Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is an utter feast for the eyes, pulses, and minds and it will more than exceed the expectations of fans of Jim Henson’s original. This is one of the most ambitious and immersive TV events of the year – a series that builds on the wonderment of the 1982 film and delivers a smarter, creepier, more whimsical, and more narratively thrilling adventure. Age of Resistance is made with such intelligence, imagination, passion, and skill, that you can feel the filmmaker’s passion oozing out of every frame. Anyone else looking to make a fantasy TV series should take notes since this is a prime example of how to do it right.
Whether you’re watching for fulfilled nostalgia or simple curiosity, Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance will more than keep you enthralled with its craftsmanship and pure artistry. It’s extraordinary work, grandly conceived, brilliantly executed and one of the best fantasy tales since Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Let’s dive in.
A Bit of History
When Jim Henson’s passion project (co-directed with Frank Oz) hit theaters in 1982, nobody knew what to expect. The film received a mixed response including parental concerns about its dark nature but luckily for Henson who put his career (and his relationship with legendary producer Lord Lew Grade) on the line— The Dark Crystal became the 16th highest-grossing film of 1982 earning $40,577,001 stateside in its box office run. Not too shabby for a surprisingly dark fantasy film populated entirely by cutting-edge puppets. And while it didn’t earn as much as the producers would have liked, The Dark Crystal managed to turn a profit and thanks to home video, the movie began to find an even larger audience with time, becoming a bona fide cult hit with devoted fans worldwide asking for a sequel.
Now nearly forty years after its release, fans are getting what they want in the form of a 10-part fantasy series that serves as a prequel to Jim Henson’s most personal project. Thanks to Netflix, his daughter Lisa Henson was awarded the time, resources and budget to flesh out what the pioneering puppeteer started and the results are awe-inspiring.
Adapted by writers Jeff Addiss, Will Matthews, and Javier Grillo-Marxuach, Age of Resistance expands upon the world that Henson crafted while taking certain elements from previously established lore such as J.M. Lee’s prequel novels. What’s most surprising about the series, however, is how closely it resembles the original film. Set fifty years before the events of The Dark Crystal, Age of Resistance follows a trio of Gelfling hailing from separate and distinct tribes that view the Skeksis as benevolent overlords only to soon learn their vulturesque masters are killing Geflings and drinking their “essence” to gain immortality. The band of determined Gelflings eventually join forces and set out on a mission to figure out what exactly is happening to the Crystal of Truth. Over ten episodes, Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance sees our heroes traverse the planet Thra and mount a growing rebellion against the Skeski parasitic rule. The action unfolds along multiple narrative lines as the treacherous Skeski fight to seize power over the planet and exploit the eponymous crystal with which they hold hostage in their underground laboratory. And so begins an epic journey full of heartache and difficult choices ahead. As Age of Resistance races along to its climax, the peaceful Geflings will encounter death, betrayal, and unspeakable acts of torture.
This Show is Dark
Coming up with enough material to last ten hours can be a challenge, but The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance packs the narrative with so many subplots and so many characters, it’s at times difficult to keep up. Given that the season ends with multiple cliffhangers, it’s clear that the creators hope to continue the show and further develop the characters and the world they inhabit.
On the surface, Age of Resistance is your typical good-versus-evil story with plenty of twists and turns along the way as our heroes venture from one dangerous quest to the next. Despite being a series that stars puppets, Age of Resistance is very much a dark fairy tale tackling issues of climate change, misinformation, and the lies that corrupt and greedy world leaders will tell in order to maintain the status quo. The Skeksis after all, are power-hungry and somehow they have convinced the entire world that their greedy action is in everyone’s best interest. Somewhat more subtle is the commentary on same-sex marriage, racism, religion, and prejudices. But what really stands out is the level of violence and horror that I assume many won’t be expecting.
The Game of Thrones for kids…
One of the most memorable aspects of the original Dark Crystal is how it didn’t shy away from tackling the harrowing aspects of its subject matter despite its young target audience. Like any epic fantasy, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is filled with tragic deaths but I was somewhat surprised to see how it doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to showing the pain and suffering the Skeksis inflict on other characters with scenes of cruelty, torture, and murder. Most of the actual gore is kept offscreen (save for a few scenes featuring puppet blood) but it’s chockfull of nightmarish imagery guaranteed to frighten younger viewers. It doesn’t help that the Skeksis are deliberately foul in every way, and their actions place these characters alongside the evilest men and women from Winterfell. Needless to say, there is no shortage of death and tragedy here. Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is the stuff of nightmares, and even more depressing is knowing the grim reality of what’s to come in the future.
A Technical Marvel
The seventh episode of the first season is when things really start heating up, but amidst the action and spectacle is a touching scene in which a pair of wise puppets bring to life their own puppet show in order to relay vital information to the Gelflings on their quest. It’s just one of the many instances in which Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance either breaks the fourth wall and/or pays tribute to the original film (along with the art of puppetry)– and it’s these quieter moments that fans will appreciate most.
Speaking of which Age of Resistance features plenty of scenes of hand-to-hand combat, chases and action-packed battles. Directing all ten episodes, Louis Leterrier (Clash of the Titans) committed to keeping CGI enhancements to a minimum, so much so that when you do recognize CGI effects, they often become distracting. It can’t be overstated just how well Leterrier is able to navigate his camera around so many puppets while crafting a world that’s wholly immersive. Even more impressive is that Leterrier, along with his cinematographer Erik Alexander Wilson, shot each episode primarily with handheld cameras in order to dig into the action and make viewers seem like they are in the midst of the turmoil. Over 170 puppets were reportedly created by the Jim Henson Creature Shop for the series, and each and every character comes to life through careful camera placement, editing, and the physical performances by 83 expert puppeteers (Kevin Clash, Louise Gold, and Dave Goelz, to name a few), acrobats, dancers, stuntmen and yes its incredibly star-studded voice cast, which is way too many actors to name. A few standouts worth mentioning here, however, include none more than Simon Pegg‘s The Chamberlain; Mark Hamill who brings an over-the-top performance to his role as The Scientist; and Andy Samberg who steals the spotlight as a Skeksis heretic. Additional credit should be given to composer Daniel Pemberton and Samuel Sim who remain true to the soundtrack of the original film by Trevor Jones – and original creature/costume designers Brian and Wendy Froud, without whom this series would have never been made. The hard work of all these men and women combined helped create an effect that CGI just cannot replicate.
What Louis Leterrier and company have accomplished here is amazing on every level. The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is a technical marvel and an achievement in the art form of puppetry. Every scene is teeming with life and every episode is blessed with a good script, fantastic performances, and stunning visuals. Age of Resistance is crammed with so much adventure, so many spectacular effects, so much derring-do, and so much visual wonder, it will keep some viewers coming back for more. More importantly, it’s clear the entire team went out of their way to stay true to Jim Henson’s vision and retain the spirit of the original film. Netflix deserves credit for taking a gamble on such an ambitious project and judging by how it ends, we will hopefully see a second season in the near future.
- Ricky D