Don’t watch the trailer for this film. I’m not trying to impose on your free will, of course, I just don’t believe one single, lovely blog-reader (you have been categorized!) has even two minutes of their lives to waste on such an awful, 80s-type voice-over, complete with clips from the film which make it look like the worst. Film. EVER. I put The Dark Crystal in the ‘animated’ category, it’s true, but actually it’s all done with puppets and people in strange costumes; I just thought that maybe creating a new category called ‘puppetry and people in weird masks’ might put just a tiny few people off. Due to the fact that almost all fantasy-type stories have the same plot, in just a few words: a strange child-like being called a gelfling has to put a crystal back together to stop some evil people doing, um, we’re not entirely sure what.
Is it a feminist film? Hey, come back, there are women in it too! The main ‘character’, Jen, is essentially an idiot with precisely zero personality, which prompts the question “Do all characters have to have character?” The answer is, of course, yes, or they’re rubbish. There are sort of two teams- the goodies and the baddies- even though the bad guys have more personality and are, like, WAY more interesting. And yes, I did just say ‘guys’- in a world where bats can swim* and the best evil minions anyone can come up with are weird empty suits of armour with tentacles, how weird is it that literally everyone who’s in charge of anything is male**? The two female characters are arguably the two best and most important characters in the film. There is Aughra, a strange sheep-like piggy-snouted curly-haired very, very short person who has an amazing spinning orrery (look it up) and also literally saves everyone’s lives whilst trapped in a cage, blind. And no, I’m not telling you how. The other female character is Kira, a second gelfling who has amazing powers like being able to call to animals. When she sees a whole bunch of evil beetle-minions carrying enslaved podlings*** away, she risks her life to save them, whereas Jen just stands around going “Er… what should I do? I don’t want to die! Kira, come back! Wait for me! WAIT FOR ME!!!!!” The best bit is, of course, when it turns out she has secret wings under her cloak, and Jen tells her he doesn’t. “Of course not,” she replies, “You’re a boy.” At this point, I leap up in my cinema seat and start screaming “GIRL POWER!” at the top of my lungs, until someone has to come in and tell me to shut up or leave. So I leave, still screaming “GIRL POWER”, my arms flailing wildly in the air.
Is it disturbing? No. Little kids might find the skeksis or the scene where the evil beetles kidnap podlings frightening- this ain’t Sesame Street, people- but rest assured, it all turns out all right in the end.
And… does it pass the Bechdel test? Yes, not for very long, but it does- and in a film where most of the speech is so mumbled and jumbled you can’t actually understand it, that’s pretty darn cool.
Please note: I know this review is already way too long, but I have to make a quick note of something. This film was made in 1982- 1982! Seems like hundreds of years ago to me! So it’s kind of, like, a bit 80s-ish. I’m not saying it’s offensive, if that’s what you were thinking- it’s not- it just seems a bit comic these days, compared with all the super-sophisticated animation we have now. One review I read said that the first time they saw Jen on screen, they could tell he “was a poppet [sic] as anything else.” Hey, the filmmakers weren’t trying to disguise the fact that the characters are puppets- that’s just the way it is. But you know, perhaps that person was right: Jen might indeed be a poppet, if you use the google definition, which is “a small figure of a human being used in sorcery and witchcraft”. Spooky, huh?
*Can bats swim?
***Literally the best part of the film. Podlings are like these adorable little tiny people which look like they’re made out of pebbles and live in a giant communal tavern having fun and playing ocarinas all day. If you’ve ever seen The Herbs, which you probably haven’t, they look exactly like those little chives in that TV show. Anyway. Sorry about the veritable glut of asterisks in this blog post. And hey, if you think this is bad, you should have seen the ones in my review of Avatar.