Netflix Review – The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance – The Scariest Thing I’ve Seen in Years

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.

SUMMARY

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.

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Let’s assume this has already been airbrushed on a van.

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.

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The part where our leads are basically the last of their kind bodes poorly for their parents.

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.

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As opposed to the mystics who are mostly just goofy.

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.

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They are also just dicks most of the time. Like… total dicks. 

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. 

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The one on the right with the spoon is even a Paladin.

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.

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Also puppet swordfights.

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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42) Farewell, Mr. Hooper – Episode 15.4 (Sesame Street)

Sesame Street, the show, is what happens when people love children enough to try and help them grow up into better people… if that person has puppetry skills that have reached the point where puppets are no longer creepy. Jim Henson did not technically create Sesame Street, but he’s the reason you know what it is. When asked, Henson was more than willing to support the goals of the show: To promote the education of children. In fact, Sesame Street was the first children’s show to actually study the effects of educational television programming, largely to reevaluate and reconstruct the show to increase the impact. In short, Sesame Street wanted to teach kids stuff, while entertaining them with Muppets. While some of the Muppets would also try to work in some more adult fare later, the Street remains for kids (though some of their recent parodies, while still innocent, are hilarious to adults).

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They did a Game of Thrones parody. That’s pretty adult.

One of the original human characters on the show was Mr. Harold Hooper (Will Lee), the owner of “Hooper’s Store.” Hooper’s store was one of the few places on the show where Muppets and humans were allowed to interact in-between cartoons and Muppet segments, which usually showcased the slightly more complex personalities of the humans in contrast to the childlike personalities of the Muppets. Unlike most of the human characters on the show, Mr. Hooper was capable of being in a bad mood. Of course, he was always still a good person deep down, because it’s Sesame Street. He was, however, one of the few people who would ever get mad at Big Bird (Carroll Spinney), mostly because Bird would never get his name right. Mr. Hooper was also a believer in continuing education, once telling the people on Sesame Street, and thus the audience and their parents, that it was never too late to go back to school, which he later proved by getting his G.E.D. He was one of the more “real” people on Sesame Street, in that he seemed to have a wider range of feelings, and that would sometimes make him the emotional core of an episode. Sadly, Mr. Hooper was pretty old when the show started and, 13 years later, Will Lee died of a heart attack.

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He didn’t like taking any of Ernie’s shenanigans.

At the time, the usual practice for such a development would be to either re-cast the character or to have Mr. Hooper “move away.” The writers of the show decided instead to take this tragedy as an opportunity to try something new, and chose to teach the kids about death. Fortunately, they didn’t take this responsibility lightly, and consulted experts in child psychology, child development, and even religion and spirituality to make sure they managed to get the message across without traumatizing the audience. On Thanksgiving Day, 1983, a full year after Mr. Hooper died in real life, the show decided to tell the kids about how death works. Thanksgiving wasn’t a coincidence, either. They chose that day to ensure that there would likely be adults around to help the kids if they got sad.

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R.I.P. you beautiful man.

SUMMARY

Most of the episode was perfectly normal, honestly. Cartoons, Kermit, the guest was Madeleine Kahn (I miss her, too) and the letter was J. The first few human/Muppet segments were designed specifically to set up for the big lesson in the episode. At the beginning, Muppet Forgetful Jones is helped by human Gordon (Roscoe Orman) to remember something that makes him happy, which counters forgetting something that makes you sad. In another segment, Big Bird walks backwards with his head between his legs. When asked why, he says “just because,” which is sometimes the only answer there is. Big Bird overhears the adults talking about a new baby that’ll be visiting the street, and Big Bird remarks that the thing about babies is that one day they aren’t here, then the next day they are. This was a clever, elaborate, but extremely subtle build up to the main segment.

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R.I.P. you beautiful woman.

The episode continues as normal, but the next time the scene shifts to the brownstones, Big Bird brings the adults drawings he made of all of them (actually drawn by the woman inside the bird). When he gets to Mr. Hooper’s drawing, Bird says that he’ll give it to Mr. Hooper when he gets back. The adults tell Big Bird that Mr. Hooper isn’t coming back. This is the moment in the show when the adults watching might notice that something is off. The adults then tell Big Bird that Mr. Hooper has died, and can never come back. As they say this, they’re tearing up in the same way that they would when trying to explain it to a child. Bird naturally doesn’t understand at first, and is saddened by the news that Mr. Hooper won’t be around anymore.  The other adults make sure to tell Big Bird that they love him, and that they will help take care of him now that Mr. Hooper isn’t around (Hooper sold Bird his seed). Big Bird asks one of the hardest questions any child, or any person, would ever have about death: “Why does it have to be this way? Give me one good reason!” and receives the only response he can: “It has to be this way… just because.” Big Bird looks at Mr. Hooper’s picture and sadly says “I’m going to miss you, Mr. Looper.”

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If you aren’t crying, you aren’t human.

At the end of the episode, Bird hangs Mr. Hooper’s picture next to his nest and goes to see the new baby from before, ending the episode with death’s counter-point, life:

You know, the one thing is about new babies, one day they’re not here and next day, here they are!

END SUMMARY

Just to ensure that they’d done their jobs, Children’s Television Workshop did a poll and found that almost ¾ of the children above age 3 who watched the show understood the basics of death and loss now. Yes, they managed to convey one of the hardest concepts to internalize for humanity at a rate higher than we currently are able to convey basic math at that age. Or maybe any age. If we had let these people write our school curriculum, we’d have created the Star Trek Federation by now.

PREVIOUS – 43: The Simpsons

NEXT – 41: Peanuts

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

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