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Free Family Flick: "The Dark Crystal"

Zenith of a distinct filmmaking tradition that elicits as much fascination as the worlds it brings to life

Jim Henson and Frank Oz’s animated 1982 film is a surprisingly dark tale of morality, reptilian baddies and hunchbacked wizards.

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It's time once again for The Grand Cinema's CLICK! Family Flick, sponsored by CLICK! Cable. On the third Saturday of each month, at 10 a.m., The Grand screens a family friendly film, free of charge. This is a great, risk-free opportunity for parents to introduce their children to the wonderful world of cinema and, in the case of this month's film, perhaps revisit their own childhoods as well.

Kids these days, with their Toy Story 3 and their Frozen, they don't know what good special effects are. Back in my day, you couldn't just sit down at a computer, hit a few buttons and make Avatar! In my day, if you wanted to make a movie about fanciful creatures, you rolled up your sleeves, grabbed a bunch of balsa wood, felt and foam rubber and you built them from scratch with your own bare hands and gumption!

I kid, but I will always be infinitely more impressed by practical effects than digital effects. Digital effects aren't easy, but when anything your imagination can conceive can be recreated with the proper sequence of 1's and 0's, some of the magic gets lost in translation. It's amazing technology, but it lacks the heart of practical effects. Frank Oz took what was essentially a very fancy sock puppet and convinced everyone it was Yoda because part of him, (specifically, his forearm), went into it. The effect was an extension of its creator and that made it seem real. On the other hand, digital effects gave us the soulless, childhood-destroying automaton, Jar Jar Binks. Speaking of Frank Oz ...

This month's CLICK! Family Flick is 1982's The Dark Crystal, directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz. This fantasy epic features no lead actors, no supporting actors, not even a background extra; but it is absolutely filled with amazing performances - by puppets. We're in good hands; Henson and Oz created the Muppets.

The film transports us to an alien world, 1,000 years in the past. A race of decrepit, vulture-like creatures called the Skeksis rule this planet, maintaining their power through the use of the titular Dark Crystal, and maintaining themselves by stealing the youth of the planet's other inhabitants. Jen, an elf-like "Gelfling" and the last of his kind, must retrieve the missing shard of this magical crystal before the Skeksis do, or else his planet will forever fall under Skeksis rule.

The Dark Crystal is a timeless, family classic, but it earns its PG rating. It's mostly harmless, but very young children may be frightened by the Skeksis and their wicked deeds. (In particular, a scene in which a shackled, whimpering victim has their youth stolen, rapidly aging as a couple of Skeksi look on and cackle evilly, may be too much for more sensitive viewers.) I'd recommend showing them some of the "behind the scenes" footage for the film beforehand. It's readily available on YouTube, and it's a pleasant alternative to reassuring a crying toddler that there isn't a Skeksis under their bed.

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