Like most works that are ahead of their time, The Dark Crystal was initially met with confusion upon its release in December 1982. Co-directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz, the film was a shocking experience for families who expected Muppet-esque warmth and were instead thrust into the dark fantasy world of Thra. For this was a picture that dealt with adult themes like genocide and featured one of the decade’s most notorious sources of nightmare fodder in the form of the Skeksis, the movie’s ultra-creepy villains.
Although moderately successful upon release, the movie was hardly the cultural touchstone Henson was hoping for. The Dark Crystal had long been a passion project for him, and even though it underperformed, he was unwilling to abandon the fantasy genre.
Naturally, a film as weird as The Dark Crystal, complete with its all-puppet cast and sometimes unsettling set-pieces, was destined for cult status. Recent years have seen the release of comics, novels, and toys that expand the saga’s universe. As great as these tie-ins are, they can’t quite recapture the magic of the original, live action Dark Crystal. However, the wait for such wonderment will be over on Aug. 30, when the 10-part series The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance premieres on Netflix. A prequel to the original film, it’s set in a time when Gelfling culture was thriving and chronicles the adventures of Rian, Brea, and Deet, new characters tasked with fighting the Skeksis in the hope of saving their civilization.
Executive producer Lisa Henson explains that the new series builds upon her father’s original work by expanding the universe of The Dark Crystal, one that has possibilities far beyond these 10 episodes. “It feels like a classic fantasy world where you’re aware of its history,” she says. “In that sense it’s a little bit like a Middle-earth or Narnia, you feel like this is a place that you could visit, revisit, and see different parts of it and different places in time.”
Indeed, Age of Resistance aims to provide some backstory for Thra and its inhabitants, but it will do so by navigating around the pitfalls that have cursed so many other prequels. Director Louis Leterrier (The Incredible Hulk, Clash of the Titans) cites the original Dark Crystal as one of the works that first captured his imagination and made him want to tell stories for a living. “Forever I’ve carried this movie in my heart,” he says wistfully. His fondness for the source material resulted in his taking up “respect the fans” as his mantra during the series’ two-year production period. This unwillingness to change Thra’s aesthetic meant doing Age of Resistance as a CGI-heavy production was never a serious option.
“My very first instinct was that you’re not going to go back to the world of The Dark Crystal and change it up,” Leterrier says. “You can enhance it, do stuff that Jim Henson would have done—add tongues, winks, things to enhance the expression of some of the puppets and help wide shots—but don’t do it without puppets, otherwise it’s not The Dark Crystal.”
Henson adds: “We have a really nice balance going with the majority of the character performances all done in puppetry. I think people will be surprised by how dynamic the show feels because you might have a preconception that puppets can’t do very much compared to animated characters.” She also mentions that there will be some post-production CGI tweaking done to remove visible puppeteers who were operating several large-scale characters and other minor changes, but essentially the project remains “pure puppetry.”
Voiceovers from the likes of Taron Egerton, Anya Taylor-Joy, Mark Hamill, Helena Bonham Carter, Simon Pegg, Natalie Dormer, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Andy Samberg gives Age of Resistance some real star power, enhancing its appeal to those who may not be familiar with the 1982 film.
Fans of the franchise will be thrilled to learn that Brian Froud, the designer and illustrator who helped create the look of the original, has returned for this production, joined by his wife Wendy (whom he met and married during the production of The Dark Crystal) and their artist son Toby. The trio’s involvement is another example of legacy contributors helping to shape the saga’s future while maintaining visual continuity between both projects.
“All three Frouds were the lead design team [on Age of Resistance], and it was just fantastic to have that connection to the past,” Henson says. “They remain extremely innovative and edgy as a group of artists even today. They were constantly surprising us and amazing us with what they were doing on behalf of the series.”
Both Henson and Leterrier hope this new series is just the start of many new Dark Crystal projects, citing the limitless story potential of this epic world. “I’m just the torch carrier,” Leterrier states, “I’m one of hopefully many directors who will continue exploring Thra for many years to come.”
Ultimately though, Leterrier is humbled by the project.
“It’s not Louis Leterrier’s The Dark Crystal. It’s Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal,” says the director. “I’m just a director. I’m happy to be the director and pay homage to the incredible artist Jim Henson was.”
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