‘The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance’ review: a return done right

September 6, 2019

On August 30, Netflix added a new series to its ever-expanding roster, a prequel to the beloved Jim Henson masterpiece “The Dark Crystal.” Released almost 37 years after the initial film, “The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance” returns to the fantastical and imaginative world of Thra and follows the story of the Gelflings prior to the events of the “The Dark Crystal.” In an age of endless reboots, spin-offs, prequels and sequels, what makes this particular series stand out is the clear love and dedication to its source material. 

The original film was quite ambitious because it used no human actors, and only utilized puppets to tell the story. Jim Henson’s dedication to this idea made the original Dark Crystal movie an entrancing combination of creepy and whimsical. Of course, using only puppets, the original film did suffer from some of the puppets looking unrealistic. However, due to the intentionally fantastical and alien nature of the world of Thra, excellent puppeteering and immersive scenery, this minor problem didn’t really exist.

The aspects of the film that made the original so popular are present in the new Netflix series, and in some cases even improved upon. For example, the puppets look even more emotive and real than the original. In particular the main cast of “Gelflings,” a race of small elven beings who are the heroes of the story, look incredible. The puppets are extremely emotive, to the point you forget they are puppets and become immersed in their world. Also of note are the full body puppets that are used for the Skeksis, the vulture-like villains of the series and certain other large characters. In these cases, a human puppeteer is inside what is essentially a giant puppet costume. Again, the excellent performances by these masterful puppeteers bring these characters to life. 

In addition to excellent performances by the puppeteers, the voice cast of  “The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance” has some great performances. This star-studded cast includes noted actors such Mark Hamill, Helena Bonham Carter and Mark Strong. Hamill is well known for his voice acting ability, but there are some other standout performances by Andy Samberg and Keegan Micheal Key. Both actors portray Skeksis and are utterly unrecognizable to the untrained ear, demonstrating their excellent voice acting ability. But perhaps the greatest performance in the series comes from Simon Pegg as the Skeksis Chamberlain. Taking over the roll from the legendary Frank Oz, Simon Pegg is almost indiscernible from Oz in vocal performance. In fact, I was surprised to see Pegg’s name appear in the end credits. These excellent vocal performances further envelope the audience in the world of Thra.

The series’ greatest achievement, however, is its ability to recapture the magic and wonder of the original film along with its delicate balance between complex themes and the childlike wonder of a Jim Henson production. The darker themes like death, loss, debauchery and even racism are balanced out with excellent worldbuilding, wildly impressive sets, and a good amount of comic relief. 

The worldbuilding in particular succeeds where many other prequels might fail: expanding the lore. Because “The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance” is a prequel it has a chance to explore Thra beyond the confines of the first film. Being a prequel series, it does suffer from the typical problems of prequels, as we know that the events of the series will result in the events of the original film. While the new series does not seem to alter the events of the first film, it certainly succeeds in expanding the world. Most importantly, however, it does not get caught up in worldbuilding and remembers to be entertaining. 

Netflix’s “The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance” is an example of a prequel done right. It is also an example of a return to an established franchise done well. The show demonstrates clear love and respect for Henson’s masterpiece. The dedication to its source material as well as the encapsulating and entertaining story make “The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance” more than worth a binge.

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