The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, Episode 1 Review
Even after just one episode, it feels safe to say that Netflix’s The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is better than the original film in nearly every way. It’s easier to make that claim, however, if like me you recognize the original film’s flaws. While visually arresting and lovingly detailed, its voice acting mostly ranged from hammy to bland, and the main story was just pretty silly. The newer version amps up the visuals because of course it can decades later, but also casts a wide slew of name actors who are no slouches in the voice department, from Awkwafina to Mark Hamill and Sigourney Weaver. As for the plot, it gets intensely complicated in a way that a movie would probably dumb down. Add actual puppet sex and we could almost dub it Gelfling Game of Thrones. But they just kiss. It is still a show for kids.
This initial episode is a massive information dump, beginning with a whole lot of narration from Weaver of the history of planet Thra. Here comes all that first movie backstory you never fully got, about how the Dark Crystal was once a pure crystal that fueled all life, and Aughra a sort of nature goddess presiding over the seven tribes of Gelflings. Yes, seven, each with different key traits that vary from “read lots of books” to “live underground.” Then the Skeksis came from another world, building Aughra her observatory and getting her interested in other worlds. This, of course, distracted her from the one at hand, which the Skeksis proceeded to take over. They pretended to be benevolent saviors, and despite the fact that they all look hideous and cackle maniacally, everyone on the planet believed them. Points for being open minded, maybe?
All this exposition is catnip for fantasy nerds, and perhaps a red flag to the type of critic who can decipher David Lynch but thinks the Warcraft movie is too confusing. Anyway, the Skeksis rule the world, still perceived as benevolent despite a cruel taxation policy fueled by guilt-tripping. And the Gelflings serve them, without knowing that thanks to the Skeksis sucking the energy of the crystal, it’s turning dark and unleashing a plague on the land and its creatures. It’s also running out of juice, so its evil masters have to figure out new ways to recharge it. And wouldn’t you know, letting it suck the life force out of helpless victims achieves exactly that.
This is just the set-up. After all of that, we follow three different sets of Gelflings who have figured out different pieces of the puzzle. Rian (Taron Egorton) is the son of Ordon (Mark Strong) a leader in the Gelfling military which serves at the Skeksis Castle. Deet (Nathalie Emmanuel) lives underground, cares for animals, and occasionally inhales psychedelic moss that empowers her flights (female Gelflings have wings in this timeline). And Brea (Anya Taylor-Joy) is a book-smart princess who asks too many questions for status-quo comfort.
Presumably this all ends in the separation of shard from crystal, to set up the events of the movie. But in the meantime, plenty of world-building must be done. Epic vistas and relatively huge sets really make the world feel tangible, and signature sight gags still abound. Like a Skeksis chariot with “wheels” of giant rolled-up pill bugs, stimulated with electric shocks.
If you’re wondering where the Mystics are, keep wondering. Presumably they’ll be a surprise reveal at some point later in the show. Meanwhile, the Gelfling redesigns are a vast improvement to the original movie’s uncanny valley. Jen and Kira looked like they were supposed to read as almost human, and were just creepy, while the new ones are definitely intended to be somewhat animalistic. Not every puppet is as fully expressive as its actor, but that’s a big improvement over the first film, where the puppets were moreso than their line-readings.
Now, I said this was an improvement in most ways, because I’m never crazy about gross-out jokes. One of the Skeksis has a constant cold and is always dripping thick nasal mucus. I’m not fond of looking at that, though grade-schoolers in the family may be. An unnecessary belch joke also happens. Jim Henson usually aimed higher than that. It’s not a deal-breaker, but here’s hoping it was just a counter to all the serious exposition. And will not be integral moving forward once the story shows more than it tells.
But perhaps the best indication that this will be a good show is the fact that the visuals could easily have overwhelmed all else, and arguably still do. Yet the plot intends to interweave three stories and savor every detail of this imagined universe. For all the care that has been put into hand-crafting every puppet, so too has that much thought gone into world-building.
I really hope this doesn’t ultimately disappoint the way my adult viewing of the childhood-fave movie did. So far, signs point to it far exceeding expectations.
Are you excited for the new Dark Crystal series? Let us know in comments!