There’s a special place in my mind for Jim Henson. Both Dark Crystal and Labyrinth came out when I was a child, and their mix of horror, fantasy, and comedy was just right. Labyrinth is the story of character growth (and where I developed a crush on Jennifer Connelly), and the ending itself is finite. Plus there’s no way to replace the Goblin King!
Dark Crystal though. That the story about an entire world, and childlike discovery. The Jim Henson Company had a contest for pre-quel books (in 2013) and eventually scored a deal with Netflix for a series. It’s entirely puppets, with a few CG elements to blend. It is rare that I watch something that’s related to my youth and I get quality flashbacks, or similar feels. Age of Resistance had entire sections where you completely forget you’re watching puppets – and you’re just engrossed.
The series can certainly be enjoyed if you never watched the classic. The lore setting is explained through various means – including a very important scene in episode 7. It also doesn’t take long to get going on the main plot point… with only a few spots where the pacing feels a bit off. I’m not sure how much influence Netflix had on the storyline, but the habit of “multiple character points, converging at the end” is certainly present. Compared to the recent season of Stranger Things, Dark Crystal has some merit in every separate storyline. And when it reaches the final episode, it ends on a note that allows both a second season and a fairly consistent line to the original film.
What really sets this apart though is the puppeteers. In every other form of visual media, the actors with the voice provide the non-verbal structure. Animations are filmed after voice recordings after all. Here though, the scenes are first filmed and then dubbed over. The nuances in movement…small shakes, twitches, even the larger gestures all feel real. Like you could reach through the TV and touch them. We haven’t had that type of fantasy in over 30 years.
The set design, the puppets, the music – all of it falls into the classic style, with Brian Froud around for a lot of the art direction. It feels almost like lost footage. Highly recommended.