“The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance” on Netflix
I’m honestly starting to feel bad for consumers who didn’t come of age in the ’80s. Perhaps it’s just that the economic and cultural power has shifted into the pockets of that particular age demographic. For a long time, the Baby Boomers were in charge of everything we saw and heard. Now Gen X is in power, and I—for one—feel incredibly catered to. Every pop cultural touchstone I grew up with is back with a vengeance. I’m swimming in a world filled with Star Wars movies and Marvel TV shows. Hollywood has offered up sequels/remakes to Blade Runner, Tron, Ghostbusters, RoboCop, Predator and countless others. Hit television series like “The Americans,” “Halt and Catch Fire,” “GLOW,” “The Goldbergs” and “Stranger Things” are set in the ’80s. The Cure is on tour and getting ready to put out a new album. Hell, they just re-released New Coke.
So it is with a certain lordly sense of entitlement that I greet Netflix’s epic continuation of The Dark Crystal, Jim Henson and Frank Oz’ puppet-based fantasy from 1982. The film was only mildly successful when it hit theaters. Many parents avoided it, as it was a somewhat darker turn for the creators of “Sesame Street.” But the visually stunning mixture of “The Muppets” and The Lord of the Rings turned out to be a cult favorite of kids who grew up on its Baroque charms.
“The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance” is a 10-episode prequel that both sets up and expands the framework seen in the original film. Set on the fantastical world of Thra, it explores the various tribes of Gelfling who serve the planet’s masters, the vulture-like Skeksis. Unlike the evil, one-note villains we see in The Dark Crystal, these Skeksis are more like a tribe of corrupt politicians. Small in number, they stay in power by lying to and manipulating the masses. Most recently, they’ve been tapping into Thra’s life-giving “Crystal of Truth” in order to extend their immortal life cycle. But draining the crystal also drains the life force of Thra itself. Despite the dangers to the planet, most Skekis are unwilling to give up the power they derive from the crystal. Unlike the clunky immigration metaphor at the center of Amazon’s Victorian fantasy “Carnival Row,” the political and ecological messages of “Age of Resistance” are both subtle and easy to grasp.
The story centers, more or less, on a trio of Gelfling: Palace guard Rian, cave-dwelling nature child Deet and highborn intellectual Brea. Each carries a sliver of a vision, a prophecy, a secret that is dangerous to the Skekis and their rule. As their various quests grow and intertwine, a rebellion against the oppressive Skeksis rule grows.
“Age of Resistance” builds mightily on the intriguing world set up in the original film. Famed designer Bryan Froud returns to do some incredible character and costume work. Every inch of the series is bursting with life. Thankfully, producers have resisted the urge to modernize the original’s puppet-based look and feel. Small CGI tweaks give life to larger characters and more sweeping vistas, but the main characters are the exact same puppets we grew up on. The voice cast is simply amazing, with Taron Egerton (Rocketman), Anya Taylor-Joy (The VVitch) and Nathalie Emmanuel (“Game of Thrones”) as our main Gelfling. On the Skeksis side, we get Jason Isaacs, Simon Pegg, Awkwafina, Benedict Wong, Harvey Fierstein, Keegan-Michael Key and Mark Hamill—most of whom are indistinguishable from the voice actors in the original film. The final behind-the-scenes ringer is director Louis Leterrier, whose work on an assortment of action films (The Transporter, Clash of the Titans, The Incredible Hulk, Now You See Me) ensures that the entire 10-episode sweep moves at a thrilling pace. There isn’t a slow spot or a dull moment in the whole series.
Lushly conceptualized, smartly written, wonderfully acted and enchantingly directed, “The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance” is the perfect fantasy escape—even if you aren’t lucky enough to be a child of the ’80s.