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The Dark Crystal created by Jim Henson and Frank Oz in 1982 for me was a great experience when I came across it as a child. So I share the impressions of many younger (and older, of course, too) viewers who, watching the dolls brought to life by Henson, fell in love with the magical and effectively terrifying world of Thra. It is said that, compared to Henson’s other works, Dark Crystal is the most humane movie. Puppetry art made it possible to present a dark and brutal world – not only by giving a huge imagination boost, but also respecting young viewers by treating them like adults and showing the world without censorship softening the story.

One could get an impression that there are few “childhood films” that age as gently as Dark Crystal. As I return to it after years, it still suprises, draws my attention and scares me. And what is more important – the world is still alive. Jeffrey Addiss and Will Matthews, the creators of The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, the TV prequel movie available since August 30th on Netflix, faced a serious task with their hard-working team. As we know, satisfying nostalgia for an irretrievably lost part of youth – the unique experience of a screening, movie projection – or getting out of the way of mad fans who remember every detail in detail, is something extremely difficult (as shown in the case of Star Wars, regardless of which side we stand on).

The 10-episode series, however, does not make mistakes of other productions which tended to play on our sentiment. The creators do not strive to build something new, very clearly embedding their story in a world that we know well[1]. They stand on the viewer’s side. Perhaps this is due to the series of books[2] on basis of which Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance was created. In the script, which is their adaptation, one can feel the heart and devout respect of a fan who knows perfectly well how much he can interfere in a world that does not belong to him.

The Jim Henson Company

So we will see the Gelfling and get to know their habits better, we will smile at the Podling-triflers, we will learn the mysterious power of the eccentric prophetess, Aughra, and we will be drawn into a network of Skeksis intrigues – Skeksis who not only destroy Thra, striving to achieve immortality, but also plot among themselves. In other words, we will slowly discover how the world known from the movie came to frighten us so effectively.

The great advantage of Dark Crystal (both film and TV series) is its universality. After all, it is a story about the destructive attributes of power, infinite, unreasonable greed disrespecting environment, about how a small group of interests pursue their goals at the expense of many. Sounds familiar? The Skeksis – the personification of materialism and the pursuit of power – are a reflection of our own greedy reptiles, who bleed our Earth dry.

The series shows even more clearly than the original that the hope of changing the world is built at the expense of enormous effort and work. Achieving unity is something very difficult, because you can meet traitors in your own ranks and convincing even one person to the matter is a challenge. What’s more, what hope can we have if we anticipate – at least those who saw the movie – what can happen along the way?

By creating the Skeksis and their good counterparts, Mystics, Henson made a Manichean-like move, marking a clear division between good and evil. But the Dark Crystal does not allow us to forget that this division is not something natural. To fully be a human is to have different emotions and desires and to strive, in the Aristotelian style, for the golden mean. The series, in turn, shows that this nature is not something predetermined, but it is the result of our choices. And these choices (I am pointing to the character of Heretic) are able to change us.

One must admit that Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance copes well with character creation. Compared to the original story, Skeksis are much better outlined, each of them having its their own character, political games, and mutual animosities are much better visible. The Gelfling community divided into seven tribes reflects our own distrust of ethnic differences and the difficulty of making contact as equals.

It is worth mentioning that the series has great autothematic awareness. In particular I  have in mind the seventh episode in which mutual Skeksis and Mystics anthropogenic myth is presented by the counterparts using puppetry art. I am not going to spoil the experience of watching the series, so I stop here. I am only pointing out that the dolls are gaining additional causative power at this point. Here, in a sense, they break free from the puppeteer’s power, taking over their role themselves and creating their own story using the same tools.

One can have doubts about some decisions, e.g. when it comes to one of the main characters, Rian, and his relationship with others (especially with women), but the only major complaint that I have as a fan of the original movie is the use of CGI to improve animation. Of course, I realize that creating a 10-hour production using dolls is an extremely difficult task, requiring the cooperation of a huge team, but there is something in CGI improved animation that steals some of the magic present in 1982’s Dark Crystal. Paradoxically, fluent, computer-assisted puppeteer movements, a pilot responsible for eye-ball movements, controlled by a technician who must interact with the actor behind the doll – it’s all spectacular, but so vivid that it sometimes takes us away from the presented world.

The movement of the dolls, which in the original sometimes lacked the fluidity and dynamics to which CGI got us used to, at the same time gave the impression of being different. After all, we have a completely different world ahead of us, pure fantasy poured onto the medium of film. This physical inconsistency made the dolls seem alive, escaping the puppeteer’s power. In the series, this difference is missing.

Despite this accusation, a return to one of the worlds more important for my childhood I consider successful. Thra can still impress, the amount of work done, even if computer-assisted, is enormous and deserves respect. Besides, after the screening of the series – even though I know the movie well – I can still delude myself, anticipating the next seasons of Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, that, like our poor Earth, the Gelflings still may have time to change Thra’s fate.

[1] Or we come across it for the first time. There must be a little difference. Those who saw the original movie know how the story in the series must end. Others who may reach for The Dark Crystal for the first time will have an unique experience – and perhaps even a shock before them.

[2] It was a direct result of the competition conducted by The Jim Henson Company. The task was to select an author who would create a new novel set in the world of crystal, preceding the events known from the original movie. The competition was won by J.M. Lee. The latest in the series, the fourth book to date, Flame of the Dark Crystal, was released in the US in April this year.

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Mateusz Tarwacki

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