I freakin’ love The Dark Crystal! Let’s watch it! Want to have some nightmares? This is the scene for it, 56:11-1:00:30 on the Blu-ray.
We cut from the previous scene, which had our heroes journeying across the idyllic forest, to indoors, with sad shots of animals in wooden cages. There’s no establishing shot of the exterior of the Skeksis’ castle, as the audience is already familiar enough with its look to know where we are. There’s also a Podling or two in the cages. This room is ironically called the “chamber of life.” One part of the canon states that it was in this room that the UrSkeks split into the Skeksis and the Mystics, but the Creation Myths graphic novel has that event taking place in the Crystal chamber, not in here.
The Skeksis’ Scientist, whose name is SkekTet in the canon, tells the animals to be quiet, and he takes one of the Podlings from a cage. He affixes the little Podling into a Medieval torture-looking chair, and says, “This won’t hurt. We just want to drain your living essence.” He clamps down the Podling’s hands with metal manacles so it can’t leave the chair. The Scientist has a strange left hand, looking all red and plastic. Is he merely wearing a glove, or does he have an artificial hand of some kind? He explains that once the Podlings have been drained of essence, they will be “Like the other Podlings here.” We’re of course to take this meaning the shriveled up Podling slaves we’ve seen throughout the film.
The Scientist orders one of those slaves to throw a switch, and a big door opens in front of the chair. Note that there are actually three Podlings strapped to chairs during this scene, but the focus is on the one in the center. The Scientist says that out there is “the great shaft of the Cystal.” So, we’re beneath the Crystal chamber, and the great shaft (shut yo’ mouth) is the whole it floats over. I don’t believe anyone’s ever attempted a map of the castle’s interior, but this room would have be in the underground parts of the castle.
The Scientist says, “Position the reflector,” but then he’s the one who throws the switch for this. I suppose that his behavior during this scene, where he does the whole “villain speech” thing, shows that he has a real flair for the dramatic. We see a secondary crystal move in place inside the door. The Scientist further exposits that this is the reflector, which captures the beams of the Dark Crystal above it. “Feel the power of the Dark Crystal,” he says.
Then, it happens. A purple beam of light shoots out of the reflector and into the Podling’s eyes as a look of terror hits its face. Of all the scary stuff in the movie, this is the biggest “stuff of nightmares” moment. The Scientist says the beam will rid the Podling of vital essence, which he describes as “Your fears, your thoughts.” Sure enough, we see a small vial next to the Podling, with green goop pouring into it from a tube. We don’t see where/how this tube is physically connected to the Podling, which is probably for the best. Then the nightmarish stuff becomes even more nightmarish as the Podling’s eyes turn white and its face shrivels up. It’s almost hard to watch.
The Scientist says only the emperor can drink essence. This is one of the Skeksis’ most important laws, and in the Legend of the Dark Crystal manga, we see a lot of paranoia about essence being stolen and consumed by someone other than the emperor. The canon futher elaborates, saying that after the Crystal cracked, the Scientist performed experiments on it, discovering this method of drawing essence from other creatures. Gelfling essence was prized among all others, which is why the Skeksis created the Garthim, to hunt down all the Gelflings for their essence. If the scientist can do all this, one wonders why he isn’t the Skeksis’ leader. In the manga, we can see how other Skeksis intimidate him, so we can theorize that he’s got the brains but not the strength.
The General, who you’ll remember was made the new emperor earlier in the film, enters asks “Is it ready?” The Scientist orders the door closed and offers the essence to the General, saying it’s very fresh and very strong. The General grabs the vial of essence and guzzles it down, without any sort of ceremony or pretense. The Scientist says the essence will make the general young again. Then he says a line not in the Blu-ray’s subtitles, “As emperor, you deserve it.”
There’s a fascinating bit of puppetry next, as the General’s skin starts to smooth out, for his so-called younger appearance. He watches with awe in a mirror as this happens, and is overjoyed at this, almost dancing around the room, saying “Young! Young!” It doesn’t last, though. We get another shriveling up effect on both the General’s face and his hand. He accused the Scientist of being a fraud. (So “fraud” is a concept on this world.) The General hulks out and smashes a table, then he walks off, calling the Scientist a “slave squeezer.” Are we to assume this is some sort of insult? Properly intimidated, the Scientist says it always worked better back when they used Gelflings.
As he says this, he walks past another cage, where Aughra is trapped inside. Remember the last time we saw Aughra, when she confronted the Skeksis during their dinner, the scene ended with her still as their captive, which is where we find her now. What are the Skeksis’ plans for her, I wonder? Is her essence on the menu? Would the reflector even work on her? We don’t know. But she does watch the Scientist with keen interest. Also note that Aughra’s cage is metal, while most of the other cages are wood, so we can speculate that the Skeksis still consider her a danger.
Why, at this point so late in the film, is all this stuff about essence-drinking being introduced? For one, it’s foreshadowing, in that one of our heroes will later end up in this room. Second, it ups the stakes, revealing that the Skeksis are not after the Gelfings just to stop the prophecy. No, they’re a lot nastier then that. They want the Gelflings’ very essence, which is more or less the same as killing them. Now that we’ve seen how rotten the Skeksis really are, we’re really rooting for Jen and Kira to make it.
Hey, we’re officially two-thirds of the way through the movie! It’s the home stretch!
Next: Animal versus animal carnage.
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