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Watch the Restored Original Cut of The Dark Crystal

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The version of The Dark Crystal that was released in 1982 was dark and weird, especially for a kids' movie. But there was an earlier version—darker, weirder, and trippier—that didn't make it to theaters. The earlier cut didn't test well with audiences, so the film was substantially changed to appeal to a broad audience. Voiceover was added, and English dialogue was added to many scenes where the action was previously supposed to be understood through puppets' pantomime.

For the past two years an enterprising fan, 31-year-old Christopher Orgeron, has labored to reassemble that original cut of the movie. He had limited materials to work with, so there are rough edges in many places (most notably the black-and-white scenes from a VHS dub of the original cut). But looking at this version of The Dark Crystal gives us a dose of the Henson weirdness that we see in many of his early films. Whether this is better or worse than the theatrical version is debatable—but at the very least, it's a fascinating glimpse into what might have been. Here it is, and below, my interview with Orgeron.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: On Monday, January 27, 2014 the videos were removed from YouTube and the Internet Archive, at the request of the Jim Henson Company.

Q&A With Christopher Orgeron

Higgins: When you look at this cut of the movie, do you feel that this is closer to what Henson and his collaborators intended than what was released theatrically?

Orgeron: Not necessarily. That's where there's a little contention over the use of the "Director's Cut" title on my video. This edit is indeed an exact replica of an early version of the film that Henson and company showed to a test audience. In that sense alone it's a "director's cut," but I think sadly that's where the distinction ends.

There were obvious hurdles for Henson when it came time to convince the studio execs of the viability of such an ambitious film. So the changes that were made to the dialogue had to be done to help the film appeal to a wider, theater-going audience. I think it should also be noted that the performances given by the puppeteers on set were based on the lines heard in the workprint [the early cut] so in that way, this cut matches the acting better.

Higgins: How would you characterize the differences between this version and the theatrical version? Certainly it is darker, weirder, more surreal. There seems to be a parallel to me with Blade Runner (another 1982 film...) and its many cuts—it had narration and other de-complicating factors added after test screenings, but the original version has more depth. Do you agree with the Blade Runner parallel?

Orgeron: Absolutely. It was clearly a time of film-making experimentation. Late 70s and early 80s sci-fi movies are arguably some of the best that have ever been made. It's like 90s Nickelodeon. Less restriction in unexplored mediums led to some really great creativity. This version of The Dark Crystal plays out more like a sci-fi film set on a different planet than a kids' fantasy movie. The Skeksis and Gelflings seem more like extraterrestrials in a way.

The Blade Runner comparison is a fantastic analogy with similar circumstances. Another one I just discovered recently was in, oddly enough, a Frank Oz film called Little Shop of Horrors. Totally different ending where (spoiler alert!) the plant multiplies and goes on a killing rampage, destroying the entire city! These days I think the formulas for movie-making and audience reception are a little more clear and changes made after test screenings are a little less dramatic.

Higgins: What's your personal relationship with the theatrical version of The Dark Crystal? Do you remember seeing it as a kid? Did you like it?

Orgeron: This tidbit is a little shameful. I was born the same year the film was released and was a huge Henson fan as a kid but didn't really hear about The Dark Crystal until I was about 17. Roughly a year after that, I decided to buy the DVD and give it a go. My perspective while watching it was a little unusual since the film was undeniably "Henson" but my matured brain got to see a vivid and ambitious world that had somehow eluded me as a child. I loved it to death. It appealed to my childhood and early adulthood while still being brand new. I watched the DVD many times and all the deleted scenes, which made me want to find out more about this early version that was subsequently lost.

Higgins: When did you find out about the workprint? Do you know "Aikousha" [the pseudonymous person who posted a low-quality, black-and-white version of the workprint] personally?

After reading the liner notes on the DVD I was disappointed to find that this strange "early" version of the film was mostly destroyed. 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.

Higgins: Can you tell me a little about the technical process here? It looks to me like you've gotten the majority (or all) of the soundtrack from the workprint, then matched available video to that. Is that correct?

Orgeron: So if anyone is morbidly curious, I recommend finding a workprint copy and checking it out. It's a test of patience to watch. While I did very little to the black & white video clips you see in my cut, the audio was nearly unlistenable on the workprint. Most of the reason I made my edit was to show to some of my friends that really wanted to see the workprint but couldn't stand to sit through the awful quality.

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. [Ed. note: Vangelis was initially considered to score the film, but Jones got the job instead. Some Vangelis music is included in the workprint.]

Higgins: Do you intend to continue working on this? For instance, if someone actually had better footage to insert at various points, are you prepared to include that?

Orgeron: There are some rough little bits in the edit I intend to smooth out and I would absolutely devote the time to insert better footage. If anyone can improve the black & white footage or clean up the deleted scenes then we can get a few steps closer to restoring this piece of film history.

Where to Learn More

You can read more from Orgeron about his process on The Internet Archive or in the film's YouTube description. If you've got a hankering to watch the theatrical cut, I suggest the Blu-ray release.

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The Night the Brat Pack Was Born
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Columbia/TriStar

If Emilio Estevez had opted to pay for his movie ticket, the Brat Pack might never have been born. It was spring 1985, and Estevez—then the 23-year-old co-star of St. Elmo’s Fire—was being profiled in New York Magazine. The angle was that Estevez had just signed a deal to write, direct, and star in his own feature, That Was Then... This is Now, an opportunity that was rarely afforded to young Hollywood talent. Estevez was two years younger than Orson Welles was when he performed similar duties for 1941’s Citizen Kane.

That youthful exuberance was on display as New York writer David Blum followed Estevez in and around Los Angeles for several days gathering material for the story. With Blum in tow, Estevez decided that he wanted to catch a screening of Ladyhawke, a fantasy film starring Matthew Broderick. For reasons not made entirely clear, he preferred not to have to pay for a ticket. According to Blum, Estevez called the theater and politely asked for free admission before entering an 8 p.m. screening.

It's likely Estevez was just having a little fun with his celebrity. But to Blum, it was indicative of a mischievous, slightly grating sense of entitlement. Blum’s assessment was that Estevez was acting “bratty,” an impression he felt was reinforced when he witnessed a gathering of other young actors at LA’s Hard Rock Cafe for the same story.

What was supposed to be a modest profile of Estevez turned into a cover story declaration: Hollywood’s “Brat Pack” was here, and they had decided to forego the earnest acting study preferred by their predecessors to spend their nights partying instead.

The day the story hit newsstands, Blum received a call from Estevez. “You’ve ruined my life,” he said.

The June 1985 cover of New York magazine
New York, Google Books

Blum’s label had its roots in the Rat Pack of the 1960s, so named for the carousing boys' club led by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. Whether it was accurate or not, the performers developed reputations for squeezing every last drink, perk, and joke they could out of their celebrity well into middle age.

That dynamic was on Blum’s mind when New York dispatched him to cover Estevez. After he arrived in California, Blum took note of the fact that a tight cluster of actors seemed to have formed a group, both on- and off-screen. Estevez was close friends with Rob Lowe and Tom Cruise, and all of them appeared in 1983’s The Outsiders; Lowe and Estevez were co-starring in St. Elmo’s Fire, a coming-of-age drama that also featured Andrew McCarthy and Judd Nelson; Estevez and Nelson gained a lot of attention for 1984’s The Breakfast Club.

To Blum, Estevez was more than just a multi-hyphenate; he appeared to be the nucleus of a group that spent a lot of time working and playing together. And in fairness to Blum, Estevez didn’t dissuade the writer from that take: Fearing he was coming off as too serious in the profile, Estevez asked Lowe and Nelson to hang out with him at Los Angeles’s Hard Rock Cafe so Blum could see the actor's lighter side.

Nelson would later recall that he felt uneasy around Blum. “Why is this guy having dinner with us?” he asked Estevez. Lowe, meanwhile, was busy flirting with women approaching their table. The group later went to a "punk rock" club, with a Playboy Playmate tagging along.

As celebrity hedonism goes, it was a tame evening. But Blum walked away with the idea that Estevez was the unofficial president of an exclusive club—attractive actors who were soaking up success while idling late into the night.

Blum returned to New York with a different angle for his editors. He wanted to capture this “Brat Pack,” a “roving band” of performers “on the prowl” for good times. Although the magazine had just run a cover story about a teenage gang dubbed “the wolf pack” and feared repetition, they agreed.

As far as Estevez and the others were concerned, Blum was busy executing a piece on Estevez’s ambitions as a writer and director. When Estevez, Nelson, and Lowe appeared on the cover—taken from a publicity still for St. Elmo’s Fire—with his newly-coined phrase, they were horrified.

Blum began getting calls from angry publicists from each of the actors mentioned in the article—and there had been a lot of them. In addition to Estevez, the de facto leader, and lieutenants Lowe and Nelson, Blum had dubbed go-to John Hughes geek Anthony Michael Hall the “mascot”; Timothy Hutton was said to be on the verge of excommunication for his film “bombs”; Tom Cruise, Sean Penn, Nicolas Cage, and Matt Dillon were also mentioned.

To the actors, the effect was devastating. Independent of how they spent their free time, all of them were pursuing serious careers as performers, with producers, directors, and casting agents mindful of their portrayal in the media. Being a Brat Packer was synonymous with being listless, or not taking their craft seriously.

Nelson recalled the blowback was immediate: Managers told him to stop socializing with his friends for fear he’d be stigmatized as unreliable. “These were people I worked with, who I really liked as people, funny, smart, committed to the work,” he said in 2013. “I mean, no one was professionally irresponsible. And after that article, not only [were] we strongly encouraged not to work with each other again, and for the most part we haven’t, but it was insinuated we might not want to be hanging out with these people.”

Universal Pictures

Some of the actors went on The Phil Donahue Show to criticize the profile, asserting that their remarks to Blum had been off-the-record. (Blum denied this.) Lowe told the media that Blum had “burned bridges” and that he was “no Hunter S. Thompson.” Andrew McCarthy called Blum a “lazy … journalist” and found the idea of an actor “tribe” absurd—he had never even met Anthony Michael Hall.

Unfortunately, the name stuck. “Brat Pack” was infectious—a catch-all for the kind of young performer emerging in the ‘80s who could be seen in multiple ensemble movies. While Blum would later express regret over the label, it’s never quite left the public consciousness. In 2005, Universal released a DVD boxed set—The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, and Sixteen Candles—as The Brat Pack Collection.

Nelson, Estevez, and Lowe never again appeared in a movie together. “Personally, the biggest disappointment about it is that ‘Brat Pack’ will somehow figure in my obituary at [the] hands of every lazy and unoriginal journalist,” Estevez told a reporter in 2011. “Warning: My ghost will come back and haunt them.”

Nelson was slightly less forgiving. In a 2013 podcast, he chastised Blum for his mischaracterization of the group of young actors. “I would have been better served following my gut feeling and knocking him unconscious.”

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Keep Tabs on 100 Classic Films With This Scratch-Off Poster
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Pop Chart Lab

Do you get a weird kind of buzz from scratching off the silver foil coating on instant lotto tickets? Do you like watching movies? Then Pop Chart Lab has something for you. The company is set to release a 100 Essential Films Scratch-Off Chart, an 18-inch by 24-inch wall hanging that lets you keep track of which classic films you’ve seen and which are still in the queue.

A look at a scratch-off poster featuring 100 classic films

The curated films are arranged in chronological order, from the works of Buster Keaton all the way to 2017’s Get Out. The silver foil obscures a portion of the artwork, which reveals more iconography from the movie when etched away with a coin. The $35 poster is due to begin shipping in September; you can purchase your copy now.

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