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Tag Archive: Gary Kurtz


Review by C.J. Bunce

From the voiceover that introduces the new world of The Dark Crystal, like Cecil B. DeMille’s voice narrating some biblical film from the Golden Age of Hollywood, audiences instantly understand this story is going to be epic in scope.  Like Hiyao Miyazaki would create two years later in his Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind, The Dark Crystal is unique in its creation of a fantasy that can’t be tied to Tolkien or Grimm or Baum or White.  If it’s at all derivative its source is the stuff of real-world ancient druids and mythologies outside the Western, Greco-Roman tradition.  The word classic is tied to The Dark Crystal.  It is that, the first and only film of its kind, devoid of humans or their interests, with a cast entirely of fantastical character creations.

Even if you’ve seen Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal on home video recently, you’re likely to notice the detail and awe of the film much better on the big screen.  It returned to theaters Sunday with only five more screenings left as part of the Fathom Events series, showing at 700 theaters nationwide this week and next.  The sound is stunning in a new theater–much better for audiences with modern digital sound systems compared to its initial run back at the end of the year 1982–and the sound effects and sound editing are critical to the believability of these creations.  The music will pull you into this world.  From composer Trevor Jones, who would later create the music for Labyrinth, Sea of Love, Arachnophobia, Last of the Mohicans, Brassed Off, Dark City, From Hell, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, we’re treated to an emotional journey split cleanly in two, with mirrored bleak darkness and fear on the one side, and tranquil hillsides, spiritual communities, and idyllic, pastoral, quiet places on the other.  Jones’s score takes us through both the horrors of greed and gluttony with the Skeksis, and the sweeping, heroic journey of a hero and a prophecy.

Co-directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz, the film demonstrates what a crew of like-minded creative artists can make.  Dozens of performers were required to operate even a few of the characters at a time, and many scenes feature the wide screen simply filled with characters, like the pantheon of ten Skeksis at the deathbed of the Emperor, or the journey of the nine Mystics to the Castle of the Crystal, to the celebrating village of dozens of Podlings, and the finale filled with members of all races, including the over-sized beetles called the Garthim.  The set for Aughra’s beautiful pinnacle of set pieces–the location of that mechanical wonder that is the Orrery–showcases a fantasy creation that has yet to be matched in any film.  Henson and Oz introduce the hero Jen to the room housing this device much like Dorothy’s first glimpse into the other Land of Oz.  An obvious precursor to steampunk, the Orrery is magnificent, and the stuff of true wonder.

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Fathom Events is bringing Jim Henson and Frank Oz’s landmark fantasy The Dark Crystal back to theaters tomorrow and Wednesday, and advance response has resulted in an additional two screening dates the following week and expansion into 700 theaters nationwide.  A member of the Class of 1982, The Dark Crystal just celebrated its 35th anniversary.  The ambitious story of The Dark Crystal takes place in the world of Thra, which has been torn by a fracture in a great magic crystal, which caused two races to be created: the tranquil Mystics, or urRu, and the evil Skeksis, who all but destroyed Thra’s native species, the Gelflings.  The Mystics have summoned Jen, one of the last surviving Gelflings, to find the lost piece of the crystal.  The quest sends Jen on a classic adventure to try to restore harmony and peace to Thra.  Don’t wait–get tickets now here at the Fathom Events website before tomorrow’s screening sells out.

We recently revisited Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal with a groundbreaking look at the film and co-directors Jim Henson and Frank Oz in Caseen Gaines’ The Dark Crystal: The Ultimate Visual History, a new deep-dive into the film reviewed here at borg.com.  According to Henson’s daughter Cheryl Henson, The Dark Crystal was Jim Henson’s most personal work.  This is a great time to have The Dark Crystal fresh in our memory, as we expect to see a 10-episode Netflix follow-on series hopefully by the end of 2018.  The Dark Crystal: The Age of Resistance does not yet have a release date.

Yes, we’re just as excited as Fizzgig–The Dark Crystal was the reigning favorite fantasy film of all time for legions of moviegoers before Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings came along.  The film features performances by Jim Henson as Jen (voiced by Stephen Garlick), Kathryn Mullen as the Gelfling Kira (voiced by Lisa Maxwell), Frank Oz as the astronomer Aughra (voiced by Billie Whitelaw), and Dave Goelz as Fizzgig (voice of Percy Edwards), with Henson, Oz, and Goelz also performing as the Skeksis. Kiran Shah also performs the body of Jen, Kira, and Aughra. With a screenplay by Dave Odell (The Muppet Show), The Dark Crystal also features a majestic score by Trevor Jones (Excalibur, Labyrinth).  Along with Yoda creator Frank Oz, the film was produced by Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back producer Gary Kurtz.

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Wrapping up this spectacular and anniversary-filled year of the best of classic genre films will be a Fathom Events screening of Jim Henson and Frank Oz’s The Dark Crystal.  Another member of the class of 1982, this one slipped in during the holiday season, and it’s anniversary screening will be heading to a theater near you in February.  It’s been an unprecedented year that was almost a weekly opportunity to see the best nostalgic trips into the past, with 1982 films Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and Blade Runner, and The Princess Bride celebrated its 30th anniversary, while Close Encounters of the Third Kind celebrating its 40th in theaters, and audiences in Europe attended screenings celebrating the whopping 90th anniversary of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.  It seems Disney refrained from partaking in the big screen retrospectives: no Star Wars (40) or Tron (35) anniversary theatrical screenings were to be found, but maybe it’ll happen in five years for the next benchmark year.  But it ultimately didn’t matter–this year of classic movies couldn’t be beat.

We recently revisited Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal with a groundbreaking look at the film and co-directors Jim Henson and Frank Oz in The Dark Crystal: The Ultimate Visual History, a new deep-dive into the film reviewed here at borg.com.  According to Henson’s daughter Cheryl Henson, The Dark Crystal was Jim Henson’s most personal work.  This is a great time to have The Dark Crystal fresh in our memory, as we expect to see a 10-episode Netflix series hopefully by the end of 2018.  The Dark Crystal: The Age of Resistance does not yet have a release date.

Yes, we’re just as excited as Fizzgig–The Dark Crystal was the reigning favorite fantasy film of all time for many before Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings came along.  The ambitious story of The Dark Crystal takes place in the world of Thra, which has been torn by a fracture in a great magic crystal, which caused two races to be created: the tranquil Mystics, or urRu, and the evil Skeksis, who all but destroyed Thra’s native species, the Gelflings.  The Mystics have summoned Jen, one of the last surviving Gelflings, to find the lost piece of the crystal.  The quest sends him on an unbelievable adventure that can restore harmony and peace to Thra.  The film features performances by Jim Henson as Jen (voiced by Stephen Garlick), Kathryn Mullen as the Gelfling Kira (voiced by Lisa Maxwell), Frank Oz as the astronomer Aughra (voiced by Billie Whitelaw), and Dave Goelz as Fizzgig (voice of Percy Edwards), with Henson, Oz, and Goelz also performing as the Skeksis.  Kiran Shah also performs the body of Jen, Kira, and Aughra.  With a screenplay by Dave Odell (The Muppet Show), The Dark Crystal also features a majestic score by Trevor Jones (Excalibur, Labyrinth).  Along with Yoda creator Frank Oz, the film was produced by Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back producer Gary Kurtz.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If you had a time machine and your goal was to find someone to give a master class in storytelling–a master class in worldbuilding–and bringing an idea to reality, would there be a better choice than Jim Henson?  Henson will be forever known first for his Sesame Street character Ernie and Muppets Kermit the Frog, Rowlf the Dog, Dr. Teeth, Waldorf, The Swedish Chef, and more.  The Muppet Movie and The Muppet Show are beloved by generations.  He made the unreal seem real, and fantasy as close to reality as we may ever see it.  Yet he was perhaps proudest of the creation of the first full-length, live-action motion picture where the stars were all creatures, The Dark Crystal, yet another of the unforgettable films from 1982 we’re celebrating this year here at borg.com.  The Henson family and The Jim Henson Company have opened their archive and published the remarkable story of the film from idea to the film’s release in The Dark Crystal: The Ultimate Visual History, available this month from Insight Editions.

Writer Caseen Gaines’ new chronicle of The Dark Crystal is not a typical “visual companion.”  The story told in the text provides a most intriguing account of Henson, a behind the scenes look at the man from his family and all those who worked with him, as he talked through the idea for a darker story while delayed on a chance cancelled flight with his daughter, as he cast a team of puppet builders, creative performance artists, artisans, costumers, and concept design artists, as he leveraged the success of The Muppet Movie, and strategically negotiated his way to gain investment dollars to make a film that stands alone in the history of fantasy film.  As daughter Cheryl Henson states in the book, “I don’t think my father ever tried to hide how something was done, because how it’s done is often as interesting as the final product”–and that proves true in The Ultimate Visual History.  She provides a foreword to the book and an introduction is provided by film creators Brian and Wendy Froud.

Gaines includes tipped-in replica memorabilia from the Jim Henson archives, which he integrates into the narrative to illustrate the five years of Henson’s concept to screen process.  Readers gain new appreciation for Henson as we witness his own hand-written notebook pages of ideas for the characters that would transform into the dualism of the Skeksis and Mystics, Brian Froud’s original concept book created to sell the idea to investors, outlines, story treatments, hand-drawn sketches, scene memos, and a concept art pitch book by Froud for a planned sequel.  Photographs document a chronological preparation of characters looking at first nothing like their final on-screen personas and the difficult process of creating the mechanics for each type of character, for Gelflings Jen and Kira, the exiled Skeksis Chamberlain, Jen’s dying Mystic master, a room full of potato-headed Podlings, the wise goddess/prophet Aughra, the majestic Landstriders, the giant beetle-like Garthim, and the cute and toothy fuzzy Fizzgig.  The new fantasy world had its roots in myths and folklore, yet Henson created something singular with all these magicians that was akin to Tolkien’s fantasy realm.

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As with Peter Jackson and The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit franchise, George Lucas and Lucasfilm have rarely let screen-used props and costumes out of their own personal or corporate collections.  From time to time costume components retained by production staff members or third-party contributors to the productions have surfaced at private auction, mainly parts of costumes including Darth Vader and Stormtrooper helmets, various weapons including like blasters and lightsabers, and model ship filming miniatures.  But never before has an entire Star Wars character found its way to auction, and one of the most iconic pieces in the history of film at that.  So when a beautiful, full-sized R2-D2 hit the auction block yesterday, deep-pocket bidders took notice.  In an exciting back and forth of increasing bids in $100,000 increments, it seemed the bids for R2-D2 wouldn’t end.  In less than 3 minutes the hammer stopped at $2.3 million for a total sale price (after factoring a 20% buyer’s fee) of $2.76 million.  This was not only the first private Star Wars sale to eclipse seven figures, it is the highest known price paid in public auction for a piece of Star Wars film history (a Panavision movie camera used by Lucas to film the original Star Wars sold previously for $625,000, the filming miniature model of the Rebel Blockade Runner spaceship from the opening scene of the original Star Wars sold for $465,000, and a miniature filming model of a TIE Fighter sold for more than $400,000).

Like many props in the film industry, this R2-D2, made of aluminum, steel, and fiberglass parts, was pieced together from many parts that had been used, retired, and refurbished throughout the Star Wars films.  According to auction house Profiles in History, who handled the sale yesterday at its offices in Calabasas, California, the anonymous seller sourced the many robotic components together over several years.  And, indeed, Profiles in History has demonstrated via photographic evidence the R2-D2 can be screen-matched via its individual components to screen use in each film of the original trilogy (1977-1983) and the first two prequel films (1999-2002).  After several weeks of publicity for the auction, the ownership of the restored R2 unit and its sale at this auction was not disputed, and so the bidding got underway at approximately noon Pacific time yesterday.

Profiles in History staff taking phone bids during the auction said there was no time to celebrate the success of the R2-D2 during the auction–even after three days of the auction more than 500 lots remained to be bid on following the landmark sale of the droid.  The sale of the R2-D2 prop came only a day after Profiles in History sold the famous floor John Travolta danced on in the climax of Saturday Night Fever for $1.2 million.  A golden prop foot of R2’s pal C-3PO went unsold at the auction, but in December 2008 Profiles in History sold a golden prop head of C-3PO, worn by actor Anthony Daniels, for $120,000.

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