SUNDERED AND UNDONE
Most people think they’ve seen Jim Henson’s 1982 masterpiece The Dark Crystal when you ask them about it.
“Yeah, with Bowie right?” is the typical response until you start describing The Dark Crystal,
“All puppets, no humans, fantasy, kind of like Lord of the Rings.”
Surprisingly a lot of people won’t even know what you’re talking about. They know Jim Henson and the Muppets and Labyrinth, but when it comes to The Dark Crystal, the film that Jim Henson himself called “the one that I’m the most proud of” they draw a long blank.
The Dark Crystal, takes place in a mythical world, where no humans live, as two elf-like creatures called Gelflings set out on a quest to heal their land from a growing darkness. That’s the general setup. When the film premiered in 1982, (a watershed year for many films) it did so quietly, to financial disappointment. It would go on to garner a cult following being screened on VHS, and DVD in the years after it’s debut.
1990 saw the death of Muppet mastermind and legend Jim Henson at the very young age of 53. With Henson’s death, original Henson films and projects would eventually slow down, leading to the subsequent selling of The Muppets to Disney for safekeeping. Fifteen years after Jim’s death, would come the announcement of Power of The Dark Crystal, a new sequel to the original film, utilizing puppetry and state-of-the-art digital imagery to bring the world of Thra back to life.
Power of The Dark Crystal would never see the light of day as a film, despite onslaught the cult fan base of the original film would become over the news. The controversial sequel would spend nearly 13 years in development hell before releasing as a comic series in 2017. In the intervening years the Henson company, dutifully managed by Jim’s children would begin an ongoing celebration of The Dark Crystal, starting with fan films and writing contests.
For some leaders in the small but loyal Dark Crystal fanbase, the consistent engagement of fans by the Henson company seemed to suggest something else was happening.
“It was very surprising seeing the engagement from The Jim Henson Company and fans of The Dark Crystal with the launch of DarkCrystal.com and having contests with writing, drawing and even film making as well. When the author quest was announced with plans of having Dark Crystal novels, there was some hope of big things to come, though we as fans never imagined what would come on May 2017”
Philip Mitchell, founder and host of Trial By Stone: The Dark Crystal Podcast.
In May of 2017, Netflix announced a ten hour prequel series to Henson’s The Dark Crystal. Aptly titled The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, the series will tell the events that would eventually lead up to the final journey as played out by the characters in the 1982 original.
Jim Henson went on record stating that
“The story itself doesn’t lend itself to a sequel,” (said Henson matter-of-factly). “You can tell another story in the same world, but the [DARK CRYSTAL] story itself is complete.”
Initially pitched as an computer generated animated prequel series, Netflix insisted that The Henson Company re-pitch the film with traditional puppets. The announcement video for Age of Resistance features elements from the video that The Jim Henson Company pitched.
For the fans of the original Dark Crystal film, Age of Resistance won’t be just another Netflix series.
Philip Mitchell goes on to say,
"It's incredible, Netflix is taking a very big gamble on The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. The announcement was unexpected and welcome. For fans of the collaboration with The Jim Henson Company and Netflix to bring the world of Thra to life. The only reason the (Netflix) show exists is because of the fans, whether they're artists, filmmakers or even involved on official Dark Crystal material with Age of Resistance, they've made it happen, and I'm honored to be a part of The Dark Crystal community with my podcast"
What has to be generally admitted and remembered by both the Jim Henson Company and Netflix is the fans are the reason Dark Crystal found an other (and profitable) life on home video. It’s been the decades long dedication to the film by the fans that has brought us to the now year long wait until the series premieres.
Netflix has given 2019 as a general year of release, at the time of this writing, no set release month or date has been offered. What appeared to have been a mistake on the part of Netflix was the publishing of initial voice actors involved in the show, Helena Bonham Carter (Harry Potter), Gwendoline Christie (Star Wars) and Caitriona Balfe (Outlander). The information was quickly removed, but not before a user took a screen shot. Actor Jason Isaacs recently tweeted about his voice work on Age of Resistance further fueling speculation as to who is all involved. Isaacs would later delete his tweet.
PROMOTING THE RESISTANCE
With the exception an image of a crystal seen on a promotional poster for the Netflix and Chills panel event for the 2018 New York Comic Con, there’s not been one still, one piece of concept, or related artwork revealed publicly by The Henson Company or Netflix.
Netflix heavily promoted their Age of Resistance panel at the NYC Comic Con which featured series director Louis Letterrier and Lisa Henson. When the panel was over, Lisa and Louis spoke all of eleven minutes, and seemed to be unsure what to actually say. The takeaway from the panel was that the series was being shot on Vista Vision, and that no CGI would be involved whatsoever, with the exception of the removal of wires and puppeteers, which Lisa assured the audience, was to give a more believable motion to the puppets. At the end of panel a two minute behind the scenes sizzle reel was screened to the handful of people who were present, and that was it. The heavily promoted panel didn’t really have much to offer. If you tuned in via SyFy Wire’s livestream of the panel, you would’ve seen the feed cut when the footage went live.
So now, the fans wait, for something. Next on the horizon is Faerie-Con 2018 that promises to be a celebration of The Dark Crystal with several panels exploring the film, and two panels devoted to Age of Resistance, with the longest one being hosted by Dark Crystal and Jim Henson Royalty, Wendy Froud, and her son Toby Froud (the baby in Labyrinth). If that name sounds familiar, the patriarch of the Froud family is Brian Froud, the conceptual artist behind both The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth and Age of Resistance. Toby and Wendy will be hosting a near two hour Making of The Age of Resistance’ panel where they dive in to how the new series was brought to life.
BUILDING A WORLD
The Dark Crystal released in 1982, after being in development since the mid-seventies. The film took a full six months to film. Age of Resistance wrapped a full year of filming in November, 2018. To make a series like this involved over 35 sets to be built, ranging in sizes and shapes so that puppeteers can properly maneuver within the environments without being seen. The amount of production, set building, prop-making and sheer number of puppeteers sourced for the film makes Age of Resistance the largest puppet endeavor of any kind produced for an audience. If successful, it will blend seamlessly into the world that Jim Henson brought to life, while building upon the myth that he helped to create.
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is the literal passing on of the legacy of Jim Henson’s most prized and revered project. Fans and audiences everywhere wait with bated breath in hopes that the ten hour show will live up to the hype, while maintaining the legacy of a man that the world owes for the ongoing presence of Muppets and puppets in our lives. If Age of Resistance will succeed, it will be because of the efforts of the fans that have supported the original film from day one. Time will tell.
by JM Prater
JM occasionally co-hosts Trial By Stone: The Dark Crystal Podcast
JM is the founder and host of Perfect Organism: The ALIEN Saga Podcast
Shoulder of Orion: The Blade Runner Podcast
@soundgoasunder on Twitter
Director of No Place To Call Home 2014 (documentary)