I Saw a Film
I’m breaking away from my usual approach here in reviewing something entirely recent, but, since it’s related to a much older film I feel I can get away with this without endangering my reputation as a connoisseur of “old crap”.
This relaunch of the old movie (1982), incorporating environmental and peacenik themes, imbued with a bit of a Lord of the Rings mythos all wrapped up with the creative juices of Jim Henson’s vision of cuteness and monsters and occasionally even cute monsters (some of them cutest when devouring other cute creatures), is an eye-popping cinematic wonder. The work that went into these puppets, gadgets, world-building, and CGI effects is more fun than a Peter Jackson product on LSD.
I’m a sucker for a good puppet show, I’ll be the first to admit, there’s something freeing in the characterization of inhabits of a nearly alien landscape (it could be weirder), and while I was familiar with a number of the creatures having seen the original film—in the cinema, way back in the day—this version of the epic adds some beautiful leads and gives us a lot to enjoy.
There’s a kind of rogue samurai disillusioned with his erratic lords (a Yojimbo if you will), there are no less than three, possibly four terrific female leads with voices that you’ll fall in love with (both from an aesthetic and philosophical vantage point). They aren’t all warriors, which is a tremendous relief in a world in which we’re daily faced with issues that can’t just be fought with our fists, bombs, guns, or self-indulgent irascibility (try punching a broken water pump, or poverty). In fact, most real problems evade the simplistic and fanciful solution of physical force. Which might explain why we so powerfully long for those sorts of pro-wrestling solutions.
Our ladies, Deet, and Brea, are sweet, thinking explorers of the world. Brea is a bourgeois, a princess, in fact, and scholar forced into the circumstance of unlocking the dismal reality of injustice and teaching the people the truth about their overlords. She’s resisted at every step by a conservative matriarchal family (all beauties, and distinct, though, you can’t help seeing they’re all a bit descendants of Janice from the old Muppet Show band), that benefits from their passivity. But when the shit hits the fan it is clear to the young Brea that her allegiance can no longer be what it was. A familiar trope, absolutely, but one lacking in the first run of this classic. Deet is a twist on a Drow (dark) elf. In fact, all the Gelflings are twists on familiar “elfin” creations from older books, but they’ve never been better brought to life (apologies to beloved Liv Taylor). The puppets allow us to really have nearly alien looking beauty, while perfectly exaggerating our favorite human traits. Deet’s mission (I can’t stop hearing the pesticide DEET), you may confuse with Brea’s for a time, and it is admittedly similar but her voice and beauty carry her through the underside of the revelations and her commoner attachment to the natural world gives her a special soul that we can adore. Brea is befriended along the way, by her openness and loving attitude, by a comic warrior podling (re: Hobbit) who devotes himself to protecting her in her travels, armed with a mighty wooden spoon. And it works.
The overlords are the giant Skeksis, overly vulture like in appearance, they have become so enamored of their self-righteous power and imperial ability to walk all over everyone in the world of Thra (both spirit and matter of the world) that they’ve devoted themselves to having discovered that they can live longer through the ultimate selfishness, basically by consuming everyone else.
As is often the case with these moral tales we see ourselves too clearly in the Skeksis, burning precious resources and then even lives so that we may have a bit more convenience. The Skeksis are only marred a bit by having the Chamberlin member of their clan obviously voiced exactly like Grover from Sesame Street (by Simon Pegg?).
Now, it gets a bit tiring to have drilled into us that ugly things are evil and beautiful things are good, but, soon enough we’re introduced to the Yin and Yang of Thra, and we’re slowly made to understand that some kind of accident has created the ugly situation that has been maintained for too long, and so The Dark Crystal escapes the trope, though, it will not cheat us of an epic struggle before we see the ultimate “all are one” hippy solution. And I’m not putting that out there as a beef or a disparagement. This is the sort of message, expertly handled, that we need right now. Why this hasn’t gripped our kids away from the likes of Harry Potters and Percy Jackson’s is only a matter of market.
Spend some time with the ten episodes of this remarkable retelling of the old movie and I think you’ll come away an amazed fan if you’ve a love of fantasy at all.
Why Baby Yoda became a virulent meme but not Deet is only because Deet can speak, and Baby Yoda seems to channel all and any of our frustrations through the remarkable expressions. Deet and Brea too, as well as the rest of the Thra are no less expressive.
For FREE on NETFLIX a remarkable achievement of cinema of our time. “The making of” adds a pile more love and wonder to the efforts of this enterprise. I almost didn’t want to see the actual people who voiced my heroes though!