As one of the co-hosts of the show that has been seriously bitten by the collecting bug, I thought it would be fun to start a new feature that centers on defunct home video releases of the movies that we cover. Seeking out imagery of all the domestic and foreign VHS, BETA, and LaserDisc releases for some of my favorite films has always been a fun hobby. In fact, the hobby turned into an obsession with one particular film, The Monster Squad. Instead of just seeking out images of the releases, I actually amassed a rather large collection of the actual physical media. In fact it’s so thorough that the collection led to an invitation to participate in the recent documentary on the movie, Wolfman’s Got Nards, directed by one of the film’s original stars, Andre Gower. I had a blast sharing my collection with Gower the documentary crew, and even shipped the entire thing (along with the rest of my vast Monster Squad collection) down to Austin, TX as a museum exhibit for the preview of the Nards documentary.
I like to call these vintage home video releases, The Dead Media Library, so let’s kick off the new column by taking a look at some of the releases of a film that we just covered on the CFC, The Dark Crystal. First up, let’s take a look at the original hard-case clamshell VHS release by Thorn EMI Video in 1983…
I believe that this was the first VHS release of the film, followed up by a very similar hard-case clamshell and paper sleeve release by HBO Home Video. Both of these early releases featured the standard one-sheet artwork by Richard Amsel. These are slightly rare as they were releases aimed at video stores for rental and most likely were way too pricey for public sell-through. I’m also struck by the tape itself as there was a mixed-color cassette with the tape door cast in a dark grey. I find this interesting because as a kid the only tape that I ever saw use a secondary color for the door was E.T. (which notoriously had a green door.) This will come up again when we get to the Japanese VHS release below.
Next up we have one of the later home video releases of the film on VHS that was aimed at the mass market, the Jim Henson Video release of the flick in its iconic green clamshell case. If you were shopping for the movie on VHS in the 90s, chances are this was the release you picked up. This was released in store in 1994. All new artwork was commissioned for this tape and it always bugged me. I’m not in love with the odd color choices, in particular the injection of all the green on the Landstrider and in the Garthim Master’s robes. They also chose to use a dull purple for the crystal shard instead of the more typical vibrant pink.
This next US VHS was released by Columbia/Tri-Star in a paper sleeve case in 1996. I dig this cover more than the previous release, though it weird how they chose which Skeksis to feature on the cover, including an image of Skekok the Scroll Keeper up in the top right corner (as he’s not heavily featured in the film.) They also went with Skekzok the Ritual Master as the main villain on the cover. It’s weird that they didn’t use either the Chamberlin or the Garthim Master as they are the most prominently featured Skeksis in the movie. Lastly, though it seems very in keeping with the fantasy environment and themes of the film, the Celtic knot border work it kind of weirdly out of place…
According to the tape, there is apparently an additional minute of footage in the film as the run time for the Dark Crystal tends to be 93 minutes, not 94. A small difference and it might just be a matter of rounding up. Speaking of runtimes, this next piece is from the mid-90s (probably 1996 or 1997) release of the film on PAL VHS by Columbia/Tri-Star in the United Kingdom and it features a truncated runtime! According to the sleeve, the film only runs for 89 minutes. I’m trying to imagine where they snipped 4 minutes of the film. Though the design of the cover is largely the same, the decision was made to ditch Skekok the Scroll Keeper in favor of Skektek the Scientist, a more prominent character in the film for sure.
The last cassette scan I was able to source is the cover of the hard-case clamshell RCA/Columbia Pictures release of the film for the Japanese market. Breaking with the other Japanese marketing, RCA/Columbia chose to use the European one-sheet artwork for the cover by B. Napoli. Weirdly, like in the later US paper sleeve and the UK release, the designers chose to inject traditional Irish Celtic knot work borders even though this was never an element in any of the posters using this artwork. This was released back in 1984 though, so I guess this was just a thing throughout the life of this movie. This release also features some of Brian Froud’s character design artwork on the back cover. I think it was one of the only times Froud’s work graced any of the merchandise or marketing.
As I mentioned above, this Japanese VHS tape featured a dual-color cassette with a striking red tape door (particularly in conjunction with the bright yellow sticker.) I think this was way more common in Japan as my copy of the Monster Squad also features multiple colors on the tape.
The last two pieces I want to share for the Dark Crystal are in the LaserDisc format. First up is the 2nd US laserdisc release of the film back in 1994 by Jim Henson Video. The film was previously released on disc back in the mid 80s by HBO Home Video. This release was novel is it was one of the only ways to view the film in a widescreen (though letterboxed) format before the DVD released in the late 90s/early 2000s.
The second LaserDisc is the Japanese release from 1984 by the LaserDisc corporation and distributed and printed by Pioneer Electronic. This disc was nice as it not only featured the fun and weird Bob Peak artwork for the cover, but it also utilizes Richard Amsel’s artwork on the inner sleeve, and the fantastic Thorn UK promotional artwork on the back cover (though it was ran through a red filter to match it with Peak’s color palette.