Boasting an impressive voice cast, and an even more admirable, labor-intensive production utilizing state-of-the-art puppetry (mixed with some green screens), The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is an embarrassment of riches. As a prequel series to Jim Henson and Frank Oz’s ghoulishly great labor of love, 1982’s The Dark Crystal, and based on their own “World of Thra” notes, the series now presents us with a lopsided narrative. At nearly 10 hours (and the story not complete by the end), Age of Resistance is a deep-dive backstory that far outweighs the 90-minute movie it’s leading towards.Yes, the sheer scale of Age of Resistance is a bit of an issue. It’s a tricky thing for prequels – especially ones being made decades later – to not massively outshine the original. It’s a given that it’s going to look different, and the effects will be notably better, but as long as the spirit remains intact and tonality is consistent, splintered sagas can feel tethered despite large gaps. Blade Runner 2049 springs to mind as an exemplary example, even though it was a sequel.
With Age of Resistance, the majesty that’s unspooled for us almost makes the original movie feel incidental, sadly. It’s so much that it kind of makes you wish that it wasn’t a direct prequel and was instead its own thing, ready to finish the story on its own terms, using the ’80s movie only as inspiration.
This isn’t the case though and, as it stands, Age of Resistance’s story will have to (eventually) end with everything going to pot. Everyone we know on this show will meet a cruel and calamitous end so that the sinister Skeksis can rule for another thousand years, leaving only two Gelflings remaining on all of Thra. It’s not unlike watching the Star Wars prequels and knowing that everyone’s going to have to lose, and lose big, by the end. But those were three movies that prefaced three other movies. This is a weighty, multi-part tome driving us toward a paperback. At the time, The Dark Crystal felt large and luminous. With Age of Resistance, it feels dwarfed.
Regardless, and aside from some of the slog that naturally accompanies seasons containing a few episodes too many, with episodes that are 10-15 minutes too long (a Netflix staple!), Age of Resistance is a worthwhile exploration – and not just for fans of the original movie. In fact, the show could probably stand on its own, if simply shown to someone with no context. There’s enough here – in lore, in relevance, and in runtime – to craft an entire world, with labyrinthine plots involving different Gelfling tribes as well as the backstabbing plots of their “benevolent” Skeksis overlords.
You might see some reviews likening Age of Resistance to Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings. And that’s not wrong. There are scattered plots involving different realms and families which, over time, congeal into one larger effort. So if the comparisons are made due to both series containing “sprawling, scattered ensembles,” then they’re on the money.
You might argue, “Well, Game of Thrones has crudity, nudity, and gore,” but Age of Resistance is pretty damn dark too. Not GoT-levels of grittiness, but it can be surprisingly fiendish. And that, maybe as much as everything else (the adherence to Henson’s vision, style, et al.), makes it feel cunningly connected to the original film. The Dark Crystal is a hallmark of the ’80s not just because of its puppetry, but because it stands as one of those classic ’80s “kids films” that can actually be quite terrifying for kids – like The Last Unicorn and The Black Cauldron. The fact that it came from the sunshine mind of Jim Henson makes it even more notable. Before Gremlins and Temple of Doom helped usher in the PG-13 rating, family films could wander into some very disturbing territory.
Age of Resistance is no different. I’m not allowed to write openly about any characters’ specific deaths, but suffice to say there are some maniacally brutal things that happen to these poor puppets. Sure, there are some baseline gross-out moments, involving goop and snot and ooze and whatnot, but when it comes to violence and overall trauma, Age of Resistance can pack a wallop. It takes the casual cruelty of the original and ramps it up, going even darker most of the time.
It also still has that trademark Dark Crystal juxtaposition that’ll give you two characters playfully racing each other, saying something like “Last one to the top of the peak is a [contextually slow creature on the world of Thra], ha ha ha!” and then also feature sorrowful beings being painfully drained of their life-force, sucked dry so that the vulture-like Skeksis can messily splash around in the remnants of their souls.
On a silly side-note, it’s a little hard to overlook the idea that the Gelflings, who are the main elf-like beings of Thra, would ever see the grotesque and openly hostile Skeksis as kind and generous rulers – not just because they look like towering bird beasts, but because they’re a bunch of overt a-holes. Once you get over that hurdle though, along with the challenge of figuring out who each character is (you’ll literally meet five to six important female Gelflings in the first episode, each with white hair), Age of Resistance has a ton to offer. And it’s topical too, without feeling too much like a square peg in the political conversation. It tackles tyranny, lies, paranoia, and how fear of change and the promise of comfort can make good people turn a blind eye to horror.
Production-wise, it’s spectacular – what a miraculous project to undertake in 2019. A freakin’ meticulous puppet parade. With Muppet veteran Dave Goelz on board, as well as The Dark Crystal’s concept artist Brian Froud, director Louis Leterrier (The Transporter, The Incredible Hulk) creates a fierce and fluid fantasy filled with macabre grandeur and stunning set pieces.
The voice cast – including Taron Egerton, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nathalie Emmanuel, Simon Pegg, Mark Hamill, Jason Isaacs, and at least a dozen more “names” – is insanely rich, and crucial to breathing life into this very unique looking world. The Skeksis cast, in particular, is a blast to behold as most (except perhaps Harvey Fierstein) have to gravel up their voice something awful in order to create a maniacal Skeks-Voice. Pegg, in particular, is a highlight here as the Chamberlain (the famous exiled Skeksis from the movie, with the shrill “mmmmmm” voice) – who serves as the show’s scheming “Littlefinger” type.
And yes, there are Fizzgigs. As in plural. More than one. Maybe not as much Fizzgig action as you’d like, but they’re in it to win it.