Review - The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance
The Dark Crystal, a film released in 1982 has received a prequel series almost 40 years later. How mad is that to comprehend?
Whether you are a fan of the original film or not, Jim Henson and his work has had an influence on almost everyone who grew up in the last 50 years. Whether it be The Muppets, Sesame Street, Labyrinth, or The Dark Crystal, the iconic puppets have given us childhood memories, taught us lessons, and embedded themselves in pop culture even to this day. All this couldn't be more relevant than with The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance.
The series produced by Netflix and The Jim Henson Company runs for 10 episodes, each varying around 45 to 60 minutes. The original film, initially a box office flop, has since become a cult hit thanks to home media.
Whether you have seen the original film or not, its imagery has become iconic and recognizable to even the most casual of film fans. Myself, I grew up more on Labyrinth, mainly thanks to it being shown on the Disney Channel…
But having always loved The Muppets and Jim Henson, it was just a matter of time before I discovered The Dark Crystal. The imagery always stood out and intrigued me, particularly that iconic image of the Chamberlain and the crystal itself on the poster art. Eventually, I was introduced to the movie by Film Talk alumnus Dale Coombs and I’ve not looked back since.
Over the years I have re-watched and appreciated the film all the more. While I may not have grown up with the film in the same way or am not the biggest expert in its lore, The Dark Crystal felt like it was always there, waiting in the background, so I was very excited for this new series, especially because of what it means for puppetry and original storytelling.
The series begins with the first episode End. Begin. All the Same. A great introduction to Thra and our story as we are introduced bit by bit to our main cast. Though seeing a series made up fully of puppets shot with high definition technology is odd to see at first, it truly makes the detail and craft of the series shine. The look and feel of the show certainly takes some getting used to, and it's not till the second episode that you fully get your head around it.
But what the first episode achieves is not only setting up intriguing and fun characters (I especially love the elderly Gelfling in the underground village who declares “there’s no arguing with trees”) but it also vividly depicts what a dark and ambitious show you are in for.
Our main cast consists of Rian, played by the always brilliant Taron Egerton along with Deet, played by Game of Thrones star Nathalie Emmanuel and Brea voiced by another rising star, Anya Taylor-Joy. The three actors not only do a fantastic job of giving life and charisma to the puppets but also take the material seriously. I never felt anyone in this cast was being cheesy or cartoon-ish, which is all thanks in large part to the writers and puppeteers.
While we often praise performances such as these on the voice actor, there’s never been a better reason to highlight those who bring the characters to life on set. Neil Sterenberg, Beccy Henderson and Alice Dinnean, do amazing work in making these characters feel natural, with subtle emotion and movements that make the characters even more grounded and real.
I particularly enjoyed Brea, whose optimism is perfectly balanced with seriousness and intrigue. Her puppetry allows for fantastic expressions of shock, frustration and thought. Deet receives a similar amount of visual emotion, which is the real joy of this series. Seeing the characters performed and come to life, whether it be physically or with help of digital effects, really gives Age of Resistance a charm similar to stop motion or live theatre as you can appreciate the craftsmanship taken to tell the story.
The emphasized performance/ technology does, however, mean some of the more minor characters can often become basic by comparison, which I’m sure is for financial reasons and completely fair, but does rob some characters of certain action or drama when their puppet is unable to emote the way others can.
A stand out example is Lena Headey’s Maudra Fara, who is given quite a lot of dramatic scenes for a more minor character. But at the end of the day, a kick-ass flying elf queen voiced by Cersei Lannister, what’s not to love?
Her role also highlights another unexpected and refreshing aspect of the series. Its diversity. The show does one of the best jobs in recent years of including a vast array of different characters without pandering to its audience. It’s not till around six or seven episodes in that I realized one of the characters has two fathers, just because of how casual and ordinary the series makes it.
That along with the amount of strong female characters from Helena Bonham-Carter’s All-Maudra to Natalie Dormer’s Onica makes this not only impressive for just how many great actors they have playing these roles, but how seamlessly their characters embed themselves into the story, without becoming cliches.
But enough about good characters, let’s talk evil characters, and the Skeksis certainly are evil (though the Chamberlain, in particular, would disagree). Just as they appear in the original film, the Skeksis are lovingly brought back to life here as if they were lifted right out of the original 80s movie.
Though their characteristics and the sheer amount of characters can sometimes be a tad overwhelming, it certainly gives fans what they’ve wanted. The Chamberlain (voiced wonderfully by the king of the nerds Simon Pegg) plots and schemes like the best master manipulators while Mark Hamill’s take as The Scientist (yes you heard me, The Joker himself) is a lot of fun and offers some of the series darkest and crazier moments.
While I was not a fan of The Collector played by Awkwafina, her scenes with The Scroll Keeper (brought to life by the previously mentioned Neil Sterenberg) at the beginning of the series portrayed just how detailed and vividly the Skeksis have been brought to life.
Jason Isaac adds great presence and menace to The Emperor, an interesting character to dive deep into, considering his fate at the start of the original movie. But two of my favourite pieces of casting are Keegan Michael-Key as The Ritual Master and Andy Samberg as The Heretic.
While Samberg seemed born to play a Skeksis (what an odd thing to say…) The deep-toned and serious character of The Ritual Master seemed strange to give to Keegan Michael-Key who seemed too comedic for the role.
I’m happy to say he nails it. Giving the stoic and more two-dimensional character of the original film great character, youth, and presence.
As for Samberg’s character, he and Bill Hader’s The Wanderer… Wait Bill Hader is in this too!? Anyway. Their scene together is one of my favourites in the series which as The Age of Resistance often does gave me a massive grin throughout the entire thing. It gives the show a light-hearted lift, something they inject pretty well thanks to endearing characters like Hup the Podling and the angry Fizzgigs who are there to lighten the mood after the dark action. The scene also has a genius bit of meta humour used to beautifully depict part of the story.
The show as the name suggests is certainly dark, and as a prequel showing how a greedy race of creatures conquered their world, it’s in many ways, unsurprising. But what is surprising is the pure ambition and guts of the creators. The series has some very dark ideas, imagery and action, that can often make you wonder if this is even intended for young children at all.
The series is certainly aimed at those who grew up with the film and while I could suggest caution for younger viewers watching this, it also seems in the spirit of the original and 80s media, in general, to scare and challenge its young viewers.
Many moments had me genuinely terrified or audibly reacting to the dark imagery on screen. With the spider scene being something truly horrifying (you’ll know the one).
There are many, many elements to this vast series I could continue to praise and analyse but ultimately, I can only recommend you watch it. While I would advise watching the original movie (if not just to see the improvement in quality), I also think Age of Resistance can be enjoyed on its own.
The series is directed consistently and fantastically by Louis Leterrier and is astounding for just how high the production values are, which to Leterrier’s credit is filmed in a cinematic and engaging way.
The show feels like the classic film, with staples such as Aughra stealing every scene she features in as well as the classic whimper of The Chamberlain. On top of the many throwbacks, many of which are clear while others are more hidden, the series adds a tremendous amount of history and lore to the world of Thra. The concept of the seven clans, while somewhat Game of Thrones-esque does give the fantasy world an extra level of depth of history.
The action is exciting and impressive for that of a streaming show and even more so as it is using a mixture of live-action puppets and CG. With an enchanting soundtrack, beautiful 4K imagery and an impressive 5.1 audio mix (it made great use of my surround sound) Age of Resistance proves to make advancements not only just in puppetry but also the quality and budget we can see with that on streaming.
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is truly something special, which can sometimes be overwhelming or even overly dark. With the character development more successful with characters like Brea and Deet, it is the scope and ambition combined with its breathtaking visuals that make Age of Resistance unique. The series finale gives a satisfying pay off to the series while also setting up for more episodes in the future.
Thanks to its fantastic performances, amazing designs and riveting story, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is a triumph.