Sunday, March 5, 2017

Another world, another time ...

It seems I'm learning all the time lately that bits of my favorite songs originated in movies.

First it was the bit from THX 1138 in the opening moments of Nine Inch Nails' "Mr. Self Destruct," as discussed here, and now it's the opening lines of The Crystal Method's "Trip Like I Do," which it shares with the opening lines of The Dark Crystal.

I actually need to reverse the order there. I found out about the Dark Crystal "Trip Like I Do" connection a couple months back when I listened to a pair of episodes of The Next Picture Show podcast, which compared Crystal with last year's Kubo and the Two Strings. In the Crystal-centric of the two episodes they played that opening narration, a familiar passage from my numerous times listening to "Trip Like I Do" over the years. I'd still only seen The Dark Crystal once, back when it first came out -- or at the very least, I saw it twice then and not since. Let's just say I saw it only once. I might logically have concluded from the name of the band and the reference to crystals in that opening monologue that the two were connected, but I guess I just didn't think much about it.

Last night I finally sat down for my second viewing of The Dark Crystal, satisfying an appetite first whetted when I heard the podcast, and made possible by a library rental. (Took me a while to get around to it, though -- the movie is due back today, which is why I watched it last night.)

I expected The Dark Crystal to engage and kind of horrify me, but look very dated. The reverse was actually true. I thought the puppetry and general look of the film held up better than I expected, and I was a bit bored. At the very least, not as captivated by the story as I expected to be.

But let's touch back to that horrifying part. There are a couple of things in this film that are pretty disturbing, like the way the Skeksis (Skekses?) use the crystal to drain the life force out of the Podlings, making them stare at it Clockwork Orange-style. I guess it would be more disturbing if they then killed and discarded them, but like a number of oppressed creatures in this film, the entranced zombie Podlings do get their life forces back at the end. (And the dog Fizzgig survives getting kicked down one of those bottomless pits of fire, it was nice to see.)

When I was a kid I was always more disturbed by the Skekses (let's go with that as the plural), and I'd actually kind of forgotten the beetle-looking Garthim. I enjoyed their creature design but they didn't really scare me, possibly because I was comparing them to two similar monstrosities from the same time period -- those tall, robed skeletal things from Time Bandits and the Wheelers from Return to Oz.

That probably makes a good transition. This is an appropriate time to have watched The Dark Crystal because it comes on the heels of three related first-time viewings in 2016: Labyrinth, Return to Oz and Legend. Those movies came out in 1986 (the first) and 1985 (the second two), which made them a few years later than Crystal. But clearly mid-80s fantasy has been interesting me lately.

Yet more interesting is how I'm rating them. You'd figure that the one I saw at the time would hold a sentimental sway over me while the three newcomers would be the ones that couldn't make much an impression on me 30 years after their creation. The reverse seems to be true. If I had to rank those four I would rank Labyrinth first, Return to Oz and Legend second and third in whatever order (I'm having a hard time choosing as I sit here) and then The Dark Crystal last. So that means the two Jim Henson films bookend the others. It could be a straight-up matter of their narrative quality, or it could just be that the other three movies make for an interesting first-time discovery for a man in his 40s, a man inclined toward nostalgia, as I suppose we all are lately.

The last Dark Crystal-related thought to cram in here is that this story holds a unique position in my personal history in a way I will tell you about right now.

When I was a kid I owned the novelization of The Dark Crystal, and not long after seeing it I undertook the task of reading it. But I didn't get very far.

To this day I will always remember the opening lines of this novelization, which were:

"It was Jen. Jen alone."

For some reason, these five words represented such a peculiarly uninviting opening to a book that I just put it down right then and there and never resumed. So to this date, the novelization of The Dark Crystal remains the fewest amount of words I've read in a book that I abandoned. (Followed closely by Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, about a minute of which I listened to on audio book before deciding that it wasn't for me.)

Okay, I'll see you "another time ..."

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