Netflix gives us a prequel to Jim Henson’s film The Dark Crystal and it captures the spirit, imagination, and pants-crapping horror of the original.
The Planet Thra is a living entity which shares its life force with all of its creatures through the Crystal of Truth, a mass of concentrated energy. Of all of the lifeforms on Thra, the most favored are the Gelflings, a race of small humanoids who ruled over most of the planet through their seven kingdoms. A thousand years ago, two new races arrived on Thra, the Uru Mystics and the Bird-like Skeksis, cracking the crystal in the process. The Mystics secluded themselves and studied the mysteries of Thra while the Skeksis took control of the Crystal of Truth and started to drain the energy from it, causing it to become the Dark Crystal. As the custodians of the Crystal, the Skeksis rule over the Gelflings, who believe them to be benevolent and immortal. However, the Skeksis have discovered that they can make themselves nigh-indestructible by consuming the essence, the life and soul, of Gelflings. It’s up to three Gelflings – Rian, the Warrior (Taron Egerton), Brea, the Princess of Knowledge (Anna Taylor-Joy), and Deet, the underground seer (Nathalie Emmanuel) – to stop the Skekis’ plan to devour their world.
END SUMMARY (Spoilers for the original film The Dark Crystal)
If you haven’t seen the original film The Dark Crystal, I honestly cannot recommend watching it first. As this is a prequel, I think that it might be better to watch this series and then watch the film to see how eventually the whole conflict resolves. If you have, however, seen the film, then you will know from the beginning that this story wasn’t going to be super happy.
The Dark Crystal was a pretty dark venture for a movie made by the guy who brought us The Muppets. Jim Henson was pretty honest from the beginning that he intended the film to be terrifying to children. He believed that it should be a throwback to the original Grimms’ Fairy Tales, because, much like Secret of Nimh director Don Bluth, he thought children benefited from being scared as long as they got a happy ending. This theory was fully tested in The Dark Crystal, which starts off with a showing of the horrifying Skeksis and only gets worse from there.
The Skeksis are one of the best villains ever created for a children’s movie/TV Show, because they’re simultaneously horrifying and cartoonish. They’re essentially giant, clumsy vultures with absurd voices that often act so over-the-top in their indulgence of vice that they seem almost harmless, right until they reveal that they are doing things that would make Cobra Commander blush. In the movie, that includes torturing sentient creatures, eating said creatures, genetically creating monstrosities, and, oh yeah, drinking the life-force of Gelflings to stay young. In the film, it’s implied that they’ve killed and devoured most of the Gelflings for this purpose. This show is the beginning of that process and contains some of the most grim and genuinely horrifying implications of it, ranging from forcing Gelflings to betray their own kind for safety to making it clear that they’re not just eating the Gelflings, but sucking their total souls away and condemning them to eternal torment. Some of the scenes genuinely made me feel scared, despite the acts happening to puppets. Seriously, my stomach churned with the screams.
The main narrative of the show is the traditional fantasy fare, with all of the characters going on a quest across the various realms of the world of Thra, with a number of side characters undergoing their own arcs. Much like with the film, a lot of the character arcs actually belong to the Skeksis and their internal politics, particularly the rise and fall of the Chamberlain skekSil (Simon Pegg) from his position as the favorite of the Emperor skekSo (Jason Isaacs). We also deal with the conflicts between the seven kingdoms of the Gelflings, particularly of the All-Maudra, the queen of the race (Helena Bonham-Carter). Basically, this is more a story about the world of Thra and its eventual fate than of any of the characters. Despite this, most of the characters are distinct and well-crafted, even though they’re mostly archetypes.
The puppetry is what you would expect from the Jim Henson Company and the set pieces are wonderful. The sheer size of the world they created and all of the creatures that populate it is a worthy expansion from the source.
Overall, I think this was a great prequel to the film, even if, by implication, stuff’s gonna go bad from here. We haven’t quite gotten to the events of the movie, so they could still make more episodes of this, and hopefully will, but whether they do or not this was well made. I enjoyed it.
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