The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is an Artistic Triumph
Back in the 80s, The Dark Crystal was the most groundbreaking animated series to hit cinemas. Directed by Jim Henson, the fantasy film explored dark themes that were far from Henson’s work on The Muppet Show. The Dark Crystal was an exhibition of puppet mastery, brilliant storytelling, and relevant themes, which explains why the film has built a solid cult following almost 40 years since its release.
Its prequel, Netflix’s The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, is an ode to the original film, and would, dare we say it, make the late Jim Henson proud. The Dark Crystal revival captures the charm and magic of the original film, complete with all the heart and wonder that marks Henson’s legacy. Visually speaking, the live-action film is an artistic and technical feat and a feast for the eyes. Fans of the original film will be impressed by the aesthetic improvements made in the new series, while new fans will be mesmerized by the show’s ability to pull off a fantasy opera—with puppets.
The series follows three Gelflings as they gather their people to rise up against the corruption of their rulers, the Skeksis, and save their world of Thra. It’s a story of resistance, rebellion, and magic, executed with real puppets instead of animation, with a powerhouse cast that includes some of the most recognizable and famous voices in the industry: Taron Egerton, Anya Taylor-Jones, Nathalie Emmanuel, Helena Bonham Carter, Simon Pegg, Catriona Balfe, Lena Headey, Mark Strong, and Natalie Dormer.
Netflix, along with the production team led by Henson’s daughter Lisa Henson and director Louis Leterrier (Clash of the Titans), steered away from the typical CGI approach that dominates the ultra-animated entertainment scene. Instead, they opted to innovate the traditional art of puppetry in a grand scale production that is quite obviously a labor of love.
From the stunning set designs to the puppets themselves, every part of the Gelfling world is painstakingly detailed and impressive. Only a small amount of the series uses animation and special effects, while the bulk of it was filmed in real time. Over 75 sets were created, 170 puppets were used, 88 puppeteers were involved, and more than 500 artists and craftspeople—spanning two continents—contributed to the creation of the series.
The worldbuilding of the prequel is equally admirable as the series expands the original world of Henson to answer all the questions that the original film left unanswered. The series explores the civilization of the Gelfling people, the origins of the Skeksis, and the mysticism that surrounds Thra. It’s a fun world to explore for fantasy lovers, particularly for the ‘80s nerds who were enchanted by the original film.
Plot-wise, the Age of Resistance more closely resembles Lord of the Rings than Game of Thrones. It’s not a complicated storyline to follow: There’s a world to be saved, a hero to save it, a princess with the key, and evil villains who will do everything to stop them. But despite the predictability of the plot, it’s easy to get sucked into a series that favors unending optimism and heroism. This is old-fashioned fantasy at its finest, hoping for the best despite all odds. It’s slightly upsetting to watch the courage of the series’ heroes if you know how the original film begins, but Henson’s world has never made it easy for their heroes to triumph. It is a dark fantasy, after all.
Aside from its artistic achievements of the series, its heart is in the themes it dares to explore. The story tackles oppression and resistance, isolation and patriotism, and most importantly, it highlights the necessity to find courage in the face of terror. Although our world is far from the fantastical landscape of Thra, the show does a good job reminding viewers that even the smallest of people (or puppets) can speak truth to power.
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is now streaming on Netflix.