Okay, I will admit, this is a little late to the party.
I’m not just talking about my review of The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance; I’m also talking about anything made as an addition to The Dark Crystal movie. I know that there is a popular belief that not everything needs a prequel, sequel, or spin-off. I am definitely a critic. However, with this Netflix series, I have quietly tamed that part of my opinionated self and gratefully accepted it.
Now, I’m not saying it’s not coming with some critiques; I feel some of my previous rants have been proven justified. But I’ll get to that in a moment. I will start with the praises.
We learned in the movie the history of the crystal, how it became broken and the demise of the Gelfling. Until now, we could only imagine how they were blinded by the Skeksis. And where was Aughra during this?
The story jumps right in, explaining how the Skeksis gained power over Thra, tricking Aughra to travel the universe and leaving the crystal and the inhabitants of Thra under their care. They have tricked the Gelfling into depending on them and taken the Podlings as slaves. The Skeksis have drained the crystal of its power to make themselves immortal to the point Thra is slowly dying from a poisoning called the Darkness.
There are seven Gelfling clans, and our main heroes are from three of them: Rian, a guard in the Skeksis palace of the mighty and fierce Stonewood Clan; Brea, the intelligent and very curious youngest princess of the Vapra Clan; and finally Deet, an animal caretaker from the underground Grottan Clan.
Through different experiences, they learn how Thra is in danger due to the Skesis and are brought together to convince the rest of the Gelfling to help overthrow their evil overlords.
Rian watches them drain his love interest Mira’s “essence” (Soul? Life force?) as a replacement to the healing powers of the crystal, which is losing its potency. He is able to escape with her essence and is labeled as the murderer by the manipulative Chamberlain so that the population of Thra can help them capture Rian. This causes turmoil with his father, who is the captain of the Castle’s guard. But when they dreamfast (think mind-meld), his father sees the truth and goes to help Rian, sacrificing his life to save his son.
Deet sees the damage the Darkness is causing with Thra and the creatures, causing them to go mad and attack each other, passing the poison on. She leaves the safety and the darkness of the underworld to seek the help and unite the other Gelfling clans, but is treated as disgusting outsider, told to go back underground. During her journey, she befriends a Podling named Hup, who has ambitions of being a paladin (a knight in shining armor). Then she encounters Rian, discovering they are on the same mission of exposing the cause of Thra’s illness.
Meanwhile, Brea has a vision of the Darkness and finds that the Skeksis are manipulating them. When she tries to warn her mother, the All-Maudra (queen over all the Gelfling), she is pushed aside. Brea discovers a hidden chamber under her mother’s throne rooms, with a lovable and loyal rock creature named Lore. After she shows her mother, they dreamfast to share the vision and knowledge Brea has had about the Skeksis. When her mother speaks out against the Skeksis during a visit, she is murdered and Brea’s Skeksis worshiping sister is made All-Maudra. Brea is taken into custody for treason.
The three of them are brought together and realize they are all seeking the same goal, to rid Thra of the Skeksis and protect the Gelfling. They are able to convince Rian’s Maudra and several warriors of his clan to join the fight. Once the Skeksis realize the Gelfling are revolting, they leave the safety of the castle to quell the rebellion. Only the Gelfling win. This time.
Overall, I feel the story was good even though it was a slow start. Saying slow may be odd since it jumped right into the issue at hand and how the three heroes get thrown into their journey, but it also felt like it dragged a bit. Plus, this is an introduction to something longer. I’m not sure how much of the story I expected with these ten episodes, if it would be one season or if they would see how long they can push this out (if it was a success). Obviously with the ending of it, this is just the beginning. It left me wanting to know more, but at the same time, relieved to have a break. I know that doesn’t sound the best but I found after binging several episodes at once, I needed a mental break. This is not a bad thing. It’s dark as it should be, like the movie. Since we know where this is going, there is no lighthearted ending that can be expected and that’s depressing, but you want to know more. So you subject yourself to it with a mental break. I needed to be in the right frame of mind to step back into Thra.
The connection between the Skeksis and the Mystics was not made clear until well into the movie, and even then it’s not completely obvious. The show does this better, focusing on two pairings to show how they’re two halves of a whole. First, there are the Hunter and the Archer. The Skeksis call upon the Hunter — the wildest, strongest, most bloodthirsty of them all — to find Rian and return him to the castle. The Hunter is ruthless, and he won’t stop until he catches his prey. All of Thra fears him. And on the reverse side, there’s the Archer — gentle but resolved, and just as proficient with his skills. He has the calm, deliberate demeanor of the Mystics, but he’s also driven to protect Thra.
In a more amusing turn, the Gelfling trio find The Heretic, a crazy yet goodhearted Skeksis originally known as the Conqueror. He left the rest of the group when he did not agree with their decision to dominate Thra. He went into self exile with his Mystic half, The Wanderer. They help the Gelfling in the hope of joining together again. It’s through their help the Gelfling eventually find the infamous shard from the first movie.
For me, seeing the interaction between the two selves was fascinating because you see how the two different sides of a personality can work together (or against each other). In the movie, the only time you see the interaction is when one of the halves dies or becomes injured or when the alignment occurs for them to become one again. Even when The Heretic is impatient with The Wanderer, you can still see the love he has for his counterpart.
As for the other characters, the Skeksis are the only ones who are returning, so they’re familiar. And even though they’re being played/voiced by new actors, they do feel the same. This is important to me, especially The Chamberlain, voiced by Simon Pegg. If his “Mmmmmm….” is not perfect, you lose everything. In my opinion, keeping these guys as close to the movie had to be the selling point. And they nailed it.
I loved the Podlings. They were a fun bunch when Kira took Jen to her clan in the original film. But that’s surpassed by Brea’s assignment to some…unsavory duties — including Podling Bath Day! I also enjoyed the pair of podlings The Chamberlain gave The Scientist, even though… they didn’t survive the season. Their determination to bring down the Skeksis was entertaining to watch.
Now my issues. Or should I say my main issue.
The series is beautiful. Too beautiful. I think the best way I can describe what I mean is that it’s bright and clean. I know I’ve expressed my concern with the blending of today’s technology with yesterday’s more simplistic approach (well… compared to today’s standards).
Now, don’t get me wrong, The Jim Henson Company did a fantastic job at creating the sets, the characters, the costumes, all the fantasy behind The Dark Crystal to have the puppeteers dance through the sets to make this so realistic. But it was …too smooth? I know this is a little thing, but for me, the lack of the characters “bouncing” was too obvious. The larger sized Skeksis glided instead of having the up and down movements while walking across the stage, like they did in the movie. Same with the Gelfling. The land striders were not “awkward”, but instead perfectly galloped down the hills. The series lacked the roughness that the movie’s puppets showed, and that almost made it more fake to me because I felt it had been computer enhanced too much.
I also felt they showed the feet of the Gelfling too much, as if almost to say “Hey, they are real, head to toe.” I know that some scenes should have a full figure Gelfling, but I also felt that they overdid it. In the movie, the audience did see Jen climbing up the hill to Aughra’s observatory or over the ledge of the upper level of the Skeksis castle room where the crystal is. Here, it was done too much.
But it was gorgeous, which makes it hard to critique. I almost feel hypocritical.
I’m happy that they decided to expand on The Dark Crystal story, loving it for as long as I have. I’m excited to see what comes next as we move toward the destruction of the Gelfling. Again, we know where this is going and it will not be a happy ending for the series. But I want to know. I will put aside my sadness of losing the “simplicity” of the movie for the more advanced look, take a deep breath and enjoy the story. Hopefully The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance will bring another generation of fans to the classic piece of art from my childhood.
One last thought: they also released a documentary on the making of the series called The Crystal Calls – Making the Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. I recommend watching it. It’s the fascinating story behind the Hensons and the Frouds bringing everything together to make this series.