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The Dark Crystal
  • Composed by Trevor Jones
  • La-La Land / 41m

It was part of the swathe of fantasy films that appeared in the early 1980s, but what marked The Dark Crystal apart was that it was the first adult-oriented project from Jim Henson (the genius behind the Muppets). And it was a dark film – its story may have not been anything terribly original (Gelflings must restore the crystal that rules the destiny of the people of the world, fighting naughty Skeksis along the way with the help of the nice Mystics) but it certainly was very different for Henson, who with his fellow director Frank Oz crafted a film that proved far more engaging to audiences than its contemporaries like Dragonslayer or Krull. It has retained sufficient popularity for Netflix to broadcast a prequel series, Age of Resistance, in 2019.

By 1982 Trevor Jones had already attracted some attention in film music circles thanks to his music for Excalibur, but of course to the general public his contribution to that film was rather outshone by the use of other music; but he really put himself on the map with The Dark Crystal. The original plan had been for an avant garde score, but eventually Henson and Jones agreed that a more traditional, symphonic sound was requried to make the film seem slightly more accessible to audiences given the amount of darkness already on the screen.

Trevor Jones

Over the years Jones would become renowned for his grand, sweeping themes and that from The Dark Crystal is right up there; given a rapturous performance in the Overture, there’s certainly an element of Miklós Rózsa there in its pomp and sweep but if anything it reminds me of the kind of massive theme that Maurice Jarre wrote for those projects when he was allowed to follow his default position that nothing could possibly be too big and grand, and it’s a first-rate piece of film music, performed with aplomb by the London Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Marcus Dods. Whereas sometimes Jones’s later scores could feature a fabulous main theme but a bit too much filler through the score, The Dark Crystal is – on its original album release at any rate, which was released on CD by La-La Land and then later digitally by the Jim Henson Company – not like that at all, with constantly-interesting and colourful underscore which means the album never drags. (There was also an album release of the full original score but it has long-since gone out of print.)

He cleverly integrates synths with orchestra to create a rather florid, extravagant sound – a little like Jerry Goldsmith would a few years later in his astonishing Legend score – and there are some grand highlights. “Gelfling Song” sounds an awful lot like Legend with its solo voice over synths and flowery winds. “The Funerals” is fiercely intense, fantastically powerful, epic music full of little repeating cells which are tremendously effective; the piece it leads into, “Jen’s Journey”, may be completely different in style, but is no less impressive – carried by a simple wind solo, it’s beautifully evocative and quite moving in its own way. “The Skeksis’ Funeral” (there are a lot of funerals here) is another grand piece, with an impressive brassy flourish of the main theme.

“Love Theme” isn’t as memorable as the main theme (despite sharing some of its melodic and harmonic structures), but it’s still absolutely lovely, and is given a very strong orchestral arrangement. There are still also a couple of hints of what the score may have been had the original vision been carried through, with some avant garde techniques coming through in the exceptional “The Gelfling Ruins” and to a lesser extent “The Great Conjunction”, which aren’t really like anything else I’ve heard by Jones – but they’re so rich and rewarding, it makes me wish he had had the opportunity to write more in that style in other scores.

The score ends in grand style with a seven-minute Finale piece, rounding out what is probably the most impressive score of Trevor Jones’s (curiously-curtailed) career. He could do big and bold with the best of them and in this score he showed he really did have the chops to write complex, intricately-detailed music with a really strong narrative arc.

Rating: **** 1/2 | |

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