In 1982, The Jim Henson Company released the epic fantasy film Dark Crystal. An entirely puppet orientated production, the film offered a truly unique visual design and style that still stands out even to this day. Although Dark Crystal was a film with a truly unique stamp it wasn’t hugely successful upon release, as some audiences found it hard to relate to the characters due to their limited facial expressions. However, over the last 37 years the Dark Crystal film and franchise has developed a strong nostalgic cult following. With such a dedicated following and fanbase, it seems the perfect time to return to the world of the Dark Crystal.
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance serves as a prequel to the original 1982 creation, and focuses on the relationship between the Skeksis and the Gelflings some fifty years prior to the events of the film. Those who have seen the original Jim Henson cult classic will know that the Skeksis are a tyrannical race, driven hungry by power and an addiction to the crystal to grant immortality. As it is the prequel, Age of Resistance is set at a time when Gelflings believe their Skeksis rulers are trustworthy and compassionate. Quite soon however it becomes apparent that all is not what it seems and a horrifying discovery comes to light.
Although the original film was relatively short, clocking in at just over an hour and a half, it presented a rich and multi-layered world. It opens in true classic fantasy fashion with a dramatic narrator explaining the expansive backstory of the Dark Crystal Universe. Age of Resistance follows in that tradition, detailing the various races, tribes, creatures and political landscape of the world. Even in this opening section though, it is clear that the scope and size is far bigger than its predecessor. This only makes natural sense, as this is a ten-episode television series with an overall run time of over nine hours.
There is a surprising lack of fantasy television shows, and when asked most people would inevitably only call Game of Thrones to mind. It seems odd because the format of television is the perfect medium for stories of this genre. From a world building perspective it is ideal, as ample time can be dedicated to the various different facets that make up these complex and sprawling creations. The word that always spring to mind when referring to fantasy is epic and Age of Resistance is certainly that.
It has a depth and scale to it that rivals such titans as Lord of The Rings, and as an ardent fan of Tolkein’s epic trilogy I do not make that comment lightly. Age of Resistance achieves such a grand spectacle for a number of reasons. Firstly it looks fantastic, with truly mesmerizing environments and landscapes filled with all manner of weird and wonderful creatures and critters. With an original film that is so loved and treasured by hardcore fans, there is a lot of pressure on a prequel to meet expectations.
One of the aspects that needs to be absolutely right is the visual aesthetic. Jim Henson’s puppetry is so unique and distinct and the original sets are real masterpieces, so implementing special effects and CGI where none previously existed is extremely risky stuff. You only have to look at the Star Wars prequels to see that.
Thankfully Age of Resistance is incredibly faithful to the source material, and many of the scenes and shots look almost identical to sections from the original film. This is because a huge amount of Age of Resistance is done still using puppets, taking place in real sets crafted by the creative team. Of course visually the show looks a lot crisper and slicker then its original counterpart, but the essence of the original film is still captured entirely.
Because the scale of the show is bigger and there’s a fair few action and chase sequences, there is some use of special effects, though sparingly and only when necessary. Not relying on CGI, but rather incorporating it into a scene to embellish a particular moment of action, is the real genius. It makes it infinitely less noticeable, and the choice to include real locations only further brings the fantastical world to life.
The action sequences are another reason why Age of Resistance has that inimitable epic fantasy feel to it. The original film was both entertaining and a work of art, but was perhaps a little limited in terms of action due to the limitations of the technology at the time. But now in 2019, the possibilities of larger, more visually impressive action pieces is more easily achievable. Age of Resistance certainly delivers on that front and there are a handful of intense and dramatic action moments included.
Whether it’s serving up a tense sword fight or a frantic chase scene, the sequences are exhilarating and a joy to watch. Ironically due to the advancements in special effects and technology, Age of Resistance looks more like a big Hollywood blockbuster than the original despite it being a television series. This is not to say that the original Dark Crystal isn’t epic, but in terms of full scale action Age of Resistance has certainly raised the bar.
The other epic element to the show is the characters themselves. Whereas the original film focused on two main protagonists surrounded by various side characters, Age of Resistance has a wider focus. At the start of the season you have three core protagonists: Rian (Taron Edgerton), Brea (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Deet (Nathalie Emmanuel). But as events transpire and develop more players are introduced, and as the title suggest they begin to form a rebellion of sorts. This multi-character approach is a classic fantasy troupe and is executed brilliantly in Age of Resistance.
Because there are over nine hours of content, so many of the characters feel deeply developed and fleshed out. This is not just in regard to new inclusions. Returning characters such as The Chamberlain (Simon Pegg) and Augra (Donna Kimball) are given just as much screentime as the big dogs. The longer form of a TV series gives enough room to let you to understand the backgrounds, personalities and motivations of pretty much everyone in the show.
Having great characters is one thing, but it’s nothing without excellent talent behind them – and I’m happy to say Age of Resistance excels in this area as well. The cast is a dream selection of the finest British and American actors one could wish for. Mark Hamill, Natalie Dormer, and Jason Issacs are just a few examples of the level of acting talent on offer. But more importantly, they are perfectly cast for the characters they are playing. When you see a particular Gelfling or Skeksi on screen and they open their mouth, it just sounds right.
Certain actors have been tasked with playing characters that have been voiced by other actors in the original film. There is always the worry that they will not match their predecessors. But they get it spot on. It took me a while to even realize Pegg was voicing the Chamberlain, as his performance was so eerily similar to the original. It is just another example of how hard the creative team and cast has worked to stay true and faithful to the original film.
Age of Resistance faithfully replicates the tone of Dark Crystal, but goes one step further, opening up the extended world. There are seven Gelfling races or tribes and through the course of the season we are presented with some of the various lands they hail from. The result is a mixture of settings, locations and environments that are meticulously detailed and captivating to behold. There is a beautiful variety on offer, ranging from dense, lush green forests to vast, golden sand-scapes. Even underground, you are presented with atmospheric, dazzling and mysterious caves. The attention to detail is astounding and small things such as plants and rocks are magically brought to life.
The original film was a showcase for Jim Henson’s bizarre, quirky, and ingenious creations. Age of Resistance further delves into that and in practically every scene, there is something wondrous and fantastical happening either in the forefront or the background of the shot. It makes for an incredibly satisfying watch, where a sense of pleasure and enjoyment can be gained from something as simple as a Gelfling leafing through a book in a library. Of course, being Dark Crystal, it isn’t your average library, and that is what makes it so enticing.
For all its wonder and majesty, there’s a distinctly darker side to Age of Resistance. Although it’s an enchanting film, the original Dark Crystal has some freaky moments. The scene with the Skeksis eating was stomach-churning, and there’s one downright disturbing section where a Podling gets drained. There are more than a few moments like this in Age of Resistance, and if anything the show is darker in tone than the original. This is partly because there is more time focused on the vicious Skeskis, and also because of its nature of being a prequel. It is a war-oriented piece with many different players, whereas the original was a quest centered on two characters. Because there is a resistance and uprising of sorts it gives way to more death, sacrifice and treachery.
This isn’t to say there aren’t laughs in there. Age of Resistance deals with heavy topics such as bereavement and betrayal, but it also has some highly amusing moments. Augthra is hilarious in pretty much every scene she is in, and quite literally laughs in the face of danger. There is both physical humour and some fantastically written and delivered dialogue. It has the wacky, mad cap and offbeat comedy style of the original and there are plenty of very funny moments to even out the more serious aspects of the show.
The Podlings provide most of the laughs: the scene where they have to be bathed is nothing short of comedy gold. Additionally, the tavern scene where the odd little creatures are partying and getting increasingly more inebriated is not just hilarious, but also a fitting tribute and replication of a similar scene in the original film, which is a nice touch.
What the show manages to achieve is a balance between capturing the essence of the original film, while introducing some new and improved features.The puppets are very familiar to any Henson fan, but some of them have been embellished or tweaked to look more expressive and emotive. The access to better cameras with sharper quality and the ability to add post colorization digital effects results in a show that has a wonderful shine and glow to it. It looks stunning and the combination of real locations, pretty special effects, and a vibrant colour palette delivers visuals that will leave you with your mouth hanging open.
Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is nothing short of a masterpiece. In terms of style and tone it makes a fitting companion to the original film and the use of puppetry, meticulous set design and offbeat humour is evidence of this. The scale is staggering with the rich world building mechanics, and multi faceted storyline exhibiting just how much of the Dark Crystal world exists beyond the original film.
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Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance ticks all the right boxes, and achieves everything the original mastered and arguably more. It proves that fantasy as a TV genre works incredibly well, and how effectively epic fantasy worlds can work in a serialized format.
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