A little while ago on a site that shall not be named, I wrote that I believed Netflix was a joke. It managed to destroy Orange Is The New Black, it can’t keep a hold of any of the properties that made it a great place to kick back, it lost Disney and The Office, and it was busy telling white people what’s wrong with them.
Yet in the last two weeks, Netflix has been killing it. First, we have Dave Chappelle’s latest stand up Sticks And Stones that was amazing and now they drop a ten-episode masterpiece on me, The Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance.
Now, I admit I’m a bit of a fan of the original. Saw it in theaters when in 1982 when I was still waiting for my teens to show up. It was captivating. The world was so tactile and alive. Not to mention freaking terrifying at times. Those Garthim. Brrrr.
As franchise rape seems to be the all the rage these days, I was skeptical about watching another childhood memory get destroyed. Thankfully I can say that Netflix knocked it out of the park.
Let’s just get it out of the way right now. How woke is it? Well, that’s hard to say as it depends on what you want to see in it. I would say there was only one thing that was overtly woke. One of the main characters, Deet, has two fathers. The truth is that is barely is a thing in the story. I didn’t even realize it until she reunited with her family somewhere late in the season. I almost wonder if it’s there to shut twitter up.
The society of the Gelfings is very matriarchal. This isn’t really surprising given that the women can fly as was established in the original. The nice thing is that women act like women. Flowing dresses and not throwing around giant Skeksis like it’s nothing. I never felt like there was some sort of cheap girl power message being thrown at me.
So all in all, I would not worry about it too much. If you really want to say because all the leaders are queens it’s woke garbage, fine. But it’s not like England didn’t have some big deal queens back in the day. Victoria wasn’t throwing around Scotsmen like they were nothing. And that doesn’t happen here either.
So now that we’re past that, let’s get into the story. And here is where I wonder if there isn’t a tiny bit of anti-wokeness.
Look, I’m not going to get into a ton of that because you can watch this as it’s intended- damn good prequel to a fantasy adventure.
The Skeksis rule Thra. That’s the first time I knew the name of the world. They are running out of ways to suck the dark crystal of its power and need to come up with something to continue being immortal. The Gelflings serve the Skeksis and in return, the Skeksis give them protection. From what? Well, the Skesis are masters of misinformation.
One Gelfling who lives in the castle as part of the guard witnesses his girlfriend get experimented on by the scientist Skeksis to remove her essence which the bird-lizards can drink and stay young. She literally gets blown to bits in the process.
He escapes, but even he though realizes what the people in power are really all about, they control the information so everyone believes he’s nuts. Oh and don’t dreamfast with him or you’ll get the sick too.
Meanwhile, another tribe of Gelflings lives under the ground in vast caverns. Some of the creatures go nuts and almost kill a female named Deet. She realizes there’s a sickness running through Thra called “The Darkening” and is sent on a quest to warn the rest of the Gelflings.
Deet heads to meet the queen Gelfling over all the tribes. She has three daughters, one of whom has a vision in the library about a coming terror.
These three all have various adventures with a great cast of supporting characters to help. The storylines weave in and out as they all come to the truth of what the Skeksis truly are. The Skeksis, in the meantime, are constantly working on how to use the crystal to more efficiently get Gelfling essence and protect themselves as pretty soon they will have no army left if they drain them all.
Crazy spiders, mind control creatures, a few Mystics show up and even a not-evil Skeksi, which surprised me. In the middle of it all is Aughra, a smart-mouthed wizard/prophet who works the story much like Gandalf.
While there are creatures from the original that show up like Landstriders and the fur-covered giant mouthed Fizzgigs, I never once felt that what was put in the series was a member-berry. We got some explanations of what we saw in the movie but never felt like a “Han Solo gets his name” moment. I was actually very pleased with how organic it all felt.
The production value is astounding. The castle set looked like they never tore the first one down. There is sparse use of CGI here and nearly always used to augment what the puppets are doing.
And what use of puppets there is! My God, I cannot imagine how difficult it was to shoot this. Cameras move around sets fluidly, something that was darn near impossible back in the day. The characters feel and move exactly as they did back in the day but nice little tweaks with computer made the world feel MORE alive, not less. Tongues ripple in the Skeksi’s mouths, eyes blink naturally, puppets are allowed to fly across vistas.
And puppet throwing must’ve been a contest because puppet bodies are flying all over the screen. It never looks silly. But damn, there are moments in this show that are every bit as terrifying as the movie. Maybe more so. Those spiders. Brrrrr.
As much as I love the original movie, it’s a VERY simple story. There’s not a lot there. The characters barely have any growth. I would describe it as good but threadbare.
Not so here. Characters make bad choices and then try to fix them. They have hard character moments, you really feel for them. Even the Podlings are given a bit of depth. The world has so much richness added to it and yet nothing feels forced.
I was very surprised by how good this is. I don’t know if it ends right here, which it almost could but it also leaves me wanting a whole lot more. We’ll see if we get another season but I really hope so.