Its safe to say that as a child I was never really into puppets.
I never, ever found the muppets funny or even entertaining. To me Sesame Street was, on the whole, creepy and cringey. Least to say that I found A Muppets Christmas Carol, which my childhood best friend loved, horrific. It is funny then that I am writing about Netflix’s latest release The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. The series serves as a prequel to the 1982 cult film The Dark Crystal which was the brain-child of Muppets creator Jim Henson.
As a child of the 90’s The Dark Crystal somehow seemed to pass me by. In fact, I had never even heard of it and when I finally did, I did not realise that it was created by the same man who made the Muppets. That is, until I saw a string of comments underneath the trailer for the Age of Resistance. I couldn’t believe it. The puppets featured in The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance are as far removed from the Muppets as you can get. Where the Muppets are soft, child-friendly and cartoonish these puppets are dark and startlingly realistic in their design. In essence, I was enticed to watch the original film and, then, the prequal series on the basis that these puppets literally look nothing like the Muppets. They seem so real, so human and, simply, so cool.
A documentary episode that Netflix released alongside the series, called The Crystal Calls – Making The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, showcases the hundreds of hours work of put into creating every detail of the puppets, as well as the series as a whole. Interestingly, if you did not pick it up from the credits the documentary highlights how each puppet character has a puppeteer, who does the physical performance, and a voice actor who, of course, provides the emotive vocals. If you go into the show without knowledge of the cast list then it could be interesting trying to pick out all of the famous voices – with some surprising finds! I would note, however that I would definitely save this till after you have watched the main series, rather than watching it beforehand. In this way, I think you can appreciate all the technical skill and enormous amount of work that the series required to create even the simplest of scenes.
In terms of plot, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is set many years before the original film. The series takes us much deeper into the world of Thra and in ways that the two hour film never could. The series is set at a time where the world of Thra is dying. Thra is being poisoned by a phenomenon called ‘the darkening’ which is a result of The Crystal of Truth, the heart and power source of Thra, being corrupted by the evil Skeksis. The series follows three Gelfings, elvish, human-like creatures, who discover that their ‘benevolent’ rulers the Skeksis are actually draining the crystal of its power for their own gain. The epic fires of rebellion thus being lit.
The series itself is a beautiful, modern rendering of a nearly forty-year-old film which stays true to the traditional methods of puppetry. Alongside this, the world of Thra is made to feel as fresh and real as it did in the original film, it does not seem to stray from the original vision in some of the ways that certain prequals/sequels can do. My only qualm is that the scale of Thra’s geography is never made quite clear – distances between places such as the Crystal Castle and the Caves of Grot remaining ambiguous.
Whilst a number of themes play-out across the series such as power and obedience, notions of destiny and ideas of friendship, there is one key theme that overarches the series which is that of climate change. It is a timely theme, given our current environmental situation and the political tug-of-war that surrounds it. The Skeksis misuse of the energy source that is The Crystal of Truth for their own selfish gain, with no regard for the long-term global effects is an on-the-nose plot point if there ever was one.
My main critique of the series is that the plot turns up the heat dramatically in the last three episodes, which feels out of place with the rest of the narrative. The first three quarters of the series moves along at an easy pace, introducing characters and rising action gradually in each episode. This makes the last three episodes feel extreme and, to put it colloquially, 0-100 in nature.
In conclusion, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is an exciting prequel that builds on and reimagines the world of Thra for a new generation. As well as, that is, pleasing old fans of the original film. As someone who has never been a fan of puppets the series has introduced me a beautiful new art form that makes a change to the normal Netflix offerings.