I was twelve years old when The Dark Crystal was released to theaters in December 1982, and I couldn’t have been more primed for it. I was already a huge fan of Jim Henson and the Muppets and obsessed with science fiction and fantasy. I have distinct memories of watching the movie in the theater and being absolutely blown away by it. In the months that followed I read and reread the novelization by A.C.H. Smith, was glued to the screen when The World of the Dark Crystal making-of documentary aired on PBS, hunted down every behind the scenes article I could find in Starlog magazine and the like (though I didn’t learn about Brian Froud’s The World of the Dark Crystal book until many, many years later when it was reissued in an upscale hardcover edition, which I immediately purchased).
I rewatched the movie a few times over the years, and while the sense of wonder and awe that the wholly fabricated world instilled in me never went away, I came to recognize that it was not a flawless work. The principle focus of the creators had always clearly been on the world and its inhabitants, and the technical challenges of realizing them through puppetry and practical effects, but the writing admittedly appeared to be a secondary concern. On the level of plot, the protagonists win in the end simply by dogged determination, but no choices or decisions that they make along the way have any bearing on the outcome. They survive long enough to be in the right place at the right time, and then the story abruptly ends without any hint about what comes next. And even on the level of dialogue itself in many cases the writing was done well after the fact. Until very far into the film’s postproduction the Skeksis did not speak English, but only gibberish that was improvised by the puppeteers on set, and early test audiences were deeply confused and unable to figure out what was meant to be happening. Only then did Jim Henson and screenwriter David Odell write dialogue for the characters, syncing the words to fit the mouth flaps of the puppets in the finished shots. Thankfully, the finished result only added to the otherworldliness of the scenes, with the odd rhythms and cadences of characters like the Chamberlain’s and the General’s dialogue in particular.
Still, I love the original movie whole-heartedly, and recognize that it was a crucial influence on my developing tastes as a kid. So when I learned earlier this year that there was to be a prequel series on Netflix, I greeted the news with some trepidation. I had not kept up with the comic book spinoffs that had appeared over the years, and was not even aware of the middle grade novels of J.M. Lee (which the series draws on even more heavily than I realized while watching it), and in my ignorance I remember worrying whether the mythology and lore of the world of the Dark Crystal was extensive enough to support a ten-hour-long miniseries.
I have seldom enjoyed being wrong more than this, because the world-building that has gone into fleshing out the setting, the cultures, and the mythos the world in The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is staggering. And staggeringly good.
The puppetry is among some of the best that I’ve ever seen, and breaks new ground in using new technology and techniques in order to keep most of the performances practical and in camera as possible. CGI is used sparingly, and in ways that never draws attention to itself, and while I found that I seldom ever even bothered to wonder how a particular shot was accomplished, after watching the making-of documentary The Crystal Calls I learned that several creatures and characters who I had assumed were entirely CGI were in fact practical puppets, operated by puppeteers erased digitally by green screen.
The voice cast is a murderers’ row of talent, each of them sinking their teeth into the roles and making the most of it. The cinematography is stunning, the editing never misses a beat, the musical score is note perfect. There were twists and turns in the plot that I didn’t see coming, and new characters introduced who at once challenged my expectations and immediately suggested entirely new possibilities for stories that could be told in that world. (I would happily watch a spin-off series of two eccentric hermits that we meet in the course of the series, even if it was just the two of them hanging out, bickering intermittently between hugs, and putting on little shows.)
After finishing the series last week, we immediately rewatched the original movie the following night (and the making-of documentary on Netflix the night after that), and if anything this new prequel enriches the experience of viewing the original. It provides context and additional meaning for stuff that was there from the beginning, but in often subtle ways. And there are mirrors and echoes in the prequel to things from the original film that I did not pick up on until rewatching it.
It’s my understanding from interviews that I’ve read that a second season of the series is a possibility, if this first season does well enough. I am finding it difficult to type with all of my fingers crossed, because I very, very much hope that there is more of The Dark Crystal: The Age of Resistance. If you have not yet checked it out, I highly recommend it.