The Dark Crystal is a classic fantasy film and we return to it with The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance being released by Netflix. It’s something people had always been hoping for as far as a sequel is concerned. But with this, we are getting a ten-episode prequel.
This will be a review of the whole series and each episode, but we’ll start with a look back on the original Dark Crystal to help set the stage.
The Original Dark Crystal
I had not seen the Dark Crystal in a long time. I remember watching it at a friend’s house when it had first come out on video and being pretty overwhelmed with it. This was the case for a lot of people too as they weren’t sure exactly what they were going into. Some were expecting a Muppet movie of some sort but that’s not what they got.
I recently watched it and it holds up amazingly well and it’s still an incredible spectacle today considering how it’s pretty much a completely puppet based movie with little effects. There’s a great balance between realistic-looking puppets but then real-life performances mixed in. This gives the whole movie a much more realistic effect – better than when it seems like a real human in a pig costume was roller skating in the Muppets Take Manhattan…
Here’s a quick rundown (what the hell’s a rundown?) on what happened in the original Dark Crystal:
1000 years ago there was a magical crystal that when cracked had two new races form from it: the Skeksis (who look a lot like Rahzar from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze) and the Mystics – sort of a Capulet and Montagues type situation. Our hero is a young Gelfling (young Gelfling would be a good hip-hop name) named Jen who is taken in by the Mystics as he is the last remaining Gelfling. He is told that he can repair the crystal if he finds a shard and if he doesn’t before the three suns combine, it’s game over for the Skeksis.
The movie involves Jen’s quest to find the shard while trying to avoid certain death from the Skeksis and the Garthim. On his way, he finds he is not the only Gelfling left when he meets Kira. Jen is able to eventually place the shard back in the crystal, stop the Skeksis, and transform the castle into a giant crystal and a new type palace/crystal cathedral (don’t just sit there. DO something! If you know you know…)
The Skekis and the Mystics merge into one super being which was how things were always supposed to be. The two combined beings now have the celebrity name of the “urSkeks” and they beam away leaving the new crystal to Jen.
Production On The Dark Crystal
We need to get moving here if we’re to cover The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance review but the original Dark Crystal really is a remarkable movie. I hadn’t seen it in a good 20+ years but it’s an incredible film spectacle. It has that standard Joseph Campbell/Hero’s Journey as far as Jen in a very Luke Skywalker type scenario. Among other things that may seem to connect to it, you may notice parallels with:
- Lord of the Rings
- The Hobbit
- Empire Strikes Back/Return of the Jedi
- Planet of the Apes
I forgot the movie goes way back and came out in 1982 and has real themes of unity and mysticism to it. The influence for Jim Henson was based on a 1975 illustration from some Lewis Carrol poetry. His intent was to go back to those darker Grimm’s Fairy Tale stories that display definite themes of good and evil.
I wonder what the intended age was for this when it came out because I know it did scare the crap out of a lot of kids. Henson has been on record for saying he thought it was good for kids to be scared to be able to be more in tune with humanity. I feel he could have shared this better through the Muppet Babies, however…
Here are a few more insights into the Dark Crystal:
- Henson wrote a 25-page treatment while at an airport hotel
- It was the first live-action film without any humans on screen
- Henson was the performer for Jen, and Frank Oz operated Aughra
- The Skeksis – even though there were 10 – represented the 7 deadly sins
- The Podling village was based on the Henson family home
The Dark Crystal came out on December 17, 1982, and opened on 858 screens. The issue regarding the dark tones of the film was the reason that many families stayed away from it. Those expecting another Muppet movie – after the success of it just a few years earlier – stayed away initially.
The other problem is it opened up against two massive movies: E.T. and Tootsie. There was decent word of mouth, however, and it ended up making over $40 million so it was able to make back its money and turn a profit.
The legacy of the Dark Crystal has grown over the years and Henson was talking about a sequel while in production way back then. Various talks for a sequel continued in 2006, and 2011, with things, never moving forward. But, as usual, Netflix comes to the rescue and started production on a sequel (which is actually a prequel) in 2017.
So that brings us to now and we’ll take a look at each episode of the Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance.
Episode 1: End. Begin. All The Same
This first episode is an amazing return to the Dark Crystal world and is such an amazing reintroduction that it feels like it should be seen on an IMAX screen. The world is so immersive and the production of this series is incredible. Between real-life vistas, CGI, and amazing puppetry, we get a perfect blend creating an amazing fantasy world.
We are back on the world of Thra and we get an introduction that is very Lord of the Rings explaining what the world is all about. It’s narrated by Sigourney Weaver and we learn about the crystal and its protector, Aughra. The crystal connects all the creatures of Thra and we learn of the 7 different races of Gelflings.
Thra had always been in perfect balance but then the Skeksis came. They have become lords and leaders of the lands and the Gelflings live in servitude towards them. We find out that the Skeksis – who have had the crystal entrusted to them – are using it to harness power to give them longer lives. They are taking the essence of it but this has not been working as well lately.
The Gelflings have no idea about this and have been trusting the Skeksis. We will later find out the Skeksis realize that they can harness the power and extract the essence from the creature most in-tune with Thra – the Gelflings. We also meet some main characters including Brea, Rian, Kylan and, Mira. There are a lot of big-name voices in this show including:
- Helena Bonham Carter as the mother Maudra
- Eddie Izzard as Cadia
- Alicia Vikander as Mira
- Simon Pegg as the Chamberlin (doing a bit of a Jar-Jar Binks impression)
- Mark Hamill as the scientist (with a nice Starscream/Dr. Zeus mix)
- Harvey Fierstein as the Gourmand (any relation to Gormaanda from the Star Wars Holiday Special?)
- Andy Samberg as the Heretic
- Bill Hader as the Wanderer
That is a pretty stellar lineup.
Over this episode, we also see the Sanctuary tree which seems right out of Avatar and can show visions. We get some Audrey 2 from Little Shop of Horrors- looking plants, a possible “dusting” of one of the Skeksis, and a great call-back line from the original movie regarding who has wings – “of course I do, I’m a girl”.
SUMMARY: This was an amazing first episode. It returns to the magic of the original Dark Crystal but MASSIVELY updated with technology. It’s also a great reminder of how terrific the production was way back in 1982. But this just looks stellar. There is so much inclusion of their whole world in this first episode that it feels like you’re fully immersed.
We get introduced to a bunch of main characters and learn of the evil plan of the Skeksis – which set up the events of the original movie. I give this first episode a 9/10.
Episode 2: Nothing Is Simple Anymore
We start with Aughra who has been in a form of coma for a while. She has been “awakened” because of something sinister that has happened – she must be aware of what the Skeksis are doing…
We catch up with Deet who has survived her Audrey 2 attack and is on her way to Ha’rah. The Skeksis are on the lookout for Rian as he observed what they had done with Mira, and they need him taken out of the picture and decide to frame him.
The Emperor (not Palpatine) wants more “essence” as they desire eternal life (There are some real religious undertones I feel are being shared throughout all things, Dark Crystal). There’s also a musical interlude with their version of the Cantina house-band with musicians that look a lot like the Gorgs from Fraggle Rock.
Rian is trying to escape the castle, and this episode has some nice Return of the Jedi vibes to me. Rian is a fugitive but is able to share the truth doing a “dream-fast” where two Gelflings do a kind of cosmic handshake.
Deet is still on the lam and survives a spider attack when saved by Hup – a Podling who is just adorable. Princess Brea is trying to track down what the symbol – that she got in the first episode – means. She then pulls the ol switcheroo on a Sean Connery sounding Gelfling (which I’m pretty sure is Craig Ferguson) to find out the symbol is either the end or a chance for a new beginning.
Rian is able to escape with the Mira essence and Deet continues her Bilbo Baggins journey to Mordor. The Chamberlin is contorting a plan to get the essence back while trying to keep quiet that he had stolen it for himself. He has also turned things on the scientist who is going to face the wrath in a punishment that looks right out of Fear Factor.
SUMMARY: It’s cool to see the direction the Skeksis are taking that will play out in the Dark Crystal movie. We’re seeing all the lies and deception along with their lust for power and eternal life. I’ll probably mention this for every episode, but it’s amazing looking at the backgrounds and environment created for this show. I didn’t think there would be production values of this level for a Netflix show like this. I give this episode a 7/10.
Also, I think Aughra looks just like Grandpa Itchy from the Star Wars Holiday Special…
Episode 3: What Was Sundered And Undone
We start with seeing Brea having to fraternize with Podlings who are usually below her class, while her sisters complain about her general attitude towards life and royalty. The smear campaign against Rian is working as other Gelflings now associate him with the murder of Kira. Rian now knows that the “we protect the lords (Skeksis) and they protect the crystal of truth”, is all a big lie.
Deet is finding out that all Gelflings are not as tight as she thought and Hup gets arrested defending her honor. Rian is being told he is going crazy but is able to fight back against his father and the guards in a very Zoro/3 Musketeers type scene. Aughra returns to the palace to see the crystal and catches the Skeksis in their version of a steam room but they remove her as “connected to Thra”. She then learns the truth behind the darkening of it and the Skeksis stealing essence from Mira for “life everlasting”. Thra is becoming out of balance.
Here are a few more things I noticed in this episode:
- The Landstriders sound a lot like the Tauntauns from the Empire Strikes Back
- Gelflings have four fingers – just like the Simpsons
- Aughra seems a lot like Dr. Strange
- There’s the real theme of how humanity treats each other through the series and which goes back to the original movie
SUMMARY: This was a very character and plot-focused episode, but one that still looks amazing. It was a bit slower-paced and had a very Lord of the Rings feel to it. I’m not sure what the budget was for this show but each episode seems so vast and deep, the library set is extremely amazing as was the snow-covered town of Hu’rah. I give this episode a 7/10
Episode 4: The First Thing I Remember Is Fire
We left episode 3 with Brea descending beneath the throne in the castle and we open on Hup still on lockdown but Deet swoops in to save the day – looking a lot like Poison Ivy from the awful Batman & Robin movie. Brea has stumbled upon a room that contains the 7 symbols of the 7 clans of Gelflings – and that natural order needs to be found.
The Skeksis are having a full smorgasbord and deciding how the Gelflings can be used for their own gain. We are also starting to see the growing divide between the Skeksis and the Chamberlin. Chamberlin is now using an ancient horn to summon the “hunter” aka Skeletor – the most brutal of the Skeksis and who is more able to capture Rian.
We then meet “The Archer” who is one of those old Mystics from the original Dark Crystal. (Fun fact: those old costumes were so heavy Jim Henson was only able to do 5-10 seconds performance with them). The Archer lets us know the Mystics are in hiding until needed.
Brea makes a discovery into the true order of the clans and we meet a praying mantis rock-type creature that is also part record player. Back in the Podling/Ewok Village, the Podlings are getting turnt while Rian is laying low. The different tribes of Gelfling are now getting hip to the idea that the Skeksis aren’t the noblest of creatures after a communal dream-fast which is like a group face-time.
A few more notes:
- I’m not sure if the landscapes are real footage or CGI? Either way, they’re mind-blowing.
- Speaking of CGI, this episode seems to have more CGI puppet action, which I’m fine with as it works in the context of the whole story
- The Archer seems to be the only non-Brit here and feels to me like he has a bit of a Native American sense to him?
- I don’t usually notice this type of thing but the camera work in this episode seems exceptional.
SUMMARY: Probably the most intense episode so far but moves at a great pace. It has a darker feeling like the original movie but I loved it. I love the introduction of The Hunter who has a real Predator type vibe to him and the end battle scene is amazing – you forget you’re watching puppets at times. An awesome episode 10/10.
Episode 5: She Knows All The Secrets
We start with Rian hanging upside down – Luke Skywalker-style – by the Hunter. The Chamberlin needs to take Rian back to the castle himself to try to get back his seat at the table. Brea’s sister is trying to find out what’s up with the Skeksis in what seems like Jabba the Hutt’s underground chamber.
The Skeksis are trying to round up Gelflings to help them battle a resistance that they feel is coming, and the Chamberlin is dishing out some psychological warfare to Rian. Rian is now forced to make a decision to help avoid war and has to give in.
Aughra is still trying to connect with the Thra by shooting craps and eating leaves to see what’s up with everything – but the darkening is spreading; which we see in the purple eyes of the animals. Deet transforms into Elsa from Frozen to sneak through the gates to see the All-Maudra/The Gelfling queen aka Helena Bonham-Carter who is basically the first lady of all fantasy films.
Rian makes a daring escape, and this episode is all about the connectivity between the Gelflings, Aughra and the Thra. We get a dream sequence that reveals the plans of the Skeksis and Brea, Deet, and Rian have to join forces while a resistance across the Thra is set in motion. We end with death and a traitor who goes against her own kind.
SUMMARY: This episode is setting things in motion for the second half of the series. It’s establishing alliances, allegiances, and furthering the division between the Skeksis and everyone else. It’s not as engaging as the other so far but is there to drive the story forward. We also get our first mention of the Shard. I give it a 7/10.
Episode 6: By Gelfling Hand…
“It’s hard to recognize the light when you’ve spent your whole life in the dark”
Brea’ sister has sold her out, and many other Gelflings – including Deet. We get another appearance of the stone praying mantis/Demagorgan who busts out from below the castle throne, goes on the lam and comes to the rescue of Brea.
The Gelflings turn on the Chamberlin while Brea’s sister is starting to get drunk with power. Meanwhile, word is spreading about the true intent, and actions, of the Skeksis. Things are also getting more Lord of the Rings-ish as the band of Gelflings are sojourning across the crystal desert – which looks a lot like Utah.
The Gelflings have a bonding session in the desert where Brea says goodbye to her deceased mother and then burns her Darth Vader style. The Skeksis are sitting down to a nice essence buffet and the Chamberlin seems to have developed a bit of a fondness for the Gelflings – or at least doesn’t want to see them turned into essence.
The traveling band meet Rek’ry in the desert and split up to continue their journey. Meanwhile, Seladon is taking it upon herself to be queen and the episode ends on a powerful note. Here are a few more of my observations:
- I know nothing of production – or how this is done – but the lighting in this series and this episode is amazing.
- This episode was a touch on the funny side specifically with the Skeksis
- Rian and Deet seem to have something between them. I would give them the celebrity name of ‘Reet’.
- Any scene with Harvey Fierstein is incredible
SUMMARY: I felt this episode lagged at times but it’s mainly because everyone is in the midst of a journey, whether it be physical or internal. The fires of resistance continue to grow and this episode had a very Game of Thrones feel to it. I give it a 6.5/10.
Episode 7: Time To Make…My Move
We start in the very Tatooine-looking desert with Hup puking up a lung. The rock Demagorgan manages to save the Gelflings from an amazing looking sandstorm. The photo-realism in this series is honestly mind-blowing.
We then get some comic relief when we meet a good Skeksis named skekGra the conqueror, voiced by Andy Samberg doing his best Adam Sandler/Yoda impersonation. SkekGra is living with a Mystic named UrGoh (voiced by another SNL alum; Bill Hader) and the two live in peace – but in an “odd couple” type dynamic – which foreshadows things in the future.
Connor 4 Real gives the Gelflings a history lesson about Thra and the Darkening is spreading. We catch up with the Hunter who is still looking for the Gelfling clan. During the Gelflings history lesson, they learn what we already know regarding the Skeksis and Mystics existing in a combined form called the Urskeks – which you’ll remember from the end of the original movie.
This episode makes some more connections with the first Dark Crystal and the Gelflings learn about the sword of truth and need to go find it. The Skeksis have joined forces with the giant spiders and are about to go Kerouac on the Gelflings.
SUMMARY: This was an amazing episode. It’s starting to bring us more connections with the Dark Crystal legacy and it was super-intense. I’m not sure how far things will go in this series because it’s series 1, and I’m not sure how many are intended? I don’t know how close we’ll get to the events that involve the original movie, but this is awesome so far. 9/10.
Episode 8: Prophets Don’t Know Everything
Stone in the Wood has been decimated and Aughra is trying to pick up all the pieces. Deet and Rian are entering the Breath of Thra and fly through it in a very Titanic type moment…We also get an old school scene where the Gelflings are going to be drained of their essence by the crystal.
Aughra is spying on the Skeksis and everything is starting to come out in the open as far as them consuming the Gelflings essence. The new All-Maudra is now realizing what a terrible mistake she has made.
Deet and Rian are battling the Audrey 2 and dissention is starting to arise between the Skeksis. We are seeing the Chamberlains plan to start to take fruition and also the almost demise of the archer – which is a symbolic blow to the other Skeksis.
This episode seems to have themes of being in tune with nature and people who battle against oppression and deny the status quo while others just blindly follow along. This episode reminded me of Beneath the Planet of the Apes in regard to the mind control and underground societies.
SUMMARY: The underground Gelflings are rising up to assist in battle as the ‘little guy’ – literally and metaphorically – sets to take on its larger oppressor. This episode is about alliances and alignments. The tide is turning. A resistance is forming. Deet is also rising up as the true hero and gaining some Eleven from Stranger Things type power – given to her by the Sanctuary tree. I give this episode an 8/10.
Episode 9: The Crystal Calls
The Skeksis are stopping at nothing to restore the Hunter and will use all the essence it takes. He represents their true strength and power so in their minds they see it as imperative to restore their most powerful asset. The Skeksis have realized they are not infinite and can die and it’s making them panic.
Aughra is revealing her true power and is sharing some compelling ideas of what exists after death. This show goes deep on some pretty intense themes. Aughra strikes her deal to restore the Hunter as long as they let the three sisters go.
We’re now not sure where the Chamberlin’s real allegiances lie – and I’m noticing he’s sounding more like Super Mario. We lose Aughra and find out that the Skeksis, indeed, can die. We get a cool backstory on the history of the sword and I think Cardi B does the voice call for the Landstriders…
The Chamberlin has worked his way back into the Skeksis good graces, and the Scientist is starting to build an army from the dead corpse of one of the spiders.
- I love the camera movement in this episode and series. It makes you feel like you’re right in the scene with them.
- How amazing would this all look in 3D? It would be great if they made another Dark Crystal feature film
- Mark Hamill gives what I think is the best performance in the whole series.
SUMMARY: This penultimate episode is like the assembling of the Avengers. We are preparing for the final battle and Rian is able to broadcast the final call like Wade in Ready Player One. The culmination is upon us. 9/10
Episode 10: A Single Piece Was Lost
“I don’t think anything will ever be like it was again”
We go into the final episode with Deet unaware of what is causing the changes to her. The Emperor is harnessing the power of the Darkness which we’ve found out cannot be destroyed – only transferred.
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is showing us the power of banding together and the importance of community. Like the Ewoks, a small group – and seemingly inferior warriors – can still surprise you.
Rian does his best William Wallace to hype the Gelflings into battle and the Scientist continues to go all Dr. Frankenstein. Aughra has given the Archer the ability to see where the Hunter is going who has turned into Super Shredder. The women then help lead the way in an amazing winged attack on the Skeksis.
It feels like we’re getting the reveal of what really happened to the Emperor in the original movie based on what the Chamberlin does to his fellow Skeksis here. The Hunter comes back to run amok and the Archer rolls out reminiscent of Optimus Prime here and pulls off an amazing moment of self-sacrifice involving Aughra.
Not surprisingly, all the tribes of Gelfling show up to save the day, but then the darkening is unleased – where Deet ultimately saves the day in a very Eleven v The Mind Flayer way. The series ends with the reveal of the shard and also the reveal of the newly created Garthim. A great finale to the series that leaves things nice and open as we’re not sure how much time exists between this prequel and the events of the original movie. 8.5/10
Final Thoughts On The Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance
So that’s my Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance review. Netflix is honestly amazing. You pay around ten bucks a month and it includes shows like this which I feel should cost even more. It’s like Stranger Things where it feels like you’re getting way more value than just $10 a month.
This series is magical, sweeping, dark, creative and compelling. The production is unreal as are the sets and cinematography, and it expands the whole Dark Crystal universe – or DCU as I’m now claiming it…. It was as good as the trailers for it looked and a real surprise nearly 40 years after the original movie first debuted.
Jim Henson would be proud.
P.S: If you were like me and continuously saying “how in the hell did they make this amazing spectacle” you hopefully kept watching after the last episode finished. If you didn’t go watch the end credits again and thank me later…