A whole new world in The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance
The Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance, a new 10-episode series on Netflix, revisits the world of 1982 fantasy adventure movie The Dark Crystal (also available to stream on Netflix South Africa), which combined the ground-breaking puppeteering and animatronic expertise of the Jim Henson Company (The Muppets, 1955-current) with the work of Brian Froud (best known for his watercolour illustrations in Faeries in collaboration with Alan Lee) on creature and concept design.
“It’s a prequel, but it’s not so ‘pre’. It’s a lot more of the usual, so to speak. The challenge is to recreate things that look exactly the same, plus new ones with new shapes and forms and details,” says Brian, who is back along with executive producer Lisa Henson (Jim’s daughter).
The Dark Crystal adventures take place on the planet Thra, a fully realised fantasy world filled with exotic animals and plants (and plants that act like animals), a complex ecology and different races and cultures that follow their distinct political systems. As with the world of Star Wars (1977-current), every detail onscreen has meaning, a backstory and connection to the rest of the elements that rewards exploration with your pause function.
While there have been technological leaps since the original film was released, Age of Resistance relies on puppet performance and animatronics (get a tiny background peek at how it was made here and here) rather than CGI, which is mostly limited to enriching background scenery and working as a tool behind the scenes to simplify the puppeteers’ lives.
“We do use some green screen, which means we can hide the puppeteers and we can actually go back to a purer form of puppetry that is much more dynamic than what we could do before,” explains Brian. The result is characters that connect with each other and the background in a way that seems emotional and naturalistic, with none of the weightless and dead-eyed feel that computer generated creatures can sometimes give when interacting with a physical set.
Looking for slightly more grown-up fantasy series?
The whole of Thra is being affected by the actions of one race, the hilariously horrible (and horrifying) vulture-like Skeksis (voiced by actors like Simon Pegg, Jason Isaacs, Awkwafina, Mark Hamill and Andy Samberg, who’re clearly having the time of their lives).
Series director Louis Leterrier, who’s been working on the project since 2012, nicknames them the “dinosaurs in dresses”. And in the series, they’re a stand-in for the modern world’s most destructive abusers of power. Thanks to a level of absurdity in the action and characterisation though, the end result is entertaining rather than preachy, despite the clear message of the story.
When a particularly appalling act of abuse proves to be the last straw, a resistance starts forming, particularly along the little elf-like Gelfling people. Three Gelflings in particular, Princess Brea (Anya Taylor-Joy), animal carer Deet (Nathalie Emmanuel) and crystal castle guard Rian (Taron Egerton), are set on rallying their respective clans and spreading the call to rise up against the Skeksis.
The show follows their journeys across this strange and richly detailed world, while giving glimpses into the lives of some of the other creatures in it, who might not have the will or ability to fight back, like the joyful, silly Podlings.
Family friendly … sort-of
While The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is performed by puppets with a great deal of light-hearted inventiveness and the look and feel of the show is oh-so-tempting, parents should be aware that the (many) death scenes will still have emotional impact and there are incidents, and some nightmarish details, that will frighten and confuse younger children.
“In terms of killing characters or the death of characters, it is a show that talks about death. It is a show where that is part of life in Thra and the circle of life. We did not shy away from it,” says developing writer Jeff Addiss. “We do think of it sort of like in the Star Wars universe, that sort of darkness”.