‘The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance’ Will Make You Forget About the End of ‘Game of Thrones’
The new 10-part Netflix series, featuring many A-list voices (Lena Headey! Mark Hamill! Simon Pegg!), is an instant genre classic.
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance isn’t just a masterwork of practical puppeteering, production design, and CGI artistry. It’s not simply a thematically rich fable that straddles the line between playful kids’ adventure and grim adult drama. And it’s not only a faithful prequel that’s superior to its predecessor in every way.
It’s also a rich, expansive, imaginative fantasy epic cast in a Game of Thrones mold that stands as a triumph for Netflix, the Jim Henson Company, and genre fans everywhere.
It’s difficult to overstate the greatness of Age of Resistance, the streaming service’s new 10-part series (premiering Aug. 30), which recounts the events that preceded 1982’s big-screen adventure The Dark Crystal, a film famous for its inventive creatures and world, as well as its sinister, scary soul. Developed by Jeffrey Addiss and Will Matthews, and directed by The Transporter and Clash of the Titans’ Louis Leterrier, this return to the planet Thra exceeds any and all nostalgia-tinged expectations, delivering a multi-strand quest that’s exciting, funny, charming, and mythic—and sure to satisfy newbies and die-hards alike.
Age of Resistance is a hero’s quest cast in familiar Joseph Conrad (and Star Wars, and George R.R. Martin) terms. Thra is home to the Gelfling, a diminutive elf-like race divided into seven clans, who share a psychospiritual connection with their environment. Ruling the Gelfling are the alien Skeksis, grotesque, squawking vulture-ish beasts with enormous beaks, thin appendages, and bulbous bodies encased in quilt-like robes and armor. The Skeksis’ dominion is facilitated by the Crystal of Truth, from which they derive energy that allows them to live forever. Yet their greedy consumption of the Crystal has left it shattered and corrupted, spreading a pestilence throughout the land known as The Darkening, and forcing them to turn to nefarious methods to prolong their lives.
These characters, as well as numerous others, are brought to vivid, charismatic life by the Jim Henson Company’s stunning puppets, whose appearances are as elaborately expressive as their articulated movements are dexterous. Quite simply, it takes only minutes for one to forget that Age of Resistance’s protagonists and villains aren’t real. That goes double for the diverse communities in which they reside and the landscapes they traverse, which—be they covered in snow, buried in the ground, or situated in deep forests—are marvels of set and production design. Fleshed out by a cornucopia of rituals and songs, the series is awash in lived-in details that are in tune with Henson’s original 1982 feature.
With an assured poise that’s often been missing from his helter-skelter live-action efforts, Leterrier enhances his puppet action with seamlessly integrated CGI flourishes. Those are employed for zooms through the cosmos, centerpiece images—like one in which the camera follows a Gelfling as he leaps out a window and slides down a column to the ocean below—and Dreamfasting, a Gelfling practice by which memories are shared. Dreamfasting is central to Age of Resistance, because it’s the sole means by which the truth can be conclusively ascertained. And there’s much truth to be exposed during this 10-hour saga, all of it having to do with the Skeksis’ monstrousness.
Age of Resistance’s narrative pivots around three Gelfling compelled to embark on a mission to avert extinction: Rian (Taron Egerton), the son of a commander (Mark Strong) in the Skeksis royal guard, who suffers a tremendous loss and is then labeled a traitor; Brea (Anya Taylor-Joy), one of the Vapra kingdom’s three princesses, who witnesses a magic sigil; and Deet (Nathalie Emmanuel), a member of the subterranean Grottan clan who’s tasked by the ancient Century Tree with stopping The Darkening. Their paths soon cross with each other as well as with additional comrades and adversaries, and it’s a testament to Addiss and Matthews’ storytelling that virtually every character introduced is blessed with their own personality and motivation. That’s true too of the Skeksis, whose hunger for immortality is only matched by their lust for power, thus generating intense court intrigue between the ruthless Emperor (Jason Isaacs), the domineering General (Benedict Wong), the mad Scientist (Mark Hamill), and the cunning Chamberlain (Simon Pegg), whose scheming is one of the series’ consistent highlights.
Voiced by a superb cast (replete with four Game of Thrones alums, led by Lena Headey in a decidedly different sort of queen role), these figures populate a sprawling tale of treachery, bravery and the cost of acquiescing—and standing up—to intolerant tyranny. With an environmentalist bent (born from the Gelfling’s connection to Thra), it preaches unity as the strongest force in the universe, while simultaneously raising intriguing questions about evil and natural selection via the conniving Chamberlain. For children, it offers an array of awe-inspiring creatures—the long-limbed Landstriders; the sluggish Mystics; the creepy-crawly Arathim; the screamy furball Fizzgigs; the boisterously dancing Thra sage Aughra (Donna Kimball)—and a rollicking mixture of romance, battle and comedy, including of a gross poop-and-pee-and-puss variety. And for older viewers, it affords a wide-ranging story rooted in ideas about the origins of genocide (and justifications for complicity with it), the virtues of togetherness, and the relationship between life and death.
It’s an understatement to say that not everyone makes it out of Age of Resistance alive; from its opening to its closing episodes, the series dispatches key figures in surprising, brutal, heartrending fashion. Such menacing moments, however, are anything but gratuitous; rather, they’re sensitively handled tragedies that speak to the notion that the end is a natural facet of existence (especially with regard to parents), and that heroism often necessitates awful sacrifices by the few in order to protect the many. Like the series’ fondness for ornate dialogue (in which words like “perfidious” and “feckless” make routine appearances), these instances are part and parcel of the show’s admirable desire to infuse superficially kid-oriented material with grown-up heft.
Blending the high and the low, the juvenile and the mature, the real and the digital, the intimate and the extravagant, Age of Resistance realizes its grand aesthetic and narrative ambitions with thrilling, poignant skill. It’s the rare prequel (or sequel, for that matter) that not only justifies its own existence but proves to be an immediate genre classic in its own right.