CAPSULE: THE DARK CRYSTAL: AGE OF RESISTANCE (2019)

Recommended

CREATED BY: Jeffrey Addiss, Will Matthews

FEATURING: Nathalie Emmanuel, , Taron Egerton, Mark Hamill, , Donna Kimball

PLOT: For over 1,000 trine the Skeksis have ruled over Thra, and its Crystal of Truth, corrupting them both in their quest for immortality; Aughra, the guardian and incarnation of Thra’s spirit, emerges from a cosmic slumber when she hears the planet crying out, and goes about her way to save her world.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Though Thra is teeming with bizarre creatures, wondrous magic, and sinister devices, this is an epic fantasy, and we expect those sorts of things. That said, the creativity and scope here are nothing short of monumental.

COMMENTS: Pity the poor Skeksis: all they ever wanted was to live forever. That’s about as much empathy as I can muster for them having watched (decades ago) the original Dark Crystal and (days ago) the Netflix series, Dark Crystal: the Age of Resistance. Thinking myself on a deadline that proved to be non-existent, I binged all ten hours over the course of a day without interruption. That alone, I feel, speaks to its quality. It appears that the prequel is at least partly based on print material made since the original movie. Still, it was fresh to me, but not entirely unfamiliar. Working with puppets, as Henson & Co. did for the first go-around, The Age of Resistance maintains the timeless feel of that movie I watched over and over as a child.

Cramming ten hours of epic fantasy plot into one paragraph is beyond my ability; suffice it to say, The Age of Resistance brings the modern viewer as much of the Skeksis, Aughra, and Gelflings as one could ever want. After opening narration hinting at the Skeksis’ origins and explaining the socio-ecological history of the planet Thra, it dives into some (very well executed) fantasy character-introduction, follows that up with some (very well executed) quests and side stories, before finishing with a (very well executed) climax and final confrontation between the Gelfling heroes and the Skeksis overlords. Of course, how “final” the confrontation is, to anyone familiar with the broader story, is doubtful; judging from the show’s byline and the beginning of The Dark Crystal movie, this series finishes at what I shall dub “peak Gelfling”. The story’s coda sets things up for the staggeringly dark chapter in Thra’s history that is (hopefully) doubtless to come.

But the show! My word, I had forgotten how impressive things could be when the Henson name is slapped thereupon. Thra’s ecosystem bubbles over (sometimes literally) with all manner of exotic creatures: woodland faeries that fly and spin along air currents, deadly carnivorous plant tendrils called “gobblers”, paper-eating library imps, and of course the landstriders and “fizzgigs“. The humanoid characters fill out the perquisites for fantasy adventuring yarns: the troubled soldier, the bookish princess, the knight-errant with humble origins. Obviously there are technical limits to emoting when we’re talking puppets (particularly, it seems, when talking Gelfling puppets), but the combination of voice acting (Mark Hamill and Simon Pegg are a real treat) and the puppeteers—each responsible for their own character (my apologies to those under-credited virtuosos)—made the whole world, at least by a few hours in, seem real, in its own special way.

My main criticism with a lot of fantasy I’ve seen and read (including that which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed) is the conflict seems to boil down to “infinite skill” (the good guys) versus “infinite resources” (the bad guys). Dark Crystal: the Age of Resistance does not suffer from this distillation. The Skeksis are pure sociopathic evil doused in cunning (they’ve been running the show for a millennia); the Gelfling (and their various allies) have passion, surely, and some have skill. But it never comes across as a close fight. Indeed, there was a pall over the whole affair as I knew what was coming. The Age of Resistance‘s narrative arc stops before that dark period, so things  end on a hopeful note. But for those in the know, the Gelflings have much more to fear than any “winter” coming; their story is primed for genocide, and you can’t say that about many PG adventure shows.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…quite simply, one of the all-time great fantasy epics, as well as the masterwork of puppetry most closely aligned with Jim Henson’s humanistic philosophy… Despite being rated TV-PG, ‘Age of Resistance’ never flinches when tackling the harrowing aspects of its subject matter. It is chockfull of nightmarish imagery guaranteed to frighten some young viewers and fascinate many others. Part of what appealed to those who grew up with The Dark Crystal was its sense of danger and conspicuous lack of sentimentality, giving kids the sense that they were embarking on territory more adult than the reassuring fairy tales of Disney.” –Matt Fagerholm, RogerEbert.com (contemporaneous)

6 thoughts on “CAPSULE: THE DARK CRYSTAL: AGE OF RESISTANCE (2019)”

  1. Whilst generally rerserving coverage to movies, now that 366 has covered a few tv series, would 366 consider including tv series further in some format?

    Say perhaps not full reviews but perhaps something like a bi-annual or annual post with mini-“reviews” like the ones in some film festival roundups or weird horizons (but like past horizons whatever you’d call that).

    Perhaps with the current landscape there’s enough shows nowadays to warrant a sub-section for a once or twice a year summary or at least a once off to catch up on up to current time?

    You’ve already done Dirk Gentlys… etc so surely shows like Jam, a couple of PFFR related shows and maybe some Maasaki Yuasa eg Kaiba, plus many others i just cannot think of off the top of my head could make it in there for a mention?

    Or if not then a “reader suggested” page specifically for tv series?

    1. We’ve always covered TV. We even reviewed “Jam” way back in 2011: https://366weirdmovies.com/tv-capsule-jam-uk-2000/

      We’ll continue to review series as the scene warrants. Our TV coverage is increasing because the landscape is changing; the explosion of streaming channels is bringing in a lot of quality talent who are taking chances they wouldn’t take on broadcast TV.

      Browse this tag for some ideas: https://366weirdmovies.com/tag/television/

      (Someday I should recategorize all those to “Channel 366” for easier access.)

      As for suggestions, just throw ’em in the regular suggestion box for now.

  2. Yes as you say the landscape is changing. That along with what seemed a more frequent occurence of tv series review of late is why I thought I’d ask.

    Sorry for not picking up on the Jam review. I usually search the site first as I’ve seen the numerous posts in the “reader suggestions” that have been already been reviewed and the following replies. My bad.

    Channel 366 is a great name and in some alternate reality with no distributors, etc issues and prior to the internet it would have been a brilliant channel with all of the 366 canon, apocrypha and any other recommended stuff that I coulda watched during my puberty and beyond.

    Hmmm…throw em into the regular suggestion box. That ol’ abyss eh? Lol. Will do.

    Thanks for replying.

  3. Yes thats true. The movie 1 (2009) could be a horrible one to search for?

    Now that i’ve added stuff into the Readers Suggestions just wanted to say apologies cos i thought it had died or was cancelled some time ago. I wouldve posted there instead if i wasnt mistaken. My bad.

    Seems i have some catching up to do on checking out others reader suggestions though which is good.

    Thanks Gregory and hopefully there’s a show or two I included that maybe people weren’t aware of. Though seems increasingly hard to do.

  4. Giles, an excellent review as always, and you’ve particularly gotten the essence (see what I did there?) of this series. It’s quite astounding how successfully these episodes infuse these foam-and-cloth with power and gravity. That a silent stack of puppeteered rocks would be one of the most charming characters of the year is a sterling example of the series’ charms.

    But perhaps the greatest by-product of “Age of Resistance” is the way it has ennobled its predecessor. The original “Dark Crystal” is, it must be said, kind of dull, with visual wonders and a hyperactive musical score working overtime to try and juice the proceedings. The particular alchemy of this prequel is that it retroactively gives weight to the original’s thin plot and characterization. (It’s a nice hidden joke that each episode title comes from the movie’s dialogue.) “Age of Resistance” manages to turn a technical triumph into a story worthy of being called a saga.

Leave a Reply to Nc Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.