It might seem silly to call The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance something uniquely different when the upcoming Netflix series, which just screened its first episode at San Diego Comic-Con, is the continuation of a feature film story that premiered more than 35 years ago. However, for those who attended the SDCC panel and the press conference that preceded it, it quickly became clear that the utter uniqueness of this venture is exactly what drew so many talented artists, of many specialties, to it.
“As an actor, it’s always fascinating and exciting when you get to be involved with something that’s different, or that you haven’t been involved with before, whether that be from a character perspective or something like this. There’s nothing else out there like this,” said Taron Egerton, who stars as one of the main voice actors in the puppet fantasy adventure. Egerton, who has been a fan of the 1982 Dark Crystal movie since he watched it as a kid, visited the set during filming, an opportunity that his co-star Simon Pegg also took advantage of.
“I really was a fan,” said Egerton during the Dark Crystal press conference on Friday. “When I got the very generous offer from these guys to come and be a part of the project, said, ‘I’d love to. I’d really love to come and see you guys working on set.'”
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistanceis a prequel series that takes place 1,000 years before the events of the film. The story follows three young Gelflings—Rian (Taron Egerton), Deet (Nathalie Emmanuel), and Brea (Anya Taylor-Joy)—as they struggle under the rule of the Skeksis and fight for Gelfling freedom. The 10-episode season will hit Netflix on August 30th, and it represents a project years in the making.
“We tried for a long time,” said director Louis Leterrier, who has been working with Jim Henson Company CEO Lisa Henson to make a Dark Crystal story for eight or nine years. “We went to a few studios. There were a lot of, not passes, but people were like, ‘Okay, puppets. We don’t get it.'”
According to Leterrier, who has directed seven feature films, including The Transporter and Now You See Me, Netflix’s interest in investing in a Dark Crystal story was less about its positioning as another ’80s nostalgia property and more about its timeless uniqueness.
“It’s not so much the ’80s thing,” said Leterrier. “It’s that this movie was so different when it came out and remains so different. It’s cult. The fans of the show, of the movie, are obsessed with it and know all the details about it and everything, just because it’s different. And Netflix, they didn’t pick this, ‘Well, yes, another franchise from the ’80s.’ It’s not [just] a franchise, it was this one movie that was just so strange that they just picked it.”
Once the series was greenlit, Leterrier, Henson, and the rest of the creative team behind Age of Resistance had a lot of work to do.
“Everything has to be created,” said Leterrier. “And, even months before, we had nothing. We don’t have a set because we cannot go and shoot in the forest. The forest doesn’t exist. It’s a world that we don’t [have yet]… So we have to create the forest. We have to build. Every leaf of grass is created. Every character, the ‘actors,’ they were foam resin, and then became an actor.”
Every commercial storytelling project comes with its share of risk, but, on The Dark Crystal, there is the added pressure of not being able to easily change the design of your characters, who are meticulously-built puppets, or your setting, which has similarly taken a very long time to construct.
“Everything is done by hand,” said Leterrier. “You’re not talking months, you’re talking years. Prepping, looking at the design, deciding on something. When you’re doing a regular movie, you can decide you don’t want to do this, [but] we committed to a design years in advance.”
In this way, making Age of Resistance came without many of the traditional safety nets that are available in mainstream TV and feature film work. Leterrier elaborated: “There’s not a single shot where I don’t have a puppet in my frame. I cannot back up and say, ‘No, no, no, we did it wrong. Let’s change everything.’ We can’t. It’s all puppets.”
Leterrier had a team of artists working under him, including 12 main puppeteers for the principal production of the film. Lisa Henson gave some context for the massive undertaking, explaining: “It is fun when you watch the show and see the amount of handcraft that’s on screen … Pixar does a lot of crafting of the models on their show, but we’re actually having milliners, wig makers, people hand-punching hair into the creatures. Just extraordinary handwork. And so it’s like a maker spectacular.”
Most film and TV projects these days include a great deal of post-productive CG; Leterrier emphasized that the CG in Age of Resistance is there to enhance what was predominately a practical project.
“The world [of The Dark Crystal] is bigger thanks to CG,” said Leterrier. “Everything you see is real, but just, we enhanced it here and there. We shot real locations, but then we put three suns in the sky, changed the mountains, changed the color of the rivers and everything. The puppets, some of them couldn’t blink, so we added the blinking. Stuff like that, you know?”
For Leterrier, who has directed CG-heavy films like The Incredible Hulk and Clash of the Titans, it was a definite change of pace.
“There’s more captured on camera than on any movie I’ve ever done,” said Leterrier. “Really literally anything … Our goal every morning was to say, ‘How do we shoot it [to make it look] real? How do we trick [the eye] with a camera move or an angle?’.”
The casting of voice actors was one of the final parts of the production process, and Age of Resistance has lined up an impressive cast that includes Mark Hamill, Lena Headey, Sigourney Weaver, Benedict Wong, and Awkwafina, among many others. (You can check out the full cast list, as well as other details about the project, here.)
“It’s a dream of a cast,” said Leterrier. “Everyone that signed on was like, ‘Really?’ We were literally asking people that was, ‘Nah, it’s too crazy.’ Everybody that we were like, ‘Let’s ask this person, it’s crazy. Oh, they said yes!'”
The voice recording process began after filming ended, with Leterrier working with the cast for roughly 10,000 hours collectively.
“You cannot improv,” said Leterrier of the voice recording process, putting himself in the shoes of the actors. “That’s the one thing. Actors will work together for animation because they can improv, then they build the animation based on that improv and everything. Here, the problem’s like, ‘We already shot it.’ That’s pretty hard for Taron. He has to match the mouth flaps, the energy, the emotion. We go one line at a time just to focus on these… It’s a very hard thing.”
While Egerton cited the opportunity to work with Leterrier and the uniqueness of the project as enticing factors for actors to sign on, Leterrier noted the lack of glamor involved in the process.
“It’s not the most glamorous of acting jobs,” said Leterrier. “You just meet me in a sub-basement in London, and I’m like, ‘Say those words. No, no. You were too slow. You’re too fast.’ In a sense, it’s pure acting. So all these people signed on, yes … It’s really thanks to Jim Henson and the power of the original movie.”
And how will Age of Resistance fit into the original movie’s story? The prequel series takes place many years before the events of The Dark Crystal film, exploring what happened on Thra that led to the near extinction of the Gelflings.
“It starts in the beginning: the why,” said Leterrier. “What happens to these people, and what tips the world over? That’s really what the show is about.”
“There are some projects that are reboots. This is not a reboot,” added Henson. “This is a prequel, and it’s meant to lead seamlessly into the film, so we were very conscious of anything that was established in the film that we would have to be able to get there eventually in our storytelling.”
Tonally, Egerton said Age of Resistance preserves something essential to the original film.
“I do think melancholy is an intrinsic part of it,” said Egerton, speaking about the original film. “That’s part of the charm of it and the love of it and, so, given the fact that Louis and Lisa and the whole team have set about making this story very much in the spirit of the original, there is an element of melancholy to it. And I think that’s part of its charm. It’s called the Dark Crystal … It’s not the Sound of Music.”
No, The Dark Crystal has never been nor will ever be The Sound of Music or, frankly, like anything else out there, even decades after its initial premiere as a franchise and world.
“There was a lot of [’80s] movies that—thematically, visually, but also in terms of filmmaking—were important,” said Leterrier. “They were bringing cinema forward and taking it to a direction it’d never gone before. The Dark Crystal was really one of these movies. On top of the really different story.”
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance hits Netflix on August 30.
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