The challenge of creating an updated world of one such as “The Dark Crystal” is a specific challenge. The balance reflects in two aspects: can the puppetry be held up in such a way that it doesn’t take away from the original but also does it take into play the world building and mythology that Jim Henson created so many years ago. Granted nothing can be quite like what was done in 1982 considering the restrictions. But what Louis Letterier and the Jim Henson Workshop have done with “The Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance” is quite effective in living up to the original while also taking it much darker which was always underlying beneath the surface in the initial film. Leterrier seemed an odd choice initially after Genndy Tartakovsky, known for “Samurai Jack” and the initial “Clone Wars” shorts left the project seemingly over creative differences. What might be said is that there might have been a structure that Henson had initially left which painted the backstory. It is hard to say.
Nevertheless, the story told over 10 episodes takes into fact many eventual outcomes seen in the movie. But it also reflects an immigration story in reverse that is very prevalent to our times while also being universal and older. Watching this iteration, especially in the plight of The Gelfings, the parallel to Native Americans both in the look and mysticism of the characters becomes much more defined especially with Deet, an exceptionally connected Gelfing from underground. Another clan from what is called The Crystal Desert plays into this myth as well. The key aspect in this series that it shows Thra as bigger than what was imagined (or likely planned). The eventual genocide of the Gelfing as indicated in the movie is a great underlying theme even as battles are fought. Rian, as played by Taron Egerton of “Kingman” and “Rocketman” fame, anchors the cast as the would be hero.
However the grand balance relates in the Skeksis, both in the voices and the abject cruelty that begins to seep in. The most intrinsic simply because he is the most dynamic in terms of chess moves is The Chamberlain, as voiced by Simon Pegg. He is almost the Judas in a way who belies his own loyalty for a texture of power. Pegg gets enough of the voice without overplaying say, the whimpering. The General as always is his adversary for power as voiced by Benedict Wong. The overarching Emperor is voiced by Jason Isaacs and Mark Hamill plays The Scientist. The driving force of essence at a certain point becomes all encompassing. This could be a balance to the progressive nature of the current opiod crisis or simply reflect back the essence of the opium trade in the 1800s. Point being that the story works on many different levels.
Augra is the unifying and yet destructuring force. It is she who is blame but also she who is ultimately a deliverer. It is almost as if she is the ID within everyone. The larger reasoning of who the Skeksis are and why the Mystics function as they do is hinted at but left for later deduction. The politics though especially within the clans of the Gelfling are really what propel the story but it is the ideas influenced through Augra that anchor it. While the aspects of transcendence and new age thinking still play into the actions of the characters, the introduction of The Archer and more specifically The Hunter as well as two other characters co-existing with each other at the end of the world create a different dynamic and add even more to the proceedings.
Ultimately though the elements of the betrayal of trust by the Lords Of Crystal and their ultimate greed is what defines the path. Technically, the show does what is needed to do. Practical effects and puppetry are used heavily with only slight digital enhancements while landscape and certain creature elements that just would not have been possible before without CGI add that degree of scope without forgetting the true nature of Thra. “The Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance” is an apt, entertaining and visionary extension of Jim Henson’s universe. Seeing the possibility of it coming back in this way, which would not have happened in the current TV and filmmaking climate without Netflix, shows the importance of certain Ips being given a chance to reach a new generation while still reflecting the old.
By Tim Wassberg
“The Dark Crystal” on BD again reaffirms the textures and specifics put in this film because even with the lines showing which you can hardly see, the detail is astonishing. Blanketing in full 5.1 sound, the black and sparkles are even more luminescent as the puppetry work is just as intense as it was when it first came out. I remember being taken to see this when I was 8 years old and the shot that always remained to me was the ending shot of the transformation of the land after the Dark Crystal was healed. For some reason, there is an inherent sense of underlying intelligence and structure to what is being shown. With the Blu Ray release the details are crisp and the realization is that even with the mastering, the flaws are inperceivable. This was all done by hand unlike something like “Avatar”. As a result, it masters the organic in a way that is much different. The designs were accomplished by Brian Froud who does the commentary here. He speaks about coming up with the creatures and how the production transformed into perception on the spot. Jim Henson was very open to ideas but did have a very specific world in mind. Looking at some of the storyboards as they flow through on a comparison only track, you understand certain places like the beginning credits and the ending culmination are very specifically spelled out almost shot for shot. The one thing Froud says is that at the end of the production they were running out of money and time. The ending creatures and their ascent were to be much more intense and out of control but they only had time to do what is seen. What is there by all accounts however is splendid. There is an additional aspect of collecting pieces throughout the film with the use of highlights which is more IQ based and block tested for younger children.
The Crystal Trivia is interesting and jumps around in time depending how many times you have seen the movie. The original language elements shown in edited original progressions are pretty neat. However it is the first scene which has the dying of the emperor that seems the most primal. The funeral scene, also in an older format which has been seen in past DVD releases of the film, still shows an interesting part of the ceremony of these creatures with distinctive music not heard elsewhere. “The World Of The Dark Crystal” is also a formerly seen documentary made back in the day which shows in Jim Henson’s words how the production came together. He co-directed the film with Frank Oz and we get to see the balance which is much like how Jeunet & Caro worked in the essence for “City Of Lost Children”: one is better with actors and the other one is more visual. In this case, Henson called himself the more visual of the two. The use of slow cameras was hardly needed but like before what was interesting here was the separation of language. The main specific change, as was mentioned before, is the replacement of Frank Oz’s voice for Augra with another actor. Oz’s voice is so well known for Fozzie, Miss Piggy and, of course, Yoda that it made sense. The use of mimes for Garthim and the necessary multiple performers needed for characters like the Skeksis and the Mystics show an undeniable craftsmanship. One wonders if a film like this can even be made like this today.
“Reflections On The Dark Crystal” speaks to a current reflection on what was done almost 30 years ago. David Goelz is the most vocal and of course his humor was highlighted in the documentary. Goelz is mainly responsible for Gonzo, the most fiercely original character of The Muppets by far. His part of the new Skeksis Emperor to the whining Chamberlain as played by Frank Oz show their continued collaboration. The key is in the subtlety of humor without overcoming the drama. Tbe puppeteer who worked Kira also shows the pinpoint accuracy which Henson required. The whole balance was in creating a world that was so completely different from our own that new rules had to be set forth. In both segments of this section, “Light On The Path Of Creation” & “Shard Of Illusion”, new footage of tests from Henson’s backyard before he got the funding to make the film showed his organic way of working. Brian Henson, who now runs his father’s company after his passing, probably provided this from his archives and speaks of his father’s influence. Henson has been trying to mount a sequel to the film for years. At one point Tartakovsky who made “Samurai Jack” was attached to direct but that has since faltered. One glaring omission in the “Reflections” piece is the absence of Frank Oz. One wonders what the relationship is because of this because Oz would have to be involved perhaps in some way on a sequel, at least as a form of respect. The menus for the BR are fluid with an essence of purple although you wonder if it could have been more mythic. In terms of the trailers, the originals are solely missing although the BR trailer for “Close Encounters” always satisfies. It is beautiful to see “The Dark Crystal” on Blu Ray specifically because its brilliance is added because even as the details are made clearer you see how seamless it still is. Out of 5, I give it a 4.