I freakin’ love The Dark Crystal! Let’s watch it! Today we’re looking at two short scenes that are far more important than they first appear, 30:42-32:26 on the Blu-ray.
First, we check in with the Mystics. They’re preparing for their big journey. We see one of them turn around, and there’s a neat little bit of puppetry were his toes move like fingers. One Mystic says in voiceover, “At last the Crystal calls,” and, “it is time to return to the castle.” So, is this just an expression, because they know it’s almost time for the great conjunction, or did the Crystal call them in a similar way that it called to the Skeksis earlier? Or is it somewhere in between, like the Mystics can merely feel a “pull” toward the Crystal? We don’t have the specifics, so we’re only left to speculate. We get a great shot of the Mystics’ valley, with them on the move, panning over to a close-up of one walking toward the camera. One can only imagine the logistics of creating this shot, with a lot of puppets all operating in tandem on different parts of this one huge set.
The screenplay tells us that the Mystic speaking is the Ritual-Guardian, going so far as to specify his name, urZah. He’s the same one who spoke during the Master’s funeral, making him the most talkative of the Mystics. The World of the Dark Crystal book agrees, stating that urZah “spoke more freely than the other urRu.”
There’s a fade, and the next shot is of the Mystics slowly marching down a huge mountainside. This raises a huge question: How much time is passing? The passage of time is suspect throughout the entire movie, but it stands out the most in these shots of the Mystics on their travels. They move really slowly, and, as we’ll see throughout the film, they appear to cover a lot of distance. Jen, meanwhile, doesn’t seem to travel as far or for as long. Is it possible that the Mysics are using magic, to cover a long distance in a short amount of time. The movie doesn’t tell us this, but it’s a possibility, considering how little we know about how magic works on this world. (Yes, I’m also aware that it’s a film editing thing, and that editors employ tricks like this all the time to create the illusion of the passage of time from scene to scene. Shut up and let me have my fun.)
These next bits are hard to describe, but I’ll do my best. We cut to a forest/swamp setting. A few flowers on a log spin their petals like helicopter blades and take off flying (the screenplay calls these “flying mushrooms”). A small creature pokes his head out of a pond, and the thin tree next to him actually walks out of the water and onto land. A mushroom, one that looks like an actual mushroom this time, bends down and ducks under the water. A creature the screenplay identifies as a “weasel,” but which appears to have a turtle-like shell runs across the screen, chasing a small bug, trying to catch it in its mouth. Only, it gets swallowed by a big grassy mound, like a big Venus fly trap. An insect, called a “stick creature” in the screenplay, climbs up the side of some vegetation. The top of a cactus-like plant has what looks like a little tuft of hair, which moves in and out suggesting that the plant is taking breaths. In the background, a bunch of similar plants simultaneously sprout hairlike growths.
What’s going on here? These are pretty much just Muppet Show-type gags, the little one-joke interstitial skits that used to tie scenes together on that series. Another thing is that in fantasy, it’s not enough to establish fantasy elements at the beginning of the story and leave it at that. You’ve got to keep re-establishing fantasy elements throughout, to keep things interesting and exciting for readers/viewers. This is why so many fantasy stories are travelogues, so that characters can discover new fantasy weirdness in each new place they visit. But this is more than just mood-setting. On the Blu-ray’s commentary, Brian Froud makes a case for this scene being a mission statement of sorts for the whole movie. He repeats over and over two statements on the nature of this world – that everything is alive, and that all things are connected. This and the tie-in books emphasize that, on this world, there are no distinctions between animal, vegetable, and mineral. There are descriptions of stuff like trees that walk, animals that remain motionless like boulders for years on end, and even rivers that contain the world’s memories at their deepest depths. Knowing that everything, absolutely everything, in this world is a living creature adds to our enjoyment of the movie, and the richness of this fantasy world.
The camera pans around some plants, where we find Jen contemplating the crystal shard, and that’s where we’ll pick things up next time.
Next: Laugh it up, fuzzball.
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