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The Dark Crystal Collector's Edition DVD Box Set

Boo, get off the stage!

Patty Mahlon (January 20, 2004) - In 2003 Dark Crystal fans were showered with a wonderful assortment of high-quality products, including a re-released Dark Crystal CD soundtrack and the much-anticipated reprinting of the World of the Dark Crystal book. It's too bad that 2003 ended on a bittersweet note with the release of The Dark Crystal Collector's Edition DVD Box Set.

Jim Henson's 1982 fantasy epic is a landmark in cinematic artistry matched only by Peter Jackson's recent “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. The Dark Crystal follows the adventures of two elfin creatures and their quest to free their world from the evil reign of the reptilian Skeksis. The film stands as a unique achievement; not a single human being appears onscreen. Its lush settings and unusual creatures (designed by Brian Froud) elevated it above all other 80's fantasy efforts, and The Dark Crystal has earned a devoted cult following as a result.

At a glance, the handsomely-packaged collector's edition DVD promises great things, but in reality it delivers little more than what's contained in the superb 1999 Dark Crystal DVD.

Order the Dark Crystal Box Set. The film is also available as a special edition and in Superbit.
The physical supplements set this edition apart from the 1999 release more than anything else. The box set contains a new short foreword by Cheryl Henson (printed on a sheet of vellum) that tells the story of how she and her father wrote the outline for the film during a snow storm in 1978. Since the information is contained in the World of the Dark Crystal book and the out-of-print Making of the Dark Crystal book, the foreword does not offer any new revelations to fans of the film. Indeed, the booklet that accompanies the 1999 DVD actually boasts more information on the film itself. But the new foreword does manage to offer a welcomed personal touch.

Also included in the box set is a “limited edition senitype” which is basically a tiny mounted reproduced frame of film. I have to admit: I don't quite understand the appeal of this sort of thing, but if you like senitypes, perhaps you'll appreciate it more than I. My senitype is numbered at 80,000, so I question how collectible it is given the quantity that's apparently available.

The best physical supplement is a reproduced handwritten notebook by Jim Henson. Indeed, the notebook is the one truly jaw-dropping item in the package, and it offers a fascinating glimpse into Jim Henson's creative process. The notebook shows how Henson initially conceived the film's characters, names, and story, and it demonstrates how his characters evolved into what appeared in the finished film. Although it's more richly detailed than the promotional booklet that accompanied the reprinted World of the Dark Crystal book, these notes cover much of the same ground. Regardless, the notebook is a lovely item for die-hard fans of the film.

As for the DVD itself, the menus are virtually identical to those appearing on the 1999 release. The actual film, presented in its full theatrical widescreen glory, seems to be the same transfer that graced the 1999 release as well as the 2003 Superbit DVD. The chief problem here is that the transfer is not flawless; it contains consistent pops and scratches even in scenes where the special effects cannot be blamed for the blemishes. This might seem like a minor complaint at first. But when you realize that these flaws have now been pressed onto three different DVD releases they become less forgivable. The short of it is: there is nothing that sets this presentation of the film apart from the 1999 release; even the misspelled names in the subtitles remain intact.

Considering that there's a Superbit Dark Crystal DVD available, it comes as a surprise that the extras are included on the same disc as the film. The extras are plentiful, yet only three are unique to this collector's edition.

The first of the new extras is “The Mithra Treatment” which is compromised of more developmental notes penned by Henson. While interesting, these notes are somewhat redundant in light of the physical notebook included in the package. Another new addition to the DVD package is a gallery of character sketches; most of which are available in the reprinted World of the Dark Crystal book. The last “new” extra is a series of storyboard illustrations, many of which have not been seen since the Making of the Dark Crystal book was available. It should be said that most of this material is familiar territory for fans of the film.

The rest of the bonus material is identical to what appears on the 1999 disc with the exception of the isolated score, which was curiously (and rather regrettably) omitted entirely from this new box set.

The World of the Dark Crystal documentary is included again, and it features the same mysterious sound drop-outs that ever-so-slightly marred the 1999 DVD release. There are several trailers, the infamous deleted funeral scene, original language workprint scenes, a selection of character descriptions from The World of the Dark Crystal book, and a trio of woefully brief talent files.

The primary difference between the latest collector's edition and the 1999 special edition is its pricetag. The box set comes with a suggested retail price of $49.95, while the special edition sells for no more than $19.95. Therein lies my problem with this set. No matter how much you love this film, it is extremely difficult to justify the additional $30. For me, the booklet stands as the main draw of this set, and as enjoyable as it is, it's simply not worth $30 by itself. The box set becomes more frustrating when you consider that the special edition contains an identical transfer, and a near-identical extras package. When I pay $50 for a DVD I tend to expect a Criterion-quality transfer, new commentaries, and ample exclusive material -- no such luck here.

This edition could have been truly extraordinary, and instead if feels rather lazy at the expense of the completists who opt to buy it. Granted, the 1999 Dark Crystal special edition was delightfully robust for its price, but with three Dark Crystal DVDs on the market, even the most die-hard fans will likely feel as if their essence is being drained by this release. I truly hope that future Henson collector's editions have more to offer than this.

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