When The Dark Crystal was released into theaters in 1982, it was a confusing piece of filmmaking. After all, this was a Jim Henson film that was a massive departure from the Muppets--the property he's still most closely associated with. Instead of the positivity and primary colors that are associated with Kermit the Frog and his gang of puppet friends, the movie paints a bleak and sad picture of a world that is on the brink of ruin.
Almost 40 years later, The Dark Crystal is back as a Netflix original series, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance--a 10-episode prequel that will premiere on the service on August 30. Now, though, public sentiment has changed. The kids like me who were terrified of watching it on VHS are adults who can appreciate its artistry and the fantasy it unleashed. But can a prequel created decades later without the late Henson steering the ship be a worthy entry in The Dark Crystal's mythology?
The answer is a resounding yes. The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is everything fans of the original film could hope for. It's epic fantasy on the scale of Game of Thrones, and it's still done almost entirely through extensive and intricate puppetry that leads you to believe these strange looking creatures are not only alive but thriving.
The new series is set long before the events of the movie, with the planet Thra still under the control of the bird-like--and truly disturbing--Skeksis as they rule over the elvish Gelflings. The story unfolds as the Gelfings attempt to launch a rebellion against their evil rulers, which escalates into a war between the two sides for control of Thra.
It's a simple story of good attempting to triumph over evil to win its freedom. However, it's told so well that I found it incredibly engaging. It doesn't matter that this is a prequel, where you know more or less where the world is headed. This show is filled with intriguing and unique characters, as well as mystical elements that bring it to life.
In weaving this tale, series director Louis Leterrier (Now You See Me, The Incredible Hulk) and Age of Resistance's creative team have the chance to do something The Dark Crystal didn't. This series builds out the world of the Skeksis and Gelflings, explains the mythology behind the planet Thra, and creates a universe so rich and detailed that Netflix and The Jim Henson Company could continue to tell Dark Crystal-based tales for years to come.
What's most impressive, though, is how this is done. It's a rare sight in 2019 to see a world of characters and settings this elaborate and unique created with minimal use of CGI. Instead of the massive digital monsters most studios would have turned the Skeksis into with a modern remake, the designs from the original film are recreated nearly perfectly. The Gelfings, on the other hand, still retain their innocent elvish looks, though there are some small CGI flourishes on their faces to make them more expressive and emotional. That's thanks in large part to Brian and Wendy Froud returning from the original film to work on the creature designs, along with son Toby Froud--who you may remember as baby Toby from Labyrinth. It's evident that the care and creativity they put into crafting the movie's creatures decades ago is still just as strong now in the show.
That's not to say there are no big CGI moments in Age of Resistance. While the majority of the sets--like the castles and villages--are built practically, the show is littered with epic, sweeping shots of scenery that convey just how beautiful the world of Thra is.
Beyond the visuals, though, is the voice cast of the show. Led by Taron Egerton (Rocket Man, Kingsman), Anya Taylor-Joy (Split), and Nathalie Emmanuel (Game of Thrones), Age of Resistance boasts one of the most talented casts Netflix has ever assembled. Making up the world are also the voices of Mark Hamill, Awkwafina, Eddie Izzard, Helena Bonham Carter, Caitriona Balfe, Toby Jones, Natalie Dormer, Lena Headey, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, just to name a few. And each actor goes the extra mile to bring their puppet characters to life.
As wonderful as this series is, there are still some rough spots, though. While many of the prominent CGI visuals are incredible to look at, there are still some spotty digital effects here and there. For one, the CGI flourishes added to the faces of the Gelflings don't help when it comes to the characters' mouths. One of the issues with the original movie is Gelfling faces seemed lifeless. While that's less of a problem now, there's still not enough movement around the mouths for it to look natural and convincing. That leaves it looking sometimes awkward when a Gelfling character is delivering longer passages of dialogue while their mouths aren't moving much.
Additionally, one creature introduced in the series looks fine when it's shown as a practical effect. However, there are a few moments where the CGI used to animate it does not hold up to anything else shown on-screen.
Puppetry is an art that isn't quite as prevalent or as popular as it once was, which makes me afraid that seeing this art form from days gone will turn some off within the opening minutes of the series. Rest assured, however, if you can make it through the first 15-20 minutes of Episode 1, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance should hook you in with its fantastical storytelling and incredible world. So give it a chance to work its magic on you. You won't regret it.
All 10 episodes of The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance launch on Netflix on August 30.