Growing up as a child with a broad imagination, one of my favorite things to watch was Jim Henson’s Dark Crystal and Jim Henson’s Labyrinth. Both offered the possibility of worlds far outside of the comfort of my mind and many adventures for my young mind to come up with after viewing the films. These films came to capture and, occasionally, terrify my mind with images of dancing goblins, glowing crystals that could both harm and heal, and much more. And, ultimately, they made me a lifelong convert of the fantasy genre. That’s why when I found out that the Jim Henson Company would be returning back to the world of Thra in a prequel series, my heart jumped for joy. Where would they explore? What new creatures would we be able to run into? Needless to say, my high hopes were met and then some after viewing all ten episodes of THE DARK CRYSTAL: AGE OF RESISTANCE.
Look. I have to come out and say it first, but the character designs were just so good. Taking what they had built from the original movie, the puppets created for this series were just above and beyond what I had imagined. Each one seemed very individualized to help them stand out among each other. This ended up helping especially in crowd scenes and early on in the series when we’re being introduced to the characters. Not only was the detailing of the individual puppets done well, but I really appreciated all the care and effort placed in each puppet’s facial structure and clothing designs. As you moved between each Gelfling clan, in particular, you were able to pick up each clan’s personalities and story through their clothing and their overall design. This same note applies to the Skeksis, who have singlehandedly haunted my nightmares since I was a young girl. Being able to see the individual touches to each Skeksis paired with the voice acting really helped me realize and identify which Skekses was which. It’s such a minor thing to focus on, but it really did help.
Since I could literally write an entire essay on just the puppets alone, I’m going to try to refrain on expanding on this further. However, I do have to also mention the creature designs outside of the realm of the Mystics, the Skeksis, the Podlings, and the Gelfling. One of the notes that I had written down while watching the series was how much I loved the creatures that occupied the world of Thra. I also wrote down that I’m pretty sure the Jim Henson Company is the primary reason why I would literally hug any animal now as an adult because there’s such a charm that each creature they make possesses. From the Fizzgig to the Spitters to the Landstriders, you can’t help but want to learn more about each of these creatures and I really have to commend the Jim Henson Company again for creating these creatures. If they inspired me as a child and inspire me now, they will also inspire kids – big and small – to love them as well.
From the wide shots of breathtaking landscapes to the full-scale sweeps of the city of Vapra, those visual shots alone made my heart soar. I’m not entirely certain how much of the shots were achieved with VFX but, however they were achieved, they really stood out for me. Continuing further on the VFX used, the work done by the team along with the shots director Louis Leterrier captured helped to elevate the overall visual product. One of the things that I remembered about the original film was how limited the team was in hiding the flaws shown in their puppet work. However, due to the technology and special effects available now more than thirty years later, it has become easier to hide those flaws and make the shots flow seamlessly without the distraction of the limitations working with puppets can sometimes have.
While the puppets, the sets, and visuals really stood out in THE DARK CRYSTAL: AGE OF RESISTANCE, what I think really sells the series as a whole is the story that has been crafted for us. I’m sure this series will be compared to other fantasy shows like HBO’s Game of Thrones and Amazon’s upcoming series Carnival Row, but the world-building that has taken place and the analysis of how flawed the society of Thra is during this point in Thra’s history may be compared to those shows. However, the latter element does not detract away from the fun that this series brings. While the story does run into considerably dark moments that may not be suited for kids, there is an element of hope and spirit that will infect the viewer with feelings of positivity. This is something I feel that most fantasy shows nowadays lack, a certain magical lightness that reminds the viewer of why these shows are an escape. THE DARK CRYSTAL: AGE OF RESISTANCE delivers on that feeling of hope and light.
The story itself runs smoothly; the pacing moving briskly after the first episode. We are introduced to a world where the Gelfling are ruled over by the Skeksis and, in fact, seem to prefer this format. However, the Skeksis and their quest for immortality take hold and they do the unthinkable. When Rian (voiced by Taron Egerton) discovers what they have done, the plot unfolds in a way that is both surprising but still maintains a sense of reality for the viewer. The characters we encounter along the way all have their perspectives and their views, further enriching the story and moving it in a way that doesn’t diverge off the natural course set out for them. Rebellion is imminent and all paths lead to that age of resistance that all signs have pointed towards. That’s about as spoiler-free as I think I can get with regards to the story.
One concern that viewers of the original movie might have is whether or not the prequel will make sense storywise compared to its predecessor. And this is a reasonable concern. However, I would say that the prequel helps to explain elements that we might have missed out on in an initial viewing of the film. There is more backstory delivered that helps flush out characters that we first met in the movie. Although it was explained in the movie, we get a reminder of the bond between the Mystics and Skeksis. We learn more about the individual Skeksis and their motivations that help expand them past stereotypical villains. We get more backstory into Aughra that I don’t think we had much of in the original film. There’s a lot for fans of the original film will be able to enjoy and learn from this latest addition to The Dark Crystal universe.
And, finally, the voice acting. THE DARK CRYSTAL: AGE OF RESISTANCE boasts a large ensemble cast of well-known actors ranging from Mark Hamill, Jason Isaacs, Taron Egerton, Anya Taylor-Joy, and so much more. It’s so difficult to really focus on any one of them because all of them infused their characters with such personality that it made the job of identifying characters so much easier. I do have to focus on the Skeksis though because their scenes and characters were such a delight despite how dastardly evil they all were. Simon Pegg and Awkwafina, in particular, stood out the most as they captured both the Chamberlin’s and the Collector’s dreadful personalities perfectly and their voices may haunt both kids and adults alike for a long time.
Overall, THE DARK CRYSTAL: AGE OF RESISTANCE is really something special. It captures the heart and soul of what made the original 1982 film stand out as a fan-favorite for many. It also smoothed out the pacing issues that made the original feel longer than it was. Adapting the prequel into a series benefits the story significantly because the audience gets more time to absorb and learn about this magnificent world that the Jim Henson Company has created for us. For fans of the original movie, it will feel like coming home. For first-timers unfamiliar with the world of the movie, it serves as a brilliant introduction to the world that will leave a mark in the hearts of everyone for a very long time.
All episodes of THE DARK CRYSTAL: AGE OF RESISTANCE will be available on Netflix on August 30, 2019.