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Chamberlain (SkekSil, the Skeksis)

The Dark Crystal
by Monkey Boy

There are figures you just think they're never going to make, even though you've wanted them for what seems like forever. And then, sometimes, someone just up and makes them. It seems like NECA has done this a lot in terms of my "dream" toy lines, making figures from beloved properties like Gremlins and Jim Henson's Labyrinth. They've also managed to get certain fan-favorite figures made when other toy companies (ahem*McFarlane*ahem) had long said they were impossible to produce (see: Hannibal Lecter and Pinhead).

NECA lately also has a funny way of releasing product. Some figures are released with lots of online promotion and magazine previews, while others are dumped to retail with almost no fanfare. Such is the case with their second foray into the Jim Henson universe, SkekSil the Chamberlain from The Dark Crystal. This figure was previewed some time ago, and then suddenly appeared on comicstore shelves with no further forewarning. This is another one of those times when NECA seems to be looking personally into my own childhood to find out what toys I'd like them to make.

Jim Henson's first all-creature feature film. 1982's The Dark Crystal is a classic tale of good against evil - Mystics against Skeksis. Long ago, the Crystal, the very source of balance and truth in the Universe, was shattered. Now, as the convergence of the three suns approaches, the Crystal must be restored, or the evil Skeksis will rule the world forever. Jen and Kira, the world's last two Gelflings, must now journey together to replace the Crystal's missing shard in order to fulfill the ancient prophecy and restore harmony to their world.

The Dark Crystal was an odd film. It was ostensibly a live-action movie, although no human actors ever appear onscreen (at least not without being fully unrecognizable), and there are no human characters in the film. Every character in the film is represented through puppetry, or someone in a full body suit, or some combination of the two. Though the film was largely overshadowed by ET (which was released the same year) it made a decent profit and has since gained something of a cult following.

I remember the first time my mother showed the film to me, and I viewed that VHS tape until it was completely unwatchable. One of my favorite aspects of the film was the villainous clan known as the Skeksis, vulturine creatures devoted to cruelty, excess and indulgence. They, like the gentle and noble Mystics (or UrRu), were once the beings known as UrSkeks, until their quest for purity led to their being split into two races. The Skeksis, being the more ambitious and conniving of the two, soon took control.

Incidentally, contrary to popular belief (and what might make the most sense in terms of the story), the cracking of the Dark Crystal itself is not what caused the UrSkeks to split their souls into two distinct species. The crystal shard that drives the story was actually broken off during a later battle between the two races, and it was after that battle that the Mystics and Skeksis parted ways, with the former seeking out a new home while the latter retained the castle and general rule of the land. This is never explicitly stated in the film itself, and is mostly covered in the expanded conceptual material developed by Brian Froud. However, the film does hint at this idea, when the Gelfling Jen looks into the crystal shard and sees a vision of a fully-formed Skeksis, rather than an UrSkek, striking the Dark Crystal.

There have been some collectibles devoted to the film over the years, including some busts and statues as well as some 1:6 scale figures of the film's protagonists, the Gelflings. However, NECA's SkekSil marks the first time any of the movie's characters have been made as a traditional action figure. Somewhat lamely, it says as much right on the package ("Action Figure Debut!"). SkekSil (referred to in the film by his title, Chamberlain), isn't part of any particular toy series (such as, say, Cult Classics), but is rather a stand alone figure under the "Reel Toys" banner, which is becoming an increasingly common practice for NECA these days.

The Chamberlain's sculpt, as handled by Jason Frailey, is really quite remarkable. The headsculpt captures the creature's simpering smile perfectly, and his tattered robes are patchy and threadbare. This figure represents SkekSil after he was banished from the Skeksis' castle for losing a "Trial by Stone" duel with SkekUng, the Skeksis military general and keeper of the beetle-like Garthim soldiers. As such, he is (sadly) not dressed in the multi-layered, ornate garb of your typical decadent Skeksis, but rather in what little scraps he could gather to cover himself with after he was stripped of his title and garments. On one hand, it's a shame since it would be really awesome to see this figure in its regal robes, released as part of a wicked "Trial by Stone" box set with SkekUng, two swords, and a base with a break-apart stone. On the other hand, it makes sense for the figure to be done in the post-banishment style, since he appeared this way for most of the film. Hopefully, this won't be the only Dark Crystal figure NECA releases, and perhaps in the future they'll release some Skeksis decked out as they should be.

There's lots of exquisite detail to be found in the sculpt, and not just in the head and the torn and shredded garments. SkekSil's lumpy, malformed body is fully sculpted beneath his robes, if you care to view it (though be forewarned: there are nipples a-plenty). His knobby, bony fingers and the spikes protruding from his hunched back are all beautifully reproduced, and the figure even has details I'd never noticed before despite having seen this movie more times than I can count. For example, who knew Skeksis had a second, tiny pair of arms popping out of their backs? Not me. If there is one aspect of the sculpt to nit pick about, it's the way the sculpted "fabric" hangs around his shoulders. Based on the packaging photos, it should clearly lay more natural and tight against his arms, rather than flaring out the way it does on the production figure.

The paint doesn't quite measure up to the sculpt, but it tries admirably. The darker areas of the robe are quite well done, especially the glittery sparkle effect, which is very subtle, just like it needs to be. There are lots of complex paint apps on the back, and a nice drybrushing brings out the detail in the face. The only place the paint falls somewhat short in my book is with the areas of lighter, off-white fabric, as seen most heavily on the arms and chest. It seems like it's applied just a tad too thick, and there isn't enough of a wash to really keep it from looking plasticky and very "toyish."

Skeksis aren't known for being particularly agile, but SkekSil has enough points of articulation to get him into some decently different poses. The neck is balljointed, which really helps in mimicking the subtle head cocks that convey the Chamberlain's deviousness. He has peg joints in the shoulders, a peg at the left elbow, a hinge at the right elbow, and balljoints in the wrists. These allow him to make some pretty nice wheedling, petulant gestures that fit his character very well. There's also a joint at the right bicep, but I honestly can't tell if it's a ball or peg joint, since it's so loose and prone to popping out. It really doesn't allow him to move much, either, since any outward movement of the arms is hampered by the interaction between the heavy sleeves and the robes covering the figure's back. He also gets a bendy tail, although it really only fits through a sculpted raised section in the hem of SkekSil's robe.

SkekSil doesn't come with any accessories, and if he's the only figure from the film NECA plans on producing, that's a real letdown. He could have come with Fizzgig, the annoying dog-like pet of Kira the Gelfling, or the crystal shard itself, or a crystal bat. Hopefully, these non-SkekSil specific accessories will find their way into being included with future figures, as this line has a lot of possibilities. Still, it's pretty disheartening that their first offering comes with nothing.

I'm very pleased with my SkekSil figure. He was an obvious choice as a debut Dark Crystal figure, since he's memorable both for his physical appearance and his involvement in driving the plot of the film. He's a better choice than either of the Gelfling protagonists, since they're rather banal in their design, and he's much more notable than most of the other Skeksis. If this were to be the only Dark Crystal figure released by NECA, it would be a fine representation of what the movie has to offer. However, after seeing how nice this guy came out, I'm really hoping NECA has more from this wonderful film in store for us. Bring on a Trial by Stone box set, bring on the Landstriders, bring on the Mystics, bring on the Garthim! And please, keep making figures from properties of my youth that I never thought would see the light of day.

-- 06/15/09

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