Thursday, July 3, 2014

Skeksis and the Goblin King

On December 17th The Dark Crystal will be thirty two years old. In two years, on November 26th, Labyrinth will become thirty years old. Many, including myself, have grown up with these films. Both have become staples of fantasy entertainment and the fact that puppets and animatronics hold up after decades is a testament to the skill and talent of The Jim Henson Company. A production company best known for Sesame Street and The Muppets.

The story of The Dark Crystal is about Jen, who believes he is the last of a race called the Gelflings, on a quest to restore the Dark Crystal with a shard that was broken off of it one thousand years ago. Jen meets Kira, a female Gelfling. He is no longer the last, but even with Kira they are still just a remnant of their kind.

This is a basic chosen one saves the world story, but done in a way that is still unique. On another level, it’s a story about the unity of souls. The evil Skeksis, withered reptile/birdlike creatures, and the gentle Mystics are literally two sides of the same coin.

They were born when a race of ancient creatures fractured the Crystal of Truth. A shard was broken from the Crystal and the ancient race was split into the Skeksis and the Mystics. Jen is tasked to be the chosen one who will heal the world. But he needs Kira to help him on the journey. They are an Adam and Eve of their race in a sense. They are not the first of their kind, but they enter a new age on their planet as the only members of their kind.

As hard as it is to believe, The Dark Crystal was originally conceived as a children’s movie. Obviously as production progressed it got dark and parents at the time were reluctant to let their kids see it. The film does not seem so out of place today, but at the time there wasn’t anything like it. To quote the lead character, Jen, “This place is weird.” It didn’t do very well with critics at the time either. It also didn’t help that it was in box office competition with Tootsie and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Like many original concepts, it did not do very well when released but over time managed to turn a profit.

Labyrinth is the story of Sara, Jennifer Connely, trying to save her kidnapped brother, Toby, from Jareth the Goblin King, David Bowie. Technically, Sara asked the Goblin King, Jareth, to take her baby brother. When reciting a story to put a crying Toby to sleep, an angry and frustrated Sara calls out to the Goblin King to take her brother away.

She just thought it was a story. But apparently the Goblin King was real. The story is mostly about a girl finding her way through a maze into adulthood but finally dealing with what life hands her instead of complaining with what almost becomes her catchphrase, “It’s not fair!” The world of the Goblin King, the Goblins, and other creatures, some of which become Sara’s friends and allies, are beautiful amazing creations.

Labyrinth was constructed to be more consumer friendly. JimHenson and Brian Froud, conceptual and costume designer for both films, decided to make a lighter film with more comedy since The Dark Crystal turned out darker and heavier than originally intended. It is worth noting that the first draft of the film was co-written by Monty Python and George Lucas was a co-writer for the final drafts. With David Bowie adding to the pedigree of the production it is surprising that Labyrinth did not succeed at the box office. And again, critics had mixed feelings, with some being very critical of the production, story, and acting. Even though part of the box office problems can be attributed to Labyrinth’s competition (The Karate Kid Part II, Back To School, Top Gun, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, among others) Jim Henson became very discouraged. Labyrinth would be the last feature film he directed.

Jim Henson and his company created two amazing worlds. And not enough is said about Brian Froud, whose designs are responsible for what we see onscreen. Like many films in the fantasy and sci-fi genres, The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth found little appreciation during their initial release. All this time later both have become cult classics with Labyrinth enjoying a little more mainstream success. It’s not a coincidence that David Bowie and Jennifer Connely are still recognized and lovedby new generations of fans for their roles in Labyrinth. And it’s not hard to find someone who does not know what a Skeksi is. Although admittedly that might be because most people I would associate with would know what a Skeksi is. Either way, the continuing influence of these films cannot be denied. Their legacy has inspired generations of fans and creators. The legacy of the Skeksies and the Goblin King does not look likely to fade away for a long time.

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