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American Studies/History/Culture/Folklore

‘Dark Crystal’ and ‘Labyrinth,’ a return to fantasy

The late Jim Henson’s most beloved creations, the Muppets, will beback in theaters in November, but on Memorial Day there’s a chance to revisit two of his vintage works that have a more complicated legacy. Two Henson films of epic fantasy, “The Dark Crystal” from 1982 and “Labyrinth” from 1986, haven’t been shown on television for the past decade, but on Monday you can watch them in a double-feature presentation on HDNet that begins at 5 p.m. It’s the broadcast premiere of the digitally remastered, high-definition prints of the films.

Directed by Henson and Frank Oz (a.k.a. the voice of Yoda and Miss Piggy), “The Dark Crystal” was billed as the first-live action film without any human beings on screen. All the characters were puppets and the animatronics were considered cutting-edge for its day. “Dark Crystal,” was far darker than “E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial,” another film of the fantastic from that same year, and its $40-million in box office left it looking like an anemic rival.  But the stature of the film has grown over the years.

The same can be said of “Labyrinth,” which focuses on a young girl’s attempt to travel thought a massive maze in order to rescue her younger brother. The film combined live-action and puppet work and was the last film Henson directed before his untimely death in 1990.  The film earned mixed reviews from critics and bombed at the box office earning $12.8 million the summer of 1986. Though the film was initially targeted for a younger audiences, it is adults who gravitate to the film.

It may have been Henson’s sunny success with the Muppets that set both films up for unfair or misguided expectations. Now, though, the pair of fantasy films are part of Henson’s singular perch in entertainment history.  In an email to The Times, HDNet chief Mark Cuban sang Henson’s praises: “Jim Henson was an absolute genius whose work will continue to amaze for generations to come.”

– Susan King

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This entry was posted on May 26, 2011 by .
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