If anybody had told me five years ago that 2019’s hottest new fantasy show would be a spinoff of Jim Henson’s cult classic The Dark Crystal, I probably would have questioned their sanity. I’ve long had a fondness for the original film and even appeared as a guest on the Trial by Stone podcast. Nevertheless, Dark Crystal seemed destined to remain a niche fandom. The film came out the year I was born and wasn’t a particularly big box office hit. Moreover, the movie characters are all puppets; a fantasy epic without people doesn’t exactly scream marketability.
Fortunately, we live in a wonderful, bizarre world in which Netflix is prepared to give talented artists millions of dollars to bring their crazy visions to life. And make no mistake, Age of Resistance is a testament to the human imagination. Like the original film, the 10-episode show has only puppet characters (no humans appear on screen). The Henson Company’s uncanny ability to bring these puppets to life, combined with Louis Leterrier’s deft directing, make this show a sumptuous visual feast unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. While my brain knew that the objects on the screen were inanimate puppets, my heart knew them as real, living beings. I watched the show on a 65-inch 4k TV, which allows you to see every detail, and the illusion was never broken.
Age of Resistance does a great job serving as a prequel to the original Dark Crystal and building upon the lore, while at the same time updating the storytelling for modern audiences. The Netflix show is much more humorous than the original film, but it also doesn’t shy away from the darkness and brutality of Henson’s vision. That’s refreshing given that Henson very much believed children’s stories shouldn’t be “dumbed down” or sanitized for children. Although the violence pales in comparison to Game of Thrones, characters do die, and you’d have to have a heart of stone to not shed a tear during some scenes. At the same time, there are characters included primarily for the purposes of comic relief (Hup the podling is a delight). Overall, Age of Resistance manages to balance the tone pretty well. It treats its characters with respect and isn’t afraid of sentimentality, but never takes itself so seriously that it forgets to have fun.
My one regret about the show is that it rarely slows down. There are so many new races and creatures, so many stunning landscapes, so much to see within every single frame that I would have liked more time to savor it all. Although I’m sure many viewers today might find the deliberate pacing of the original The Dark Crystal film too slow, I relished the opportunity to study each scene while listening to the bombastic soundtrack. I certainly plan to rewatch Age of Resistance so I can appreciate all the details and artistry.
As I watched Age of Resistance, I couldn’t help but wonder what Jim Henson would think of this show. Henson had a vision of an epic fantasy world so bizarre that it could only be brought to life using puppets. The resulting film was probably too bizarre for audiences in the 1980s and performed poorly at the box office. Age of Resistance feels like the best sort of redemption. It’s gotten glowing reviews from mainstream media outlets and fans alike. Hopefully, the show also revitalizes interest in puppetry and practical effects.