’re still in the first few minutes of the movie, so the filmmakers have to reinforce to first-time viewers that Jen is, in fact, a Gelfling.
The Master says “I must leave you,” and with his weary demeanor and heavy breathing, we in the audience can tell he’s about to die, but Jen doesn’t get it. There’s a subtle-but-nifty piece of puppeteering here where Jen kneels before his Master. It’s so simple and natural-looking, we don’t even question it. Then there’s some “As you know, Bob,” dialogue where Jen and the Master remind each other about the Skeksis, and how the Skeksis killed Jen’s parents. The Master says the story “runs deeper than you know,” and the Skeksis will vow to destroy Jen.
Look closely: There’s a huge bowl full of rolls in the background, so they’ve learned to bake bread in this world. The canon tells us that one of the Mystics is UrAmaj the Cook, so I’ll assume the rolls are his handiwork.
The Master waves his hand over a bowl of green liquid at his side. (No idea what this goop is. The screenplay just calls it “liquid.”) He says Jen must find the crystal shard, and an image of the shard appears, rising out of the liquid. Cool effect, and it’s a way of letting the audience know that this is shard something really important. Exactly how does the image of the shard appear? Remember, magic is a real thing in this world, and somehow the Mystics command it. There’s only fleeting references to this magic and how it’s supposed to work, but here we see it in action. The Master repeats “You must find the shard” a second time, further reinforcing its importance. The Master says Jen must do this before the three suns meet, or else the Skeksis will “rule forever.” Jen asks where the shard is, and the Master says Aughra has the shard (that was easy!) and that Jen must follow the Greater Sun for a day to get to her home. One day’s travel doesn’t seem like much, but I have a lot of ideas about the passage of time in this movie. We’ll get to that later. An image of Aughra’s home appears in the liquid, looking like a big lump.
You can tell this is the tried and true hero’s journey thing, with this scene being the big call to action. Some have called this scene out as a plot hole, asking why Jen is learning all this just now, and why wasn’t he taught this for years? The Master answers these criticisms in his next line, “I should’ve told you these things long ago.” Remember what the narrator told us in the previous scenes, that the Mystics are numb and forgetful. We like to think of the Mystics as being genuinely good in comparison to how nasty the Skeksis are, but the Mystics are in fact deeply flawed, so wrapped up in their humble daily routines that they rarely take any action. Knowing that change is upon them seems to take a lot of out of them, as we’re about to see.
The Master says, “Remember me, Jen.” See, now he says “Jen,” instead of the more formal “Gelfling,” as we’ve gone from talk of prophecies and quests to a more personal goodbye. His final words are, “We may meet in another life, but not again in this one.” This is one of a few references we have in the movie of characters who believe in an afterlife. Whether communicating with the dead is part of the reality of this world, however, remains to be seen. The Master then rests his head on this chair/bed he’s sitting on, and I love that the film’s creators have actually developed furniture adapted to the body types of these strange creatures. It really does look like something they’d rest on. The Master closes his eyes, and Jen meekly states, “Master, don’t leave me.”
At this point, the movie cuts back to the Skeksis’ castle (fun stuff coming up!), but remember this moment between Jen and the Master, because we’ll be coming right back to it.
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