“The Dark Crystal” Returns to the Big and Small Screen

Jim Henson’s 1982 ambitious fantasy puppet epic The Dark Crystal is enjoying a bit of a resurgence. A new Netflix prequel series has been announced along with a new 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital HD home release happening. To celebrate, Universal Pictures and The Jim Henson Company have also been screening the film in theaters across the U.S. in conjunction with Fathom Events. One more screening is happening on March 6.  I had the chance to go to one of these Fathom Events screenings last week and it was a trip to see this film again on the big screen.

The Dark Crystal is an original story and an elaborate mythology created by Henson and his team. It centers on the land of Thra which has been divided and desolate for hundreds of years due to a “cracking” of a giant Crystal that used to provide peace and balance. The broken Crystal caused a group named the UrSkeks to divide into two–the evil Skeksis and the good Mystics. A prophesy was made that a third group called the Gelfings would heal the Crystal and restore the land. The nasty Skeksis then decided to kill off all of the Gelfings so the prophecy wouldn’t take place.

Enter our heroes, two Gelfings named Jen (the one with the brown hair) and Kira (the blonde) and Kira’s dog-like creature Fizzgig. The two are the last known Gelfings in the land thanks to the Skeksis’ killing everyone else off. Can these two find the shard from the broken Crystal and restore the land of Thra? You’ll have to see the movie to find out!

Promotional photo with Jen, Kira, and Fizzgig (Image ©️The Jim Henson Company)

(On a side note, when I was doing a Google search to find an image of Jen and Kira, this pic came up with the caption “The Olsen twins do Dark Crystal cosplay at the last Met Gala.” Mean, but funny.)

Co-directors Jim Henson and Frank Oz worked with British fantasy artist Brian Froud on creating the unique and detailed aesthetic for the film (a great article about Brian Froud is here; he is also responsible for the look and design of another elaborate Henson fantasy– 1986’s Labyrinth). Here’s some Dark Crystal concept art by Brian Froud.

The Crystal Castle and the desolate land of Thra. Art by Brian Froud. (Image ©️The Jim Henson Company)
Concept art of a Mystic (one of the good guys). Art by Brian Froud. (Image ©️The Jim Henson Company)
Concept art for one of the Skeksis (the bad guys). Art by Brian Froud. (Image ©️The Jim Henson Company)

The Dark Crystal has an impressive mix of puppets and animatronics, all created by Jim Henson’s renowned Creature Shop. Jim Henson and Frank Oz decided early on that they didn’t want any humans populating this world, so this film only contains puppet characters. The film also is loaded with practical effects and miniatures. It’s truly a creative tour de force.

I love this shot of Frank Oz behind the camera (at least it looks like Frank Oz) and Jim Henson and Kathryn Mullen puppeteering Jen and Kira. (Image ©️The Jim Henson Company)

While The Dark Crystal is an admirable work, I can’t say that it’s my favorite film. The detailed fantasy aesthetic is remarkable, but just not necessarily my taste. Still, I really enjoyed marveling at all of the creative puppetry and impressive filmmaking that it took to bring this film to life. If you get a chance, check out The Dark Crystal on the big screen on March 6 (more info is at FathomEvents.com) or enjoy the new 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital HD release which will also be available on March 6.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

For all things Dark Crystal, make sure to check out the official website, too.

(Image ©️The Jim Henson Company)

Studio Ghibli Fest 2018

Studio Ghibli, the wonderful Japanese animation studio founded by animation legends Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, is sending more of their classic films to U.S. theaters again in 2018. After a successful run of screening six of their films last year on the big screen under the guise of “Studio Ghibli Fest 2017,” Studio Ghibli along with the film distributor GKIDS will be screening a whopping nine films in over 700 theaters across the U.S.A. for their upcoming Studio Ghibli Fest 2018.

If you are a Studio Ghibli or anime fan (or both), you will love seeing these digital prints of these beautiful films on the big screen. Theater listings and tickets are now available on the Fathom Events website. Both English dubbed and subtitled versions will be shown (check the Fathom Events site for details). Here’s a graphic with the full lineup (courtesy of the GKIDS Facebook page) so you can save the dates on your calendar.

(Image ©️Studio Ghibli and GKIDS)

GKIDS also provided these official film summaries and images, too.

Ponyo – 10th Anniversary
Sunday, March 25; Monday, March 26 and Wednesday, March 28
When Sosuke, a young boy who lives on a cifftop overlooking the sea, rescues a stranded goldfish named Ponyo, he discovers more than he bargained for. Ponyo is a curious, energetic young creature who yearns to be human, but even as she causes chaos around the house, her father, a powerful sorcerer, schemes to return Ponyo to the sea. Miyazaki’s breathtaking, imaginative world is brought to life with an all-star cast, featuring the voices of Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Lily Tomlin, Liam Neeson and more.

PONYO (Image ©️Studio Ghibli and GKIDS)

The Cat Returns
Sunday, April 22; Monday, April 23 and Wednesday, April 25
Haru is walking home after a dreary day of school when she spies a cat with a small gift box in its mouth crossing a busy street, and she jumps in front of traffic to save the cat from an oncoming truck. To her amazement, the cat gets up on its hind legs, brushes itself off, and thanks her very politely. But things take an even stranger turn when later than night, the King of Cats shows up at her doorstep in a feline motorcade.He showers Haru with gifts, and decrees that she shall marry the Prince and come live in the Kingdom of Cats!

THE CAT RETURNS (Image ©️Studio Ghibli and GKIDS)

Porco Rosso
Sunday, May 20; Monday, May 21 and Wednesday, May 23
Porco Rosso is a world weary flying ace-turned-bounty-hunter, whose face has been transformed into that of a pig by a mysterious spell. When he infuriates a band of sky pirates with his heroics, the pirates hire Curtis, a hotshot American rival, to get rid of him. But with the help of the teenage girl Fio, an aspiring airplane designer, and sultry lounge singer named Gina, Porco takes to the skies for what may be his final high-flying showdown.

PORCO ROSSO (Image ©️Studio Ghibli and GKIDS)

Pom Poko
Sunday, June 17; Monday, June 18 and Wednesday, June 20
From the legendary Studio Ghibli, creators of Spirited Away, and Academy Award®-nominated director Isao Takahata, comes an action-packed ecological fable about the clash between nature and human civilization.

The tanuki (raccoon dogs) of Tama Hills find their fun-loving community under attack when their quiet woodlands are threatened by encroaching developers looking to create still more houses and shopping malls. Desperate to survive, the tanuki band together and learn the ancient art of transformation, shape-shifting into a comical variety of humans and spirits as they undertake a last-ditch plan to scare away the humans and save their home, in this deeply-affecting, funny and heartfelt look at what it means to live in the modern world.

POM POKO (Image ©️Studio Ghibli and GKIDS)

Princess Mononoke
Sunday, July 22; Monday, July 23 and Wednesday, July 25
Inflicted with a deadly curse, the young warrior Ashitaka heads west in search of a cure. There, he stumbles into bitter conflict between Lady Eboshi, the proud people of Iron Town, and the enigmatic Princess Mononoke, a young girl raised by wolves, who will stop at nothing to prevent the humans from destroying her home and the forest spirits and animal gods who live there.

Featuring the voices of Gillian Anderson, Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Minnie Driver, Jada Pinkett Smith and Billy Bob Thornton.

PRINCESS MONONOKE (Image ©️Studio Ghibli and GKIDS)

Grave of the Fireflies – 30th Anniversary
Sunday, August 12; Monday, August 13 and Wednesday, August 15
Directed by Academy Award®-nominated Isao Takahata, Studio Ghibli’s Grave of the Fireflies has been universally hailed as an artistic and emotional tour de force.

As the Empire of the Sun crumbles upon itself and a rain of firebombs falls upon Japan, the final death march of a nation is echoed in millions of smaller tragedies. This is the story of Seita and his younger sister Setsuko, two children forced to fend for themselves in the aftermath of fires that swept entire cities from the face of the earth. Their struggle is a tribute to the human spirit. Presented in its digitally remastered and restored format,
Grave of the Fireflies is one of the rare films that truly deserves to be called a masterpiece.

GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES (Image ©️Studio Ghibli and GKIDS)

My Neighbor Totoro – 30th Anniversary
Sunday, September 30; Monday, October 1 and Wednesday, October 3
Celebrate the 30th anniversary of My Neighbor Totoro, from the legendary Studio Ghibli, creators of Spirited Away, and Academy Award®-winning director Hayao Miyazaki. When Satsuki and her sister Mei move with their father to a new home in the countryside, they find country life is not as simple as it seems. They soon discover that the house and nearby woods are full of strange and delightful creatures, including a gigantic but gentle forest spirit called Totoro, who can only be seen by children. Totoro and his friends introduce the girls to a series of adventures, including a ride aboard the extraordinary Cat Bus, in this all-ages animated masterpiece featuring the voices of Tim Daly, Lea Salonga, and real-life sisters Dakota and Elle Fanning, in a classic tale of magic and adventure for the whole family.

MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO (Image ©️Studio Ghibli and GKIDS)

Spirited Away
Sunday, October 28; Monday, October 29 and Wednesday, October 30
Hayao Miyazaki’s Academy Award®-winning masterpiece Spirited Away was the biggest box office hit of all time in Japan and helped redefine the possibilities of animation for American audiences and a generation of new filmmakers.

Chichiro thinks she is on another boring trip with her parents. But when they stop at a village that is not all that it seems, her parents undergo a mysterious transformation, and Chihiro is whisked into a world of fantastic spirits, shape-shifting dragons and a witch who never wants to see her leave. She must call on the courage she never knew she had to free herself and return her family to the outside world.

Combining Japanese mythology with Alice in Wonderland-type whimsy, Spirited Away cemented Miyazaki’s reputation as an icon of animation and storytelling.

SPIRITED AWAY (Image ©️Studio Ghibli and GKIDS)

Castle in the Sky
Sunday, November 18; Monday, November 19 and Wednesday, November 20
Castle in the Sky is a timeless stor of courage and friendship, with stunning animation from acclaimed Academy Award®-winning director Hayao Miyazaki.

This high-flying adventure begins when Pazu, an engineer’s apprentice, spies a young girl, Sheeta, floating down from the sky, held aloft by a glowing pendant. Both Sheeta and Pazu are searching for the legendary floating castle, Laputa, and they vow to travel there together to unravel the mystery of the luminous crystal. But their quest won’t be easy, as soon they are being pursued by greedy air pirates, the military, and secret government agents, who all seek the power Sheeta alone can control.

The English-dubbed cast includes the vocal talents of Anna Paquin, James Van Der Beek, Cloris Leachman, Mark Hamill, Mandy Patinkin and more.

CASTLE IN THE SKY (Image ©️Studio Ghibli and GKIDS)

75 Years of “Casablanca”

Welcome to my new movie blog. I thought it would be appropriate for the first entry in my blog to honor my all-time favorite movie, Warner Bros.’ classic Casablanca (1942) which recently celebrated its 75th birthday.

From the “Casablanca” Facebook page (©️Warner Bros. and Turner Entertainment)

Casablanca is in the national filmgoing consciousness, whether one realizes it or not. The number of quotable quotes from the film alone make it probably one of the, well, most quoted films ever (just a sample: “Here’s looking at you, kid,” “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” “Round up the usual suspects,” and the often misquoted line “Play it, Sam”). But it’s the film’s themes of duty, honor, self-sacrifice and finding love within a world gone mad that keep me coming back for more.

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.” (©️ Warner Bros. and Turner Entertainment)

Although Casablanca took home three Academy Awards in 1943 for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay, according to an article on TCM.com, “Casablanca did not truly strike a resounding chord with American culture until about 20 years after its 1942 release. In the 1960s, a few years after Humphrey Bogart’s death in 1957, a movie theater called The Brattle [which still shows classic films; I’ve added it to my bucket list] in Cambridge, Massachusetts started reviving Casablanca for three weeks every year, drawing enthusiastic and increasingly larger crowds. Eventually, fans started showing up wearing trench coats and snap-brim hats like Bogie. These fans would even recite dialogue with the film…”

“We’ll always have Paris.” (©️ Warner Bros. and Turner Entertainment)

Now, Casablanca is available on Blu-ray and on most every Digital HD platform. It is also a staple on Turner Classic Movies (TCM), playing on the cable movie network next in March 2018 (check TCM.com/schedule for the latest information). If you haven’t ever seen it, or haven’t seen it in a while, I highly recommend taking the time to watch this wonderful, romantic, perfect film.