IR In-The Trenches: FRAGGLE ROCK – THE COMPLETE SERIES [Sony Pictures Home Entertainment] – Part I

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IR In-The Trenches: FRAGGLE ROCK – THE COMPLETE SERIES [Sony Pictures Home Entertainment] – Part II

THE MUPPETS – Film Review [Walt Disney Pictures]

The consistency of Muppet lore stretches with the idea of the life and times of these characters as a kind of in-joke to the themes of the entertainment industry but with a distinctive off-kilter twist. In bringing back the humor to the notion of the early 80s where both kids and adults could enjoy the films shows a similarity to Pixar in many ways. One has to have enough reverence for the material but also be willing to break a couple rules.

Some things fall short and others feel dated in this update but for the most part, despite the odds stacked against it, the new “Muppets” movie delivers on its promise though it does so by using alot of narrative short-cuts but openly displays them as plot devices.

What has caused The Muppets to regains its popularity, mostly through You Tube, is its penchance to be able to speak on pop culture and satirize it, most specifically movies and music which are currently in the consciousness. That is what made “The Muppet Show” great because it had the ability to do that with the actual stars of the day. While certain elements of that are explored in the new movie, it is a woefully missing element overall which can only be done in a TV show setting like Henson had in the late 70s. Unfortunately, that kind of creative freedom is extinct on TV.

That said, using the old studio system structure of a movie exploring the backstage of putting a show together was a smart move by writer/star Jason Segel as was the introduction of a external Muppet character in the form of his brother which really offers an eye into this idea. This character just wants to go to Hollywood to find The Muppets who were the stalwart and love of his childhood.

Granted the musical sequences are beyond corny but there is, at times, a distinct charm to them especially during a twin sequence that looks like a twisted version of “Ebony & Ivory”. While there are not a whole lot of cameos, the two that count, in the form of Jack Black and Zach Galifinakis, go a long way. The importance of Hobo Joe in the film cannot be overstated.

When the curtain goes up and the widescreen element of the actual opening credits of “The Muppet Show” are recreated as they were for this generation, it is immensely gratifying, helped by the fact that this screening itself was held at the El Capitan Theater which was what was used as the facade for the actual Muppet Theater in the movie.

Segel and Company deserve praise for being able to jump start back the elements of yesteryear and then back away to let the Muppets shine. While certain ones only get a bit of play, others (like Animal and Beeker) need to blow it out a bit more. The balance however gives the movie a distinctly nostalgic field while retaining a contemporary glow.

B

The Dark Crystal – Blu Ray Review

“The Dark Crystal” on BD again reaffirms the textures and specifics put in this film because even with the lines showing which you can hardly see, the detail is astonishing. Blanketing in full 5.1 sound, the black and sparkles are even more luminescent as the puppetry work is just as intense as it was when it first came out. I remember being taken to see this when I was 8 years old and the shot that always remained to me was the ending shot of the transformation of the land after the Dark Crystal was healed. For some reason, there is an inherent sense of underlying intelligence and structure to what is being shown. With the Blu Ray release the details are crisp and the realization is that even with the mastering, the flaws are inperceivable. This was all done by hand unlike something like “Avatar”. As a result, it masters the organic in a way that is much different. The designs were accomplished by Brian Froud who does the commentary here. He speaks about coming up with the creatures and how the production transformed into perception on the spot. Jim Henson was very open to ideas but did have a very specific world in mind. Looking at some of the storyboards as they flow through on a comparison only track, you understand certain places like the beginning credits and the ending culmination are very specifically spelled out almost shot for shot. The one thing Froud says is that at the end of the production they were running out of money and time. The ending creatures and their ascent were to be much more intense and out of control but they only had time to do what is seen. What is there by all accounts however is splendid. There is an additional aspect of collecting pieces throughout the film with the use of highlights which is more IQ based and block tested for younger children.

The Crystal Trivia is interesting and jumps around in time depending how many times you have seen the movie. The original language elements shown in edited original progressions are pretty neat. However it is the first scene which has the dying of the emperor that seems the most primal. The funeral scene, also in an older format which has been seen in past DVD releases of the film, still shows an interesting part of the ceremony of these creatures with distinctive music not heard elsewhere. “The World Of The Dark Crystal” is also a formerly seen documentary made back in the day which shows in Jim Henson’s words how the production came together. He co-directed the film with Frank Oz and we get to see the balance which is much like how Jeunet & Caro worked in the essence for “City Of Lost Children”: one is better with actors and the other one is more visual. In this case, Henson called himself the more visual of the two. The use of slow cameras was hardly needed but like before what was interesting here was the separation of language. The main specific change, as was mentioned before, is the replacement of Frank Oz’s voice for Augra with another actor. Oz’s voice is so well known for Fozzie, Miss Piggy and, of course, Yoda that it made sense. The use of mimes for Garthim and the necessary multiple performers needed for characters like the Skeksis and the Mystics show an undeniable craftsmanship. One wonders if a film like this can even be made like this today.

“Reflections On The Dark Crystal” speaks to a current reflection on what was done almost 30 years ago. David Goelz is the most vocal and of course his humor was highlighted in the documentary. Goelz is mainly responsible for Gonzo, the most fiercely original character of The Muppets by far. His part of the new Skeksis Emperor to the whining Chamberlain as played by Frank Oz show their continued collaboration. The key is in the subtlety of humor without overcoming the drama. Tbe puppeteer who worked Kira also shows the pinpoint accuracy which Henson required. The whole balance was in creating a world that was so completely different from our own that new rules had to be set forth. In both segments of this section, “Light On The Path Of Creation” & “Shard Of Illusion”, new footage of tests from Henson’s backyard before he got the funding to make the film showed his organic way of working. Brian Henson, who now runs his father’s company after his passing, probably provided this from his archives and speaks of his father’s influence. Henson has been trying to mount a sequel to the film for years. At one point Tartakovsky who made “Samurai Jack” was attached to direct but that has since faltered. One glaring omission in the “Reflections” piece is the absence of Frank Oz. One wonders what the relationship is because of this because Oz would have to be involved perhaps in some way on a sequel, at least as a form of respect. The menus for the BR are fluid with an essence of purple although you wonder if it could have been more mythic. In terms of the trailers, the originals are solely missing although the BR trailer for “Close Encounters” always satisfies. It is beautiful to see “The Dark Crystal” on Blu Ray specifically because its brilliance is added because even as the details are made clearer you see how seamless it still is. Out of 5, I give it a 4.