‘The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance’ puts you in a magical world of cute puppets, ugly puppets, scary puppets
Netflix’s trippy prequel to the 1982 fantasy film looks unreal on purpose.
Listen, I know you watch Netflix on your iPad or even on your magic phone sometimes, and that’s OK if you’re bingeing “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” or checking out a new stand-up special from Whitney Cummings or Dave Chappelle.
But I implore you: If at all possible, please watch the Netflix original series “The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance” on the biggest visual canvas possible.
It will blow. You. Away.
And I say this as someone who isn’t a hardcore fan of the type of puppetry pioneered by Jim Henson and Frank Oz in the 1982 fantasy adventure feature “The Dark Crystal,” and taken to the next level in the 10-part Netflix series, which serves as a prequel to the original film.
10 hourlong episodes premiere Friday on Netflix.
There’s no denying the incredible talent and creativity that goes into the creation and manipulation of the creepy-cute puppets that are completely and deliberately artificial and yet often have an anthropomorphic empathy. You’re somehow freaked out and charmed simultaneously.
You don’t have to be familiar with the 1982 film (which debuted to mixed reviews and not-great box office, but has become a cult favorite over the years) to enjoy the prequel, as the set-up is laid out in voice-over narration from Sigourney Weaver.
Produced by the Jim Henson Co., “The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance” is a little bit “Lord of the Rings,” a little bit “Game of Thrones,” a little bit “Avatar,” but mostly has its own unique place in the fantasy universe.
The story unfurls in the magical and beautiful and wondrous world of Thra, populated by a dizzying array of humanoid beings and colorful and (sometimes quite disgusting-looking) creatures ranging from the very tiny and adorable to the enormous and hideous and terrifying.
The primary species are the most human-like, or at least elf-like: the Gelflings, a peaceful and passive group consisting of seven different clans, each living in a separate city or valley or forest or cave.
For the last 2,000 trine (Thra-speak for a time unit something like a year), the Gelflings have lived under the rule of the Skeksis, a tribe of nauseatingly ugly, giant bird-beings that are the “protectors” of the Crystal of Truth, which is the source of all power and energy and is basically the glimmering heart of the entire Thra world.
The Gelflings pay crippling tithes to the Skeksis and literally bow in gratitude for the Skeksis guarding the Crystal — but in truth, the evil and awful Skeksis have been sapping the Crystal of its strength, literally absorbing its magic into their beings in a quest to live for a thousand trine or longer.
Curse you, Skeksis!
Of course, a story such as this requires some unlikely but brave, ragtag antiheroes who will defy traditions, ignore the warnings of the elders, etc., etc., to embark on a great quest and will eventually rise up against the seemingly unbeatable and mighty oppressors.
In this case, Gelflings from very different backgrounds named Rian (voiced by Taran Egerton of “Rocketman”), Deet (Nathalie Emmanuel from “Game of Thrones”) and Brea (Anya Taylor-Joy), are among those leading the charge.
A host of other familiar names, from Mark Hamill to Simon Pegg to Awkwafina, give voice to various characters.
The voice work is particularly important, given the visuals are about far away from the “photo-real” school of animation as seen in “The Lion King.” The whole idea here is for the creatures and the CGI to look markedly unrealistic, as if we’re in the audience for the most amazing and elaborate puppet show the world has ever known.
Political metaphors and messages about the environment abound, but it’s not as if we’re being lectured. “The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance” is primarily a screen-popping plunge into pure escapist fantasy, filled with trippy imagery and gorgeous landscapes. It’s a series of memorable dreams punctuated by the occasional nightmare.