Frame by Frame: The Dark Crystal (1982)
Year – 1982
Decade – 1980s
Cinematographer – Oswald Morris (IMDB link)
Director – Jim Henson, Frank Oz
Aspect Ratio – 2.40
Distributor – Universal
Genre – Fantasy
Cameras – Panaflex
Lenses – Anamorphic
Format – 35mm
Schedule – Principal photography began on April 15th, 1981 and wrapped on September 11th, 1981. The film was shot at EMI Elstree Studios near London.
A pair of elf-like creatures on the planet Thra embark on a quest to repair the titular gem – and thus end the reign of a species of revolting reptile/bird hybrids called the Skeksis. Jim Henson’s all-puppet extravaganza was a modest hit during the Christmas season of 1982, but was overshadowed by the blockbuster success of E.T. earlier that year. However, the film became a home video favorite for a generation of kids – myself included – who were equal parts terrified and enthralled by The Dark Crystal, which was significantly more frightening than unsuspecting parents anticipated from the creator of The Muppets.
The film was the swan song of three-time Oscar nominated cinematographer Oswald Morris, who shot the movie back-to-back with Henson’s The Great Muppet Caper and then hung up his light meter.
Clink on any link to see similar frames from other films.
Groups of Frames
From the December 1982 issue of American Cinematographer:
“We had several matte paintings which were executed by Industrial Light and Magic in San Francisco and for that we provided, in most cases, foreground elements. We were going to shoot some of them in VistaVision but decided that for this purpose, as they were long distance traveling shots and most of the elements would be matte painted in, we could get away with using Panavision foregrounds.” – producer Gary Kurtz
Click on an image for a story or filmmaker quote from the making of The Dark Crystal. Also check out this collection of more than 30 behind the scenes photos from the film.
In the initial cut of The Dark Crystal, none of the creatures besides the Gelflings spoke English. The Skeksis expressed themselves in growls and hisses that Frank Oz and Jim Henson thought the audience would understand through context. Test audiences disagreed. Check out the video below to see a scene from the pre-dubbed version.
The Shot Behind the Shot