I freakin’ love The Dark Crystal! Let’s watch it! We’ve reached one of the movie’s big set pieces, 24:36-28:01 on the Blu-ray.
Now that they’ve met, Aughra leads Jen into a cave. He follows, losing track of her in the darkness. Then, a door opens and… Wait, first let’s address the fact that a door opens. How many working doors do we see in this world? Later, we’ll meet the Skeksis’ Scientist, who has a big mechanical door to the lower parts of the Crystal Chamber, similar to Aughra’s big mechanical door. Animals and prisoners are seen kept in cages, which by necessity must have doors (they’d be pretty useless otherwise). Throughout the rest of the canon, though, we get doorways, arches, and the like, but no real doors that open and close like we’re all used to. In a few cases, Gelflings and the Mystics are seen using a curtain or, er, a tent flap for privacy or protection against the elements, but that’s still not like a door. Mostly, though, it’s all open doorways. One reason for this is for filmmaking’s sake. An open doorway in the background helps add a little depth to a scene. (Remember that little open space in the back of Jerry’s apartment in Seinfeld with the bicycle hanging on the wall? Stuff like that.) Within the world of The Dark Crystal, though, an absence of closed doors speaks to Brian Froud’s constant refrain of the story, that everything is connected. This general sense of openness, even among the no-good Skeksis, shows that every room has an open door.
Anyway, what does Jen see when he goes through Augrha’s door. Oh, only one of the greatest sets ever created for a motion picture. This is some serious Wizard of Oz/Ten Commandments/Titanic production value. This is often called Aughra’s “observatory,” with others insisting it be referred to as the “orrery.” The screenplay specifies “orrery,” while Froud’s book The World of the Dark Crystal uses both. Some others over the years just called it her “dome.” What we’re looking at is a gigantic model of rotating suns and planets, constantly in motion, whirling around each other in geometric harmony. No CGI here – this thing was built, working, full-size, on a soundstage, and it’s a visual wonder.
Once the audience’s breath is well and truly taken away, Augrha emerges from the left of the screen to ask Jen, “What’s it for?” So… she ran ahead, opened the door, closed it, and then hid off to the side, just to jump out at Jen like this? Augrha then drops the jokey shtick and gets all poetic, saying, “Everything in the heavens is here, moving as the heavens do,” and “Sun, moons, stars… yes, the angle of eternity.” (Are suns and stars two different things in this universe, or is that merely the characters’ limited understanding?) Aughra says the machine is for making a prediction A thousand years ago, she says, there was a great conjunction, and she was there.
Oohh, boy, it’s time to talk about the conjunctions. I’ve put this off long enough. The tie-in books have a ton of material on this topic, with both volumes of Creation Myths devoted to explaining the conjunctions, so I’ll keep this short. First, life was Thra was created through the power of the Great Crystal and Aughra was born. A thousand years later, the three suns met in the sky over the Crystal for the first great conjunction, like an eclipse but with just suns. This is when the creatures called urSkeks came to the world. They brought enlightenment and whatnot, and Gelfling culture thrived. Then, another thousand years went by, and we had a second great conjunction, in which the Crystal cracked, the urSkeks were divided into the Skeksis and the Mystics, and the world fell into a chaos (of a sort). Aughra doesn’t explain all this to Jen, instead giving an even shorter version of the second conjunction.
Aughra then says that another conjunction is coming up and anything could happen, speculating that the whole world might burn up, and that it would be the “end of Aughra.” Aughra prompts Jen to ask her more about the great conjunction, and she says it will either be the end of the world, or the beginning. The Dark Crystal plays around nicely with the fantasy trope of the prophecy. This prophecy doesn’t say the world will be saved, only that it might be saved. This keeps the outcome uncertain throughout the story. As Aughra speaks to Jen, she looks at him through a piece of metal (gold?) carved into the circle-in-triangle-in-circle-in-triangle symbol, similar to the one Jen’s master had on his robes. Most of the symbols are in the background, but this one they put front and center for this scene, as it references the conjunctions, which is what they’re discussing.
Jen brings the conversation back the shard, which his master told him to get from Aughra. Aughra chides him for asking too many questions, even though just a second ago, she was prompting him to ask questions. As she speaks, Aughra ducks and moves around the machinery deftly, really selling the illusion that she’s lived for years up there with that thing, and knows its every movement. She comes upon a box, looks at it with surprise, as if she hasn’t seen it in years even though it’s right there on the table, and says, “You want a shard? Here.” She overturns the box, and not one but a whole bunch of crystal shards fall all over the floor, right by Jen’s feet. We get a close-up of Jen’s four-toed foot and his Gelfling sandal (you know, if you’re into that). Also, notice that the tables inside Aughra’s place contain what appears to be chemistry equipment – lots of it. What was Aughra studying or experimenting on? We can only speculate. Jen asks Aughra which shard is the one he’s looking for. Aughra does a slapstick comedy bit where she sits down with a loud grunt, and says she doesn’t know. She insists than Jen figure it out, and that they’re running out of time.
With that mention of time, we get a fade to later, so that’s where we’ll leave things for now.
Next: Ruminations on crystals, harmonics, and monster attacks.
Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.