The Dark Crystal Age of Resistance Comic-Con

Netflix isn’t immune to Hollywood’s obsession with digging back into the past for a dose of nostalgia in their entertainment line-up. This time they’re reaching into cult territory with a revival of The Dark Crystal, the fantasy adventure film from Jim Henson that fascinated audiences in 1982 and continues to be a retro favorite for many cinephiles. But instead of your average feature film sequel, Netflix is unleashing The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, a prequel series with an all-star cast and state-of-the-art puppetry.

Executive producer Lisa Henson was joined by director Louis Leterrier and stars Taron Egerton and Mark Hamill to talk about how the unlikely prequel series came to be at The Dark Crystal Age of Resistance Comic-Con panel, and they showed attendees the first episode of the Netflix series. See our reaction to the first episode of The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance below.

Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance

The Dark Crystal First Episode Reaction

One of the remarkable things about Jim Henson’s 1982 original film is that it thrusts you into the rich, sprawling world of Thra with barely more explanation than a quick beginning narration. So similar to the high fantasy worlds we’ve seen before and yet so alien in its use of inhuman protagonists portrayed only by puppets, The Dark Crystal was unapologetically dense to the point of being confusing. Not so with Netflix’s The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. Just as dark, gnarled, and bizarre as Henson’s ambitious original, Age of Resistance also offers a much easier entry point for new fans, while delivering one of the most jaw-droppingly gorgeous and bewitching pieces of fantasy storytelling in recent memory.

I’ll admit that I was ambivalent to the original film, which I saw recently and thus have no nostalgic affection for (though I admired its audacity). But I was completely entranced by The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. The opening of the first episode is admittedly clunky — perhaps paying homage to the original film’s solemn “high fantasy” narration — kicking things off with an introduction to the lavish world of Thra through striking animation that whisks you through distinct areas of the world like pieces on a tabletop game board. We’re introduced to the Aughra, a character from the original film who is the embodiment of the planet Thra and the protector of its heart, the Crystal of Truth, until she is tricked into giving the Crystal to the villainous Skeksis. The Skeksis raise themselves as the revered lords of the Crystal, using it secretly to prolong their lives. But their nefarious activities go unnoticed by the three different clans of Gelflings, the peace-loving, slender humanoids that act as our protagonists in the franchise. The first clan is a warrior race that exists to serve the Skeksis, the second are a fair and wise clan, and the third are a subterranean people in touch with the mystic nature of the world.

Lost yet? I nearly was by those first five minutes of introduction — but then I was quickly swept up by the majesty of the series’ dedication to practical effects and puppetry, and its thoroughly transporting story about three Gelflings who begin to suspect something is amiss.

We first meet the mischievous Rian (Egerton), a guard of the Skeksis’ Crystal Castle who happens upon his masters’ plan to harness the Essence of the Gelflings in order to achieve the immortality that the Crystal once granted them. Thousands of years of the Skeksis using the Crystal to prolong their lives has drained it of its power and is beginning to poison the rest of Thra through a plague called “The Darkening,” which turns animals rabid and soil toxic. Faced with a diminishing power source, the Skeksis Emperor (Jason Isaacs) tasks the Scientist (Hamill) with finding an alternate method to retain their immortality, which leads them to capturing a Gelfling, Mira (Alicia Vikander), a palace guard and Rian’s girlfriend, who is killed during the experiment. Horrified at witnessing her death, Rian flees when he is spotted by the Skeksis.

The second Gelfling protagonist is Brea (Anya Taylor-Joy), a naive and dreamy Gelfling princess with her head buried in books, and she worships the Skeksis. Her unbridled curiosity gets the better of her when she runs headfirst into the carriage of a visiting Skeksis lord, who invites her into his graces to her delight. But when she witnesses the Skeksis’ alarmingly ruthless treatment of a Gelfling subject, she experiences a strange vision and begins to investigate their history in Thra.

The last in the trio is Deet (Nathalie Emmanuel), a sweet, subterranean Gelfling who is attacked by the very animals she cares for because of a strange poisoning in the moss they eat. While fleeing the animals, she stumbles into a Sanctuary Tree, which reveals to her the nature of The Darkening and grants her a vision of the future before sending her on a quest to stop the downfall of Thra.

The first episode is very much the series establishing its footing, but it’s astonishing how assured that footing is right off the bat. Despite juggling multiple storylines and introducing a vast ensemble of characters, Age of Resistance is remarkably easy to get swept up in. Despite the complicated mythology typical of the high fantasy genre, it completely works in the moment. The episode carries Studio Ghibli-esque themes of spirituality and nature being corrupted by the invading force of modernity — something that can be seen in the intricate production design. The gnarly, eldritch designs of the Skeksis’ castles and carriages stand in stark contrast to the organic styles of the Gelfling’s buildings. Age of Resistance is deeply beautiful, full of rich, warm colors and stunning environments that are interwoven seamlessly with the practical puppetry. Yet, there are moments when the series gets downright weird, dedicating many minutes and plenty of fake slime to showing a Skeksis character blowing out miles of snot. It’s strange and frankly a miracle that Age of Resistance exists. But the fact that it does is, in a word, magical.

***

The rest of the voice cast includes Gelfling characters voiced by Caitriona Balfe, Helena Bonham Carter, Harris Dickinson, Natalie Dormer, Eddie Izzard, Theo James, Toby Jones, Shazad Latif, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Mark Strong.

Meanwhile, the rest of the villainous Skeksis will be played by Harvey Fierstein, Ralph Ineson, Keegan-Michael Key, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Simon Pegg, and Andy Samberg.

Netflix also recently announced Lena Headey as Maudra Fara, Benedict Wong as The General, Awkwafina as The Collector, Sigourney Weaver as The Myth-Speaker, Hannah John-Kamen (Ant-Man and the Wasp) as Naia, and Dave Goelz as Baffi, a Fizzgig. The series was co-created by writers, Jeffrey Addiss and Will Matthews, with TV veteran Javier Grillo-Marxuach also serving as a writer.

Based on The Dark Crystal, Jim Henson’s groundbreaking 1982 feature film, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance tells a new epic story, set many years before the events of the movie, and realized using classic puppetry with cutting edge visual effects. The world of Thra is dying. The Crystal of Truth is at the heart of Thra, a source of untold power. But it is damaged, corrupted by the evil Skeksis, and a sickness spreads across the land. When three Gelfling uncover the horrific truth behind the power of the Skeksis, an adventure unfolds as the fires of rebellion are lit and an epic battle for the planet begins.

The Dark Crystal: The Age of Resistance will hit Netflix on August 30, 2019.

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