In December of 1982 "The Dark Crystal," a fantasy film set in the magical land of the planet Thra, was released in New York City theaters. It was a curiosity from the mind of Jim Henson and frequent collaborator Frank Oz. I would see the film in the coming weeks during its national rollout and like many audiences I was somewhat surprised by how different the film felt from "Sesame Street" and "The Muppet Show." Seeing as I was six years old, I don't think I would have been able to pinpoint exactly what made the film different; I do remember the rush of adrenaline that I felt while watching it. It was darker, a little frightening and I loved that.
As I grew older, I revisited the film on a regular basis. The enduring strength of the film was that it felt like a part of something much larger. We'd only scratched the surface of the religion and mythology of Thra. It was a world I wanted to explore and understand. For decades there were rumblings about a sequel. Those stories would eventually appear in a series of comics; nothing else materialized.
And then there was Netflix.
In May of 2017 it was announced that director Louis Leterrier ("The Transporter") would be helming "The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance," a prequel to the film inspired by the unexplored aspect of the original film.
This week I sat down the the series ahead of its August 30 release. I'll admit that I was somewhat worried that writers Jeff Addiss, Will Matthews and Javier Grillo Marxuach would be unable to capture the magic of Henson's original story. I didn't want to get my hopes up too high, only to be disappointed by what I was given.
The first thing you will notice about "Age of Resistance" is that it looks very much like the original film. There have been advancements made in puppetry and green screen technology over the past three decades that allow the puppeteers to move the characters in ways that were not possible in 1982, but at no point does the CGI hinder or hide the fact that all the characters in the film are real, tangible puppets.
The many environments of Thra are more detailed than they were in the film and the camera movements more creative, but if the goal here was to recreate the look and feel of the original film, they've done a remarkable job of capturing Henson's aesthetic.
There are quite a few new characters, but there are also familiar faces. The story is something of a slow burn as it sticks closely to genre tropes that will remind many of "The Game of Thrones" and "The Lord of the Rings," but the uniqueness of the visuals and the complexities of Thra provide a distinct flavor to a familiar dish.
There's depth here as well as the series examines a variety of social perspectives. Some characters are motivated by fear while others pursue a more noble cause. There's genuine character growth as even our heroes come with flaws. There are some scary moments, but the most terrifying aspect of the story isn't the appearance of the Skekses; it's the desperate, self-motivated ideology that gives them licence to justify their ways.
The voice talent involved includes the likes of rising stars Taron Egerton, Awkwafina and Anya Taylor-Joy; British comedian Eddie Izzard; Game of Thrones actresses Lena Headey and Natalie Dormer; Jason Isaacs, Harry Potter's Lucius Malfoy; genre favorite Simon Pegg and Helena Bonham Carter, Marvel's Benedict Wong; and Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill.
Seeing as "Age of Resistance" is a prequel, there's no need to have watched the original film. In fact, it begins with a compact introduction voiced by Sigourney Weaver that tells you everything you need to know about the world before you set out on a long, occasionally dark journey. If you enjoy the fantasy genre, it is most certainly a path, though treacherous, worth taking.
All 10 episodes of "The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance" arrive on Netflix on Friday, August 30, 2019.