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Somewhere out there in the ethers, Jim Henson is beaming with pride thanks to the gorgeous new Netflix series The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, based on the classic 1982 film that Henson helmed with Frank Oz. For the past 37 years, The Dark Crystal has maintained its legacy of not only being a special effects masterpiece that also happened to scare the living daylights out of many younger viewers. (Watching the Skeksis eat is no joke.)
CinemaBlend had the pleasure of speaking with Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance co-creators Will Matthews and Jeff Addis, as well as writer Javier Grillo-Marxuach, and I had to ask how much the film's fright factor weighed on conversations when the show was coming together.
Will: A lot. The movie scared me a lot, and kept on scaring me. I'm easily scared. The show scares me. So we would put things in thinking, 'Well, you push the envelope and you get to keep about 80%.' And then [Netflix] just left it in. So we put things in that I don't know if I'll be able to watch.
Though Will Matthews was joking while saying that, his point is perfectly sound. (And it's also possible he wasn't entirely kidding.) Because The Dark Crystal: Age of Innocence had such an expansive budget and a top-notch production team, the show is able to doing all kinds of things the film couldn't, with a massive scope that Age of Resistance takes full advantage of.
For all the swooping shots of sunny landscapes that there are, it's never easy to forget that this is a Dark Crystal project, given how every character is a puppet of some kind. In the original film, the lead Gelfling character Jen's vacant puppet face was part of the nightmare process for kids. The updates for the TV don't actually change TOO much, offering a more polished look to the dozens of Gelflings that are shown, but still keeping things slightly off-kilter.
Of course, the REAL source of Dark Crystal's nightmare fuel is the Skeksis, no longer willing to just be idle government heads. With their incredibly detailed heads and faces, the Skeksis are responsible for the Gelflings' downfall, and the way they go about killing off and/or torturing the Skeksis is legitimately horrifying to watch at times. Here's how Grillo-Marxuach described the show's approach to the scarier elements.
Javi: There are moments when we were on set, Louis [Leterrier, Director] and we would look at each other and be like, 'Should we do this?' And the answer was, ‘Yes!' We talked a lot about the violence and the darkness, we talked a lot. We tried to always make it come from a place of story, though. What is the answer of the Dark Crystal version of whatever situation we'd written ourselves into? So if the Skeksis are going to punish one of their own, they're going to have their own way of doing it. If a character has gone down the wrong track, and is trying to appease the Skeksis or play alongside them, that's going to be a hard lesson to learn. Everything that we did, every time that we made a dark choice that we put violence in, we had a reason for it. And the answer was because it was the answer in this world. It was the Dark Crystal answer. We talked a lot about that. We had the universal themes, but the answer and the way that we got out of the scrapes that we wrote ourselves into had to feel like The Dark Crystal, and sometimes that means it goes to dark places. But it wasn't done jokingly or wantingly. We really thought and talked a lot about it all the way down the pipeline.
It sounds like Javi Grillo-Marxuuch knows exactly where this series is heading in the future. Which is smart, since they probably need to be overly prepared due to the immense challenges that come with making an epic fantasy series populated by puppets.
For Grillo-Marxauch, it's been extremely important to follow along in Jim Henson's footsteps by way of presenting scary and sometimes harsh realities for younger audiences. Henson created both The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth as a way to tap into the fantastical imaginations of older crowds, but in ways that still allowed younger viewers to follow along. I can't help but think that Henson would be more appreciative of Dark Crystal's lasting cult legacy than he would have been if it started off as a box office smash.
In Javi Grillo-Marxuach's words:
Javi: I think that Jim Henson came out of the Bruno Bettelheim school of thought that fairy tales didn't have to sugarcoat the truth, that if you were able to tell kids about some of the harsher realities, they would be able to not only take it, but also process it in a positive way and be ready for some of the dark qualities of the world. So our entire approach to this was not to make a sanitized version of it, but something that did honor Jim Henson's legacy, and that darkness is part of it.
After watching a full season of the Skeksis' power-mad downfall, I think "sanitized" would be at the very bottom of the list of words I'd use to describe things. Spoiler: at one point, an unsightly character can be seen urinating, but he's got three streams going instead of just one...or two.
What The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance lacks in F-bombs and nudity, it makes up for with themes and struggles that will likely weigh heavily on the younger segment of the viewership. The show is a good lesson in "beings in power arbitrarily ruining others' lives because they're different," among other things concerning Skeksis dietary health.
I think co-creator Jeff Addiss summed it up best with this:
Jeff: We have a saying in the writers room, and it was, 'It sure ain't the Happy Crystal.'
Not gonna lie, now I'm ready to learn what The Happy Crystal: Age Of Taking It Easy would look like as a TV show. Maybe in Season 4 or something.
All 10 episodes of The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance are currently available to stream in full on Netflix, as is The Dark Crystal standalone film. Go ahead and throw them on, since nothing else that happens this weekend will involve this kind of large-scale puppet mayhem.