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The Return of The Dark Crystal

Movies and TV shows featuring puppets often occupy a special place in people’s hearts as they remember watching them over and over again throughout the years, revisiting the characters at different points in their lives. A favourite puppet-led production since its release in 1982, The Dark Crystal has kept loyal fans enthralled for decades. The good news is that Netflix have partnered with original creator Jim Henson’s Creature Shop to bring audiences a brand new story of the Gelflings and the Skeksis.

The programme has been available on Netflix, in its entirety, since 30th August but it’s only now that people are beginning to catch up with all ten 50-minute long episodes of the season. The question is, does it live up to the hype?

The Original

When The Dark Crystal premiered in 1982, it received mixed reviews. Some viewers didn’t understand the scope and depth attempted by the film, all through the art of puppetry. Many reviews labelled it as a flop but, despite this, it gained a hardcore set of devoted fans. It went on to gross over $40 mln at the box office and remains one of the highest grossing puppet animated films ever made. The technical mastery displayed by the puppeteers and the painstakingly precise creation of characters like Jen and Kira was unlike anything attempted before. Jim Henson himself said that they were aiming for a ‘sense of realism’ with the movie and it’s still up there with some of the most lifelike puppet creations in modern film.

The film went on to be nominated for a BAFTA Award (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) for Best Special Visual Effects and won a Saturn Award (Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA) for Best Fantasy Film.

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance

So, what’s different about the new Netflix show? Audiences find themselves back in the land of Thra, but this time the action takes place several years before the storyline of the original film. The Gelflings are still the stars of the show, with Rocketman’s Taron Egerton voicing Rian and relative newcomer Anya Taylor-Joy voicing Brea. Gelflings, Skeksis and urRu make up the majority of the cast, as before, with a veritable who’s-who of Hollywood’s acting elite providing voiceover material for the characters, including Game of Thrones’ Nathalie Emmanuel and Natalie Dormer, Harry Potter’s Jason Issacs and Helena Bonham-Carter, Star Trek’s Simon Pegg and Star Wars’ Mark Hamill. There’s also Awkwafina, Andy Samberg, Bill Hader and Eddie Izzard on the cast list – wow!

The storyline follows three Gelflings as they incite rebellion against the evil Skeksis and fight for the existence of their species. Expect plenty of thrills and spills balanced out with the spiritual angle that made Henson’s The Dark Crystal so engaging the first time around.

Puppet Tech

In an age where you can now assemble a full CGI adventure using just bare bones animation software on your home computer, it’s refreshing to see Netflix and Jim Henson’s Creature Shop get back to basics with live puppetry. These days, we live in an instant gratification culture. I know that, when I’m looking around for ways to spend my leisure time, I turn to DuoLingo’s 40+ language learning options, Sporcle quizzes or the PokerStarsCasino library of online games. These sites give me instant access to the entertainment I crave, which is fantastic, but it’s also good to slow down every once in a while and go ‘analog’.

This is exactly what the cast and crew did on set for The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. Using puppetry techniques pioneered by Jim Henson himself whilst making the iconic original film, the team developed new methods to make the characters even more lifelike. Whilst they added in some CGI environmental touches in post-production, every other part of the show is made up of real life puppets and set design. Director Louis Leterrier has spoken of wanting the CGI to be “rooted” in reality, so as not to alienate viewers and perpetuate the hyper-realistic world of Thra. This kept computer animation to a bare minimum and really let the puppets shine.

Ones to Watch

Still craving some puppet action even after you’ve binge-watched the entire Age of Resistance series? The good news is that puppets are having something of a renaissance. Just look at last year’s The Happytime Murders, starring Melissa McCarthy and focusing on a cast of Muppets-like puppets. There was also the Muppets Most Wanted of 2014, also featuring an all-star cast and cashing in over $80 mln worldwide. It remains to be seen just what will happen in the future, now that The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance has proven that puppetry has a place in the modern era of film and TV.