'The Dark Crystal' reappears in an age of CGI and Netflix. How will it fare?

18.06.2019, 11:48

It won't be to everyone's taste, but it will be fascinating to see the world of The Dark Crystal step back into people's minds after so long. That's right, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, a brand new series is coming to Netflix this August (and you can get a free Netflix subscription here at Prizes Drop, if you sign up and start completing our micro-tasks;) Many kids of the 1980s recall being quite disconcerted, or in fact scared out of their wits, by a surprisingly mature fairy-tale vision from the makers of the Muppets. It was confusing to see muppet-style characters mixing with a much darker, more menacing storyline about two races severed by a powerful, yet subverted, fractured crystal. There are some vividly realised elements that could give nightmares to viewers who'd gone to see some lighter entertainment (and long before digital effects).



However... this was also a time of vivid fantasy arriving onto screens. Many movies were experimenting or testing their audience with fantasy and effects, because sales of video tapes could still turn them into influential, cult classics over time. There were daring, visionary film-makers with successes or experiences already under their belt like Jim Henson and George Lucas who were genuinely inspired by the fairy-tale possibilities of movies. They were taking risks and blurring the lines of young and old audience expectations. And... as we know, audiences ultimately respect this. We like not being patronised or too sanitised, if it's all in a worthy cause. Besides, the better fairy-tales usually have something menacing or scary in them.


Check out the original trailer:



Indeed, The Dark Crystal was a worthy cause. It was pure, other-wordly imaginative fantasy, without too many fairies either. Sci-fi movies like Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, also made in 1982 were drawing viewers away from the present. There was something lost and fascinating about The Dark Crystal's world and the creatures it presented, and certainly there're still many vibrant post-70s echoes in its message about power, corruption and energy. The soundtrack was rich and resonant, from composer Trevor Jones, who also made soundtracks for Excalibur and Labyrinth, two other '80s cult classics. Also, the design was ambitious and infused with the work of UK fantasy artist Brian Froud, who continues to draw amazing fairy-world artwork and books today. His collaboration with Jim Henson and Frank Oz would help colour and define the world of the Dark Crystal with a great scope of imagination and character.


In this still non-digital, no-CGI time, movie-makers used models and puppets as they learned the art of special effects. Star Wars was full of models and puppets, including from Jim Henson's Creature Workshop, a famous one (Yoda) operated by Frank Oz himself and co-director of the Dark Crystal.  As a result, the atmosphere generated was much more realistic than the over-the-top CGI additions we see today. Puppets had a huge presence, where nowadays computers have mostly replaced them. That's a little sad. Back then, the results were mind-blowing and hyper-real, because everyone could sense that movies and video-games were just getting started. Now, we're almost saturated with less artfully-prepared fantasy and where super-hero instalments are two-a-penny. Not in every case, but in many.



So it's a relief to see puppets back in action in The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, the new Netflix series. Many will be watching to see the glory of atmosphere return to fantasy again, and to witness how well any CGI elements might be used a little in tandem. It will be a prequel to The Dark Crystal, set again on the planet Thra, but where we get to find out more about the beautiful Gelfling culture that was once lost. What's great is that, if successful, the series should end up adding more depth to the original film. We also get some star voice talent including Mark Hamill, Helena Bonham-Carter, Eddie Izzard and Simon Pegg.


Hopefully, the series will please Frank Oz and Brian Froud, and complement the memory and efforts of Jim Henson, to see his vision live on, in this long-overdue offering, released onto Netflix soon.





There will also be a video game: The Dark Crystal Age of Resistance Tactics , released for all platforms in 2019.




And, for more dedicated fans of the original film, you can watch this hour-long documentary about its creation, which does convey a deeper appreciation of the process involved.



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