Netflix's The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Season 1 Review

It would be nice to think that Henson would be unreservedly proud of this 37 years-in-the-making prequel.

by Casimir Harlow

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37 years after The Dark Crystal, and this fabulously rich prequel series does justice to Jim Henson's legacy.

Jim Henson's 1982 film The Dark Crystal proved darker than all of his preceding work, telling a familiar story of good versus evil, but breaking boundaries not least in being the first live-action feature film to have no human characters in it, whilst also challenging expectations of a supposed PG kid's movie when, really, it was anything but. The stuff of fever dreams and future nightmares, The Dark Crystal was wonderfully rich and enchanting, a mesmerising ride into a world of elf-like heroes fighting the seemingly unstoppable evil of nasty crow-like villains, centring on the powers of the titular Dark Crystal.

For decades attempts were made to mount a sequel, with Incredible Hulk and Clash of the Titans director Louis Leterrier on board since 2012. Leterrier reportedly found that nobody wanted to fund such a project, so instead turned backwards in time and returned to the original notes for Henson's 1982 film (co-directed by fellow puppeteer and effects genius Frank Oz) to embark upon a prequel, securing funding from an enthusiastic Netflix and committing to make a faithful series which would retain the atmospheric puppet-based live-action aesthetic of the original. The end result: Age of Resistance. And it's better than anybody could have ever expected.

Better than anybody could have ever expected

The series predominantly revolves around two races - the elf-like Gelflings, who attempt to live in peace with all creatures, and the crow-like alien Skeksis, who have somehow been entrusted with a magical crystal that gives them eternal youth. After a thousand years of draining its power, the crystal no longer appears to work, so the Skeksis have to resort to desperate tactics to keep their precious immortality, finding that they can channel the power of the crystal through the bodies of innocent young Gelflings, draining their essence and killing them in the process, but creating a liquid - the essence - which they can use to stay (relatively) young. As a few Gelflings gradually start to realise that something is amiss in their lands, the Skeksis hurry to perfect their dastardly mad science so that they can obliterate the weaker race in order to keep them alive forever. As if this were not enough to worry about, the unease in the lands also springs from a corruption in the crystal itself, and an inquisitive young Gelfling sets out to get to the bottom of this before the world gets consumed by darkness.
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance
Age of Resistance is wonderfully rich and intricate, demanding the full attention of viewers with its lengthy near-hour-long episodes, myriad plots and colourful characters. It's perfect not only for committed newcomers but also those who watched the original when they were perhaps that little bit too young, assuming it would be more Thunderbirds than Terrahawks, and finding their imagination pushed to breaking point with creepy villains, crawly beasties, and dark and mystical powers abundant throughout. 37 years later and those 40/50-something fans will absolutely love what's been done here, at once encouraging not only a follow-up rewatch of the original but also a newfound hope that this will be but the first season in an ongoing show that has the potential to finish before the film and then pick up again straight after as a sequel series.

The voice cast is great, headlined by Anya Taylor-Joy (Glass, and recently in Season 5 of Peaky Blinders) as an inquisitive and headstrong Gelfling princess, and Jason Isaacs (The OA, and deeply missed in Star Trek: Discovery) as the nasty leader of the creepy Skeksis, but featuring a whole bunch of big names - Kingsman's Taron Egerton, Game of Thrones and Fast and Furious addition Nathalie Emmanuel, Helena Bonham-Carter, Sigourney Weaver, Simon Pegg, Toby Jones, Mark Strong, Alicia Vikander, Lena Headey and Mark Hamill! And more! Indeed, you could almost argue that they tried to go too expansive here, with too many characters and too much world-building, but clearly everybody wanted to be involved in this project, and there's just so much love for the cult classic original The Dark Crystal, from the top down with director Leterrier, all the way through to the cameos amidst the 100+ puppet roles, that the sheer enthusiasm quells any quibbles.

It's enchanting and disturbing in equal measure and should have you utterly enthralled right from the get-go

Of course, it's the effects which are utterly spectacular and which will completely wow you (it helps that Netflix are delivering the whole thing with 4K UHD Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos), and they really have spared no expense when it comes to bringing the Lord of the Rings-like realms to life, replete with gorgeous purple-hue energies (and blue-glowing flowers for a particularly Avatar-esque scene), as well as lush landscapes and stunning skies. And the puppets themselves are scarily detailed, from the elf-lamb heroes to the creepy, craggy villains that rasp around in tattered robes ready to pop a scorpion in your eye. This is not for kids, and it takes about one and a half appearances of the clattering giant spider to show its true colours in that respect.

Both old and new fans alike should get on board this magical, mythical, visually opulent, dark and epic fantasy series; it's enchanting and disturbing in equal measure and should have you utterly enthralled right from the get-go.

Scores

Verdict

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8
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