Dark Crystal Contest to Revive Franchise

The evil Skeksis. (Image: Jim Henson Productions)
The evil Skeksis from The Dark Crystal. (Image: Jim Henson Productions)

You remember The Dark Crystal? Or perhaps you don’t.

The 1982 film, co-directed by Muppet-masters Jim Henson and Frank Oz, was a fantasy story featuring cutting-edge (at the time) puppetry and animatronics, largely designed by fantasy illustrator Brian Froud, best known for the book Faeries. The plot centers on several non-human races and creatures — the nasty, reptilian/vulture hybrid Skeksis; the wizard-like, big-nosed Mystics; giant beetle-like creatures called Garthim; the anteater-like Landstriders; and the elf-like (and most Muppet-resembling) race known as Gelflings.

The movie centers on a Gelfling, who sets off on a quest to restore the Dark Crystal, which is broken; a shard must be found to restore order to the crystal, and of course, order to the universe.

The Dark Crystal includes oracles and prophecies, and the Great Conjunction, and characters named Kira, Jen, and Fizzgig. Like another famous film, it takes place a thousand years ago on “another world.” By now, it is classic work of fantasy, made in the 1980s, when many fantasy films were being churned out, before the advent of elaborate digital special effects. According to Box Office Mojo, The Dark Crystal made some $40 million dollars back in the day (although the production budget is not known, so we’re not sure of its overall profit).

But why was a follow-up movie never made? In 2005, a sequel named Power of the Dark Crystal began its road towards development, but setbacks plagued the production, and filming never commenced. By 2012, the project was cancelled.

Now, the Jim Henson Company and Grosset & Dunlap, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, are re-booting the franchise — or so it would seem — with a contest called the Dark Crystal Author Quest. The deal? Fans (who are also, hopefully, decent writers) are encouraged to send in ideas for the “first book in a new young adult series based on the world of the classic fantasy film.” The winner gets a $10,000 contract to write the book. Entries are accepted between Oct. 1, 2013, and Jan. 1, 2014. Details on the contest here.

Jen the Gelfling  from The Dark Crystal. (Image: Jim Henson Productions)
Jen the Gelfling from The Dark Crystal. (Image: Jim Henson Productions)

The website for the contest includes all kinds of materials against which aspiring writers can bounce their imaginations. There are documents like “A Warning: From Skekok the Scroll-keeper” which insists that “The Gelfling wish to tell you LIES” and the story of a “brave Gelfling hero who … embarked on a dangerous quest to warn their people of our evil nature —UNTRUE! A complete fabrication.” The warning further reads: “These things never happened. Skeksis are good. Yes. Skeksis are friends.”

There’s also an excerpt from a Gelfling journal, “Entry Date: Rosunday, 14th Moon, 96 Years A.G.C.”; a “SECRET REPORT CONCERNING THE GELFLINGS”; and “The ESSSENCE OF THE CRYSTAL: An Empirical Analysis.”

All of this stuff provides a fun way to whet the ideas of potential writers for this story. Entries will be being judged on “Overall storytelling,” “Characters,” “Creativity and originality,” and “Writing ability.”

Poster from The Dark Crystal. (Image: Jim Henson Productions)
Poster from The Dark Crystal. (Image: Jim Henson Productions)

But what explains the interest in reviving The Dark Crystal franchise now? Is there hope that new books would lead to a new movie franchise? Are there movies in the works? Aside from some tie-in products back in the 1980s, and a few graphic novel and board game products, we haven’t heard much about The Dark Crystal in decades. What are the risks of reviving this franchise?

And what about this clause in the contest’s “Rules and Regulations?”:

Each entry will be the sole property of the Sponsors. By competing in the Contest and/or accepting a prize, each entrant (including the prize winner) grants to Sponsors the right to edit, adapt, publish, copy, display, reproduce and otherwise use their entry in connection with this Contest and in any other way, in any and all forms of media now known or hereafter devised, throughout the world, in perpetuity, including publication on www.darkcrystal.com.

In my next post about The Dark Crystal and this contest, I’ll be speaking with Lisa Henson, Chief Executive Officer of The Jim Henson Company, to get more information. Stay tuned!

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Ethan Gilsdorf is a journalist, memoirist, critic, poet, teacher and 17th level geek. He wrote the award-winning travel memoir investigation Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms. Based in Somerville, Massachusetts, Gilsdorf writes regularly for the New York Times, Boston Globe, Salon.com, BoingBoing.net, PsychologyToday.com, Washington Post and wired.com. He has published hundreds of articles, essays, op-eds and reviews on the arts, pop culture, gaming, geek culture and travel in dozens of other magazines, newspapers, websites and guidebooks worldwide. He has also published dozens of poems in literary magazines and anthologies. He is a core contributor to the blogs "GeekDad, "Geek Pride" on PsychologyToday.com, and Boston NPR affiliate WBUR's Cognoscenti blog. He is also a book and film critic for the Boston Globe, and is the film columnist for Art New England. He and author Noble Smith geek out and wax nostalgic about D&D and other nerdy pop culture relics at Dungeons & Dorkwards. He is a lover of ELO and a hater of littering. Sometimes he wears a tunic and chainmail, or these grampy pants. More info fantasyfreaksbook.com or follow on Facebook fantasyfreaksbook