Jim Henson and Frank Oz‘s 1982 cinematic fantasy The Dark Crystal remains a marvel of practical visual effects, puppetry, and classical storytelling more than three decades after it was first released in theaters. A longtime favorite of kids and adults, Crystal‘s cult following has grown over the years and the film continues to win over new fans every time it gets inserted into a DVD or Blu-ray player or screens theatrically.
I know it did with me. Earlier this year I blind bought the extras-packed Blu-ray release of The Dark Crystal from Barnes & Noble to see if the movie deserved the love and adulation that has been piled on it since its big-screen debut a week before Christmas 1982. As a proponent of practical effects, models, miniatures, and matte paintings over CGI creations I was amazed by the beautiful imagery that directors Henson and Oz – working from a screenplay by David Odell (Masters of the Universe) – and their team of FX wizards and puppeteers headed by concept artist Brian Froud worked tirelessly to bring to life at a considerable (for the early 1980’s) budget of $17 million.
Among the bonus features on the Blu-ray were a series of rough-looking deleted scenes from a fabled early workprint that was screened to audience indifference some months prior to the film’s theatrical release. Apparently the directors’ original vision for Crystal was somewhat esoteric and a lot darker than even the title could imply. The Skeksis, the story’s monstrous villains, originally didn’t speak any English language dialogue, while certain scenes were rearranged and it was the intention of Henson and Oz to not include any narration. This all changed during the post-production and the version of Crystal that ultimately made it to the screen was not exactly what its creators had in mind. Henson passed away almost eight years after the film premiered and was never able to go back to The Dark Crystal with Oz and restore it to their original vision.
Christopher Orgeron, a huge fan of Crystal who first saw the film at the age of 17, decided to undertake a reconstruction of its original pre-release cut using a video file of Henson and Oz’s early workprint used for the test screenings uploaded to the now-defunct torrent site Demonoid as a starting point. The upload was a digitized VHS copy of the workprint used by the film’s production team. Orgeron’s efforts took two years to complete and the finished result is now available for free viewing and download.
You can watch the full reconstruction of Henson and Oz’s original vision for The Dark Crystal here below. Bear in mind that despite the inclusion of the term “Director’s Cut” in the video’s title, this edit is only a recreation of their original cut and not an officially sanctioned work with the approval of Frank Oz, the Jim Henson Company, Disney, or any member of the surviving cast and crew.
Orgeron also used a cleaned up copy of the theatrical release and reincorporated the deleted scenes from the workprint in his reconstruction. The workprint scenes are in the worst quality of all the new footage for obvious scenes, but the deleted scenes from the Blu-ray were also included. Orgeron spoke of his work on recreating the directors’ original vision of The Dark Crystal in a recent interview with Mental Floss:
“It seemed that the original idea Henson and Oz had was really different compared to the wide release of the film and I had a looming curiosity to see it. Around that same time I was really getting to more artistic films and began wondering if there was some surviving copy out there in the wild of this darker take on The Dark Crystal. I’d Google it every now and then but never really came up with anything, until 6 or 7 years ago (ish) when I found out about the workprint in a forum somewhere.
I found the thread well after Aikousha had posted his insights into the workprint and how he obtained it, but the site that was hosting the upload was gone and no one seemed to have a copy. I made many attempts at buying a VHS copy from a few guys to no avail, but finding out that there was indeed a living copy of this version refueled my desire to see it. I wish I could contact Aikousha to thank him for finding it in the first place but he’s not easy to track down. A few years ago some torrents started popping up for it, which is where I eventually got a copy.”
“Aikousha” is the name of the anonymous Demonoid user whose upload of the workprint made Orgeron’s work possible. He also went about cleaning up the audio tracks to the best of his abilities:
“The idea was to use the entire original workprint audio and then match the clean video to it, which is how it mostly went down. The audio had loads of tape hiss and noise that I pulled out and equalized. It’s still very compressed, but I was happy to discover the dialogue was still intelligible after processing. I did pepper in some of the final high quality Trevor Jones score during transitional scenes for dynamic range and perspective but some of the score by Vangelis is of course different on the workprint, which I left in.”
Vangelis, whose past film music accomplishments include Chariots of Fire and Blade Runner, was originally considered to score The Dark Crystal, but was passed over in favor of the great Trevor Jones (Excalibur).
At the conclusion of the Mental Floss interview Orgeron expressed hope that further work could be done to restore the black & white workprint scenes in order for the film Henson and Oz had in mind when they originally set out to make to be finally seen in completed form.
You can download a 1.2 GB file of Orgeron’s reconstructed edit for offline viewing here if you have an hour or so of free time to spend waiting.