It is a testament to the legacy of the 1982 Jim Henson movie Dark Crystal that anticipation for this prequel series has been high since Netflix announced it.
The impressive cast and promise to retain the hand puppeted approach rather than relying on CGI was also met positively. One criticism of the original movie is that it hinted at a world much larger than we saw. Gloriously, Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance pulls back the veil and invites you into the world of Thra.
Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance clearly takes in influences like Game Of Thrones when constructing its multi-location storyline. And the Tolkien touch is prominent in the multiple species filling out the world.
The small elf-like Gelfling were all but extinct in the original movie, but here they fill up the screen with seven clans worth; each clan with a different symbol and ethos.
These range from warriors (Stonewood clan), diplomats (Vapra clan) to cave dwellers (Grottan clan). All Gelfling serve the Skeksis, self-proclaimed masters of the crystal. Our main cast comes from these four camps but the wider world of Thra unfurls as the show progresses.
And what a beautiful world it is. As I mentioned, like Henson's other creation, Fraggle Rock, the show is predominantly hand puppetry with green screen used to erase the puppeteers. Characters fill the lush scenery with utterly believable natural movements. It’s only really stiff fingers and limited facial expressions that occasionally break the spell. But nonetheless the practical skill being utilised is jaw-dropping.
Thra’s various landscapes are colourful and teeming with life, and each new area has plenty of backdrop to keep your eyes astounded. Similarly, the score from Daniel Pemberton (who also delivered a heart-pounding soundtrack to King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword) uses a limited range of notes as representative of the simplistic instruments available. He paints Thra as an otherworldly place heavy with the eons of time.
The huge bird-like Skeksis once again fill up the screen with their massive cackling personalities. They are voiced by such heavyweights as Jason Issacs, Simon Pegg, Mark Hamill, and Benedict Wong. There is plenty of George R. R. Martin’s political backstabbing going on which is mostly good fun to watch.
One small criticism would be that when the scene is full of Skeksis there is a tendency for everything to be over loud. Presumably, to mask the fact that silence breaks the spell of puppetry, the Skeksis spend every second talking, cackling, complaining, and screeching. In group scenes, this can get rather tiresome, but thankfully it never lasts too long.
Fidelity to the Skeksis is ingrained into the Gelfling but our various characters come to question this. We see castle guard Rian (Taron Egerton) gasp as he spies the Skeksis literally drain the essence of life out of his friend. We watch as princess Brea (Anya Taylor-Joy) discovers an ancient prophecy that goes against her Royal family heritage. And we cheer on cave-dwelling Deet (Nathalie Emmanuel) as she learns that a mysterious poison called ‘The Darkening’ is ravaging Thra.
From these solid starts, additional layers are painted on beautifully and any initial ‘information overload’ at the start gets massaged away come episode four.
Of course, anyone who has watched the Dark Crystal movie will know that ultimately the burgeoning Gelfling rebellion is doomed. But Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance ends its 10 episode run with plenty more story to tell, whilst also coming to a satisfying enough ending just in case it isn’t renewed.
Indeed, this fatalism makes watching the Gelfling all the more compelling. You know more about their destiny than they do. In the meantime there are diminutive and upbeat Podlings, growling but cute Fizzgigs, mighty Land Striders, conniving self-obsessed Skeksis, battles for the Gelfling crown, and underneath them all the land of Thra slowly succumbing to magical corruption to explore. So explore and enjoy the world of Jim Hensen!
Words by Michael Record