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TV Series Review

It was another world, another time, in the age of wonder.

Well, if 1982 counts as an age of wonder. And perhaps, in a way, it was. Harrison Ford was chasing replicants in Blade Runner. Arnold Schwarzenegger was flexing as Conan the Barbarian. William Shatner was shouting “KHAAAAN!” And Jim Henson—best known for his adorably hilarious Muppets, such as Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and Big Bird—had turned his attention to something wholly other.

The Dark Crystal was unlike anything Henson had done before. Through his puppetry, he and his team created a dark, brooding fantasy world filled with wise Mystics, evil Skeksis and a couple of plucky Gelflings—apparently the last of their race. This world, called Thra, was so strange and unsettling that, honestly, not many saw it. When The Dark Crystal opened, most families went to see E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial for a third time instead. The Dark Crystal took its mixed reviews, made its $40.6 million and seemed destined to fade into obscurity.

But, of course, it didn’t.

Many now consider The Dark Crystal to be a fantasy classic. And that, naturally, makes it ripe for a 21st-century revisit—this time not as a movie, but a Netflix series.

It’s Not Easy Being Mean

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance opens sometime before the events of the original Dark Crystal movie. Instead of being near extinction, the Gelflings make up a thriving civilization, with seven “clans” filling various geographical and vocational niches. One forest-dwelling group, for instance, specializes in fighting. Another tribe lives underground. The Vapra clan populates a beautiful, thriving city and rules over the rest.

If these clans seem rather socially restrictive, well, the Gelflings have bigger concerns. The titular crystal—the multifaceted embodiment of Thra itself—has been corrupted by those evil Skeksis, and it’s beginning to infect the planet’s plants and animals in disturbing ways. It’s also not serving to keep the Skeksis forever young (or at least alive) like it used to.

That proves to be doubly bad news for the Gelflings: See, the Skeksis soon learn that the corrupted crystal can still do one thing: Extract the “essence” (think liquid life force) out of pretty much anything alive and breathing. Naturally, the procedure kills its subjects; but if a Skeksis should drink that fresh-squeezed essence, it’ll make the imbiber younger. And the Skeksis have ambitions of living forever.

The Gelflings won’t just hand over their essence to just any needy Skeksis, though. They’re actually quite attached to the stuff. And that means that (once the Gelflings learn about the Skeksis’ dastardly plans) a rebellion is in order. And it seems to have fallen to three of them—feisty Rian (whose girlfriend was one of the crystal’s first victims); the bookish Brea; and the creature-lover Deet—to stir the pot. And they just might get a little help from Aughra, Thra’s astronomer extraordinaire, to boot.

Crystal in the Rough

In creating Age of Resistance, it must’ve been tempting to scrap 20th-century puppetry and resort to CGI to craft Thra and all of its fantastical inhabitants. And while you'll see some computer-generated images now and again, the characters here are the same sort of puppet/marionette/costume creations that Henson utilized nearly 40 years ago. That gives Age of Resistance a certain level of authenticity and retro charm (even if the CGI spectacles we’ve grown so used to today make the puppets look a little more like, well, puppets).

Netflix didn’t skimp on voice talent, either. Everyone from Helena Bonham Carter and Lena Headey to Mark Hamill and Simon Pegg adds their literal voices to the mix—with Sigourney Weaver serving as the narrative Myth Speaker.

The show, like its 1980s predecessor, stays reasonably family friendly—at least in terms of the specific content we see. Romance may be in the air, but these puppets aren’t going all Happytime Murders on us. Few, if any, bad words on our planet have migrated to the land of Thra. And while the show is predicated on the killing of innocent Gelflings (as well as the growing rebellion in response to those murderous acts), the violence is not particularly bloody.

But while all that’s great, Age of Resistance is hardly a slam dunk, especially for families with young would-be viewers.

The world of the Dark Crystal isn’t that gory, but it can be gross. The Skeksis have terrible eating habits, and when they catch a cold … well, let’s just say everything around them gets rather gooey. The show can be pretty scary, too. Just standing still, the Skeksis might trigger nightmares. And when they actually start perpetrating their duplicitous, selfish deeds, they’re so much worse. Gelflings often find themselves in deeply perilous situations, and there’s no guarantee that they’ll all survive.

Moreover, while Thra doesn’t seem to have a well-articulated system of faith, there’s an undeniable tang of spirituality here, trending a bit toward the worship of nature. Deet speaks to a powerful and near-sacred “sanctuary tree.” The crystal—the beating heart of the planet itself—is practically worshiped by the Skeksis, even as it’s used as a tool. And Aughra not only tracks the stars and the planets, she uses them to divine the future. Gelflings can surf through each other’s memories at times, too, and perhaps even see glimpses of the future.

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is unquestionably ambitious. And it’s sort of show that might allow parents who enjoyed the original movie to introduce this franchise to their kids to Henson’s strange, compelling fantasy. Netflix seems to have taken pains to facilitate such cross-generational viewing. But while this show, like the crystal itself, has many facets, not all of them shine quite so brightly.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements

Conclusion

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Aug. 30, 2019: "End. Begin. All the Same."

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Voices of: Taron Egerton as Rian; Anya Taylor-Joy as Brea; Nathalie Emmanuel as Deet; Eddie Izzard as Cadia; Helena Bonham Carter as Maudra Mayrin; Caitriona Balfe as Tavra; Harris Dickinson as Gurjin; Shazad Latif as Kylan; Toby Jones as The Librarian; Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Seladon; Lena Headey as Maudra Fara; Alicia Vikander as Mira; Jason Isaacs as skekSo/The Emperor; Simon Pegg as skekSil/The Chamberlain; Awkwafina as skekLach/The Collector; Benedict Wong as skekUng/The General; Harvey Fierstein as skekAyuk/The Gourmand; Andy Samberg as The Heretic; Ralph Ineson as skekMal/The Hunter; Alice Dinnean as skekEkt/The Ornamentalist; Keegan-Michael Key as skekZok/The Ritual-Master; Mark Hamill as skekTek/The Scientist; Neil Sterenberg as skekOk/The Scroll-Keeper; Sigourney Weaver as The Myth Speaker

Director

Distributor

Network

Netflix

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

Released

On Video

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Paul Asay

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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