Tag Archives: Mark Hamill

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

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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)

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) is everything George Lucas’ Star Wars prequels promised to be, but fell short of. Director J. J. Abrams finds the pulse that somehow evaded creator Lucas himself: the appeal of Star Wars is not found in Luke Skywalker. Rather, it’s heart is the space age swashbuckler, Han Solo. There is probably nothing duller than the zeal of a religious convert. The prequels convinced us of that by honing in on the Luke-ian brand of mysticism. At its best, Star Wars is more soap opera than opera, but someone forgot to tell Lucas that, and he approached his second trilogy with the seriousness of “Parsifal” (Wagner’s very long take on the King Arthur legend). Without a Han Solo-type to offset all that pseudo-religious mumbo jumbo, crash landings were inevitable. There were enough stand out moments in Episodes I-III to retain the loyalty of an audience who hoped in vain that Lucas would improve; although, for some, Revenge of the Sith (2005) was a payoff.

Poster for Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)Without Harrison Ford and the always delightful Alec Guinness, the original Star Wars (1977) might have been a one-shot because, despite the epic FX, it takes vibrant, identifiable personalities to ground it. We certainly did not get that from the “Taming of the Shrew” robot couple, C3PO and R2D2 (thankfully, the duo only make an obligatory cameo in The Force Awakens). Nor did we get it from Leia, the princess with a headset styled ‘do (she’s more likable thirty-eight years later). It was left to relative newcomer Ford and veteran Guinness to pilot us to movie magic, which they did (although Guinness forever grumbled about the fame of Star Wars, lamenting that he would be remembered for this role instead of his superior work in the Ealing comedies of the 40s and 50s). Under the assured direction of Irvin Kirshner, The Empire Strikes Back (1980) smartly retained the linear flow and finale of its cliffhanger sources, making it the best of the trilogy (despite the bumper sticker wisdom pontification of Yoda). In Empire, Luke briefly escapes his Arthurian trappings, becoming both vulnerable and more likable. Unfortunately, Richard Marquand directed Return of the Jedi (1983) and he had no feel for the material. Continue reading STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015)