Netflix Review: The Dark Crystal, Age of Resistance

Did you ever watch The Dark Crystal growing up? Although not one of my “favorite” films, my first interaction with the 1982 Jim Henson/Frank Oz puppet film was through a recorded VHS tape I found stashed among our old movie collection as a kid. I literally pulled it out one day, thought “what movie is this?” and popped it in the VCR. The 90’s, am I right? I vividly remember thinking the movie was very strange and trying to follow the story was a bit difficult, but I found a sense of wonder in the characters and set design. And puppets were still a big thing back then: Sesame Street, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Gremlins, and Labyrinth (the Henson/Oz follow-up film) to name a few. In more recent years they have sadly lost their shine with the appeal of CGI to smooth over the rough edges of animatronic movement. Enter The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, bringing back puppets with all the bells and whistles of today’s artistic abilities and talent and flawlessly propping them up on screen for a prequel series to the cult classic. The fantasy series is just as strange as the original, but also the characters and visual effects of the set design and CGI landscape are wonderfully fine-tuned. I really enjoyed the first steps in this prequel series and rate it among the top new shows I have seen over the past several years for creativity, visual appeal, and story potential.
If you don’t enjoy a good fantasy genre film, this show maybe isn’t for you. Because it is packed with strange names, places, and mythology. As a backdrop, The Dark Crystal (1982) depicted another world called Thra and it’s inhabitants. The glowing purple Crystal of Truth lies at the center of the plot, and as it cracks two races are formed: Skeksis and urRu. Another race, known as Gelfling, exist on the planet and are hunted to the verge of genocide by Skeksis after learning of a prophecy fortelling their demise by the hands of a Gelfling. The story picks up when a survived, young Gelfling, Jen, is given a quest to go on a hero’s journey to heal the crystal and end the reign of the Skeksis.
That’s a lot to pack into 93 minutes, let alone one paragraph. But if you are enticed, keep reading because The Dark Crystal: Age of Extinction is set “many years” before the events of it’s predecessor and the world-building is next level. This time, there are many more Gelfling who live in mostly peaceful farming communities around Thra, but the planet is dying from a destruction similar to the tendrils of Stranger Things Season 2, known as The Darkening. The evil Skeksis have warped the truth in their rule over Gelfling and are secretly sucking power from the Crystal of Truth which was entrusted to their care a millennia ago by Mother Aughra, an embodiment of the planet. When the corruption and dishonesty of the Skeksis is simultaneously discovered by three young Gelfling (Rian, Brea, and Deet) around Thra, they are forced to leave their homes in rebellion against the Skeksis. Finding each other through perilous circumstances, they work together to spread the truth about the Skeksis rule and unite the seven Gelfling clans.
We don’t know how long before the events of The Dark Crystal this all takes place but it seems fair to say that there is enough time between them to fit in several storylines with our newfound characters. The Skeksis all return and in addition to sucking power from the Crystal have found a way to steal the essence of Gelfling to live forever. This is found out by Rian, son of the castle guard captain, and he becomes the character to unite all characters since Gelfling have the ability to dreamfast (a.k.a. share visual/auditory memories) with other Gelfling. Rian reminds me a lot of Jen in the film with his quest but I enjoyed watching his character build courage and strength as the episodes went, and also discover that it’s in his blood to be a hero. On another part of Thra, Princess Brea of the Vapra Clan begins questioning why the Gelfling are required to sacrifice their crops to the Skeksis. When she speaks out, her mother is killed and she is taken prisoner by the Skeksis, but is found and released by Rian. I like Brea as a character because she communicates her strength through wisdom and a belief in a better Gelfling world and finds ways to make that a reality. Finally, Deet lives underground with the Grottan Clan and after a run-in with The Sanctuary Tree is chosen and sent to find Mother Aughra and help restore balance to Thra. Deet is a mirrored image of Rian but her character arc takes a sharp turn by the end of the first season. They are both given quests that entangle with each other and their run-in sparks some potential romance, but Deet seems to be on a very different and more dangerous journey. She also finds an unlikely sidekick in the loyal Podling, Hup, who is maybe my favorite character and also willing to defend Deet’s honor and life.
The writers have taken the dark plot of the original film and brightened it up in many respects while also keeping the prominent evil characters and mission intact. There is war on the horizon between the species living on Thra, and season two will surely focus on that more. I could keep going on an on about this show, there is so much to love about character arcs and allusions and little story details. There are a few books (I haven’t read them) that help to build this fantasy world but I was very pleased with what the first season was able to accomplish. The building was spread out over the entire season, with a big chunk of explanation ironically coming via a puppet show (run by puppets…lol) in the second to last episode. But this world has clans, creatures, wars, languages, and even its own mythology. Does it jump into the deep end too soon? Maybe. But with a good fantasy, I think you should always be ready to sink or swim. There was as much thought put into how they tell the story as there was the design and appearance of every character (thanks to Brian Froud, who worked alongside Henson and Oz to create puppets in The Dark Crystal). Oh, and I forgot to mention the incredible cast of voice acting that this show has: Taron Egerton (Kingsman: The Secret Service, Rocketman), Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch, Split), Jason Isaacs (The OA, The Patriot), Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Mission: Impossible franchise), Benedict Wong (Dr. Strange), Mark Hammil (Star Wars, voice acting guru), Keegan-Michael Key (MADtv, Key and Peele), Helena Bonham Carter (Harry Potter franchise), Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina, 2018’s Tomb Raider), Mark Strong (Sherlock Holmes, Shazam!), and Awkwafina (Ocean’s Eight, Crazy Rich Asians), among many other up-and-coming actors. Was it worth listing all their acting accomplishments? Yup.
Sorry for the length of this review (not really though), as you can tell I am highly recommending that you watch The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance on Netflix. But I have been watching other things though too, including revisiting some of those old cartoons now available on the new streaming platform Disney+ like Recess, Darkwing Duck, and X-Men: The Animated Series. I will keep my reviews to current shows and films, but if you are ever interested in knowing my thoughts on older stuff just give a holler. I don’t have nearly that much time to write about all the things I love, but I still love to talk about them! Thanks for reading and keep an eye out for a very likely short review of this year’s Christmas movie in November, Last Christmas, coming soon. Cheers!

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