Marni Hill – With a month left to go before the August 30th release of The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, easily the most ambitious project taken on by the Jim Henson Company in many years, I thought I might share my hopes and expectations for the series. These all stem from my experiences of watching the original 1982 film, along with a recent read-through of J.M Lee’s ongoing novel series.
Narrative and Character
While the original film had beautiful visuals thanks to the decision to build the world from the ground up first, there’s no denying that the narrative was nowhere up to par. The potential was there, so my hope is that the writers for Age of Resistance have taken that potential and flown with it. If J.M Lee’s novels are anything to go by then Thra is in fantastic and safe hands.
One positive factor is that there’s now more established material to work with. We have seven Gelfling clans, eighteen Skeksis with their Mystic counterparts and a completely established map of Thra to explore. Not to mention Aughra, who now that I think about it is a strong female character who goes out of her way to assist in the thick of things whether invasively or not. Who knows what she could get up to in the series?
The diversity of culture has the potential to be outstanding. Each Gelfling lives in their own unique environment and their traditions and practices reflect each climate. A good juxtaposition is the Grottan clan using the acoustics in their tunnels to communicate from far distances, while the Drenchen prefer to gather in communal areas. The depths to which we may be able to see Thra’s differing cultures over the course of 10 hours is exciting. And that’s without touching upon Skeksis and Mystic culture!
Of course, I can’t talk about expectations without getting into character portrayal. It’s no task to admit that the original film set an extremely low bar in this area. Over on my personal blog, I went on a bit of a tangent about Jen being essentially the weakest link in his own movie despite being the main protagonist. He’s an excellent vessel for being the perspective from which the audience is introduced to Thra. The narrative suffers as a result of this. It was never understood why the Mystics, particularly urSu refrained from teaching Jen the skills necessary to complete his fated journey. This kind of negligence from a mentor towards their mentee is what I’ve come to call the “Dumbledore Complex” and fuels my opinion of Kira being more worthy of the main protagonist title since she contributes to driving the narrative forward.
If the characters are as widely explored in the series as they have been in the recent novels, then there is little concern to be had. These are Gelflings whom have grown up in their clans, learning the appropriate skillsets. Certainly not working with a blank slate like Jen and Kira had no choice but to deal with. Watching the Gelfling contributing their individual talents to the fire of conflict will be integral to the story at large.
Something to look forward to is the deeper look we may get into the Skeksis and their culture. Chamberlain made for a decent main antagonist after being ousted by the others in the original film. He provided insight into an individual Skeksis mindset with his greed fuelling his cunning. He placed great pressure on Jen and Kira and this is what we should see in the series too. Not just Chamberlain of course, we have several new Skeksis to meet which will be thrilling. The curveballs these Lords of Thra pitch at the Gelfling will provide the pressure of fear and conflict. You can’t have an Age of Resistance without something to push back against.
Puppetry, Visuals and Music
This is slightly harder to talk about as my expertise is in narrative rather than practical effects or art. However, it doesn’t take being a puppeteer to have hopes and expectations for the performances of these characters. The performers have our full confidence in their skillsets to pull this off and the two trailers we’ve seen already validated our faith. Quite possibly the greatest aspect of the original film was how traditional and technological puppetry was used throughout. With the addition of modern CGI to assist where practical effects simply can’t be applied, we’re in for visual treat.
The vocal performances will also be a breath of fresh air. No offense to the voice actors from the first film (Aughra, Chamberlain and skekTek being the exceptions), but I honestly couldn’t take the voices seriously, especially Jen. With people like Mark Hamill and Caitriona Balfe, it’s all in good hands. The most essential element is of course the puppetry and vocal performances coming together in perfect sync. I’m already in love with the symmetry of Donna Kimball as Aughra’s voice and her performers (I couldn’t find their name so forgive me!) performance, so I think we’ll be fine in that regard.
Daniel Pemberton and Samuel Sim have been listed as the show’s composers and they have a lot of ground to cover in order to match up to Trevor Jones. The score in the original film dragged you into the world with a sharp-nailed grip, not unlike a Skeksis clutching onto an unwitting Podling. Jones’ score often had the task of carrying the films narrative since the characters clearly weren’t doing such a great job of that. As already mentioned, this shouldn’t be an issue with the series. I can only hope that the soundtrack is as rich and vibrant in order to simply enhance the story rather than drag the narrative kicking and screaming.
It goes without saying that my greatest hope, my intense expectation for The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is the upholding of Jim Henson’s vision of Thra. A deeply interconnected, interwoven mix of flora and fauna, all living for each other, basking in the Song of the Crystal of Truth. The characters are out of this world, but the emotions and experiences are exceedingly, desperately human and we as the audience can connect and resonate with that.
So, which clan will you be joining in the Age of Resistance?
I’m more of a Sifa Gelfling myself!