*Sigh* Guys… I really wanted this one to go well. I really, really did.
It’s not bad. It’s fine. But based on the scores of perfect review from all the top entertainment reviewers, I was expecting true magic. Then again, maybe I’m just too critical, have my expectations set a little too high. Maybe this is perfectly enjoyable series and I’m just projecting my own television desires and frustrations onto it, pushing it to unreasonable standards.
Recently, I’ve felt that my standards for media have reached such heights that nothing I consume, be it television, movies, or books, has left me feeling fully satisfied. I say this as a preface because from what I gather a lot of people really enjoyed this series, and I do think it’s worth checking out for multiple reasons I’ll explain below, but frankly if you’re looking for the next Game of Thrones level addiction like I was, you might want to temper your expectations a little. It’s not that kind of show. It’s a sit-back-and-relax, look-at-the-pretty-sets kind of show. Let’s break it down:
What absolutely cannot be denied is how much care and craft went into designing and building the visuals for this show, and how faithful it is to its source material. This doesn’t feel like a knock-off of Jim Henson’s world and work, it feels like the real deal. The puppetry and all the set pieces look incredible, and you’re sure to be impressed whether you were a fan of the original or visiting the world of Thra for the first time. Additionally, this show has a stacked cast of really strong voice actors and plenty of names you’ll recognize — you can read more about that here. My only issues with the visual design of this show was that the backgrounds are often so cluttered that it takes some time to train your eyes to focus on the subjects of the shot, and the character puppets are so similar looking that you had to really pay attention to distinguish. But, I think that’s something most people are aware of going into high fantasy productions so they are already more attuned to dealing with this.
On a similar note, this is not exactly an easily comprehensible universe. This is not a bad thing, but just something to be aware of. The first couple episodes are spent parsing out who the Gelflings are, how many clans exist, why they submit to Skeksis rule (though, it’s not hard to tell that those guys are the Evil ones), and what the titular Dark Crystal is.
Whereas the fantasy world is complicated, the plot is not. This is where I think a lot of the reviews come in mixed — it’s a straightforward story, encapsulated perfectly in the title “Age of Resistance”. A Gelfling named Rian learns that the masters he’s been serving are cruel and abusive towards their subjects, and is using the power of the Dark Crystal to suck the life force out of creatures in order to make themselves immortal. Rian then spends the rest of the series trying to convince fellow Gelflings of this evil plot, and — you guessed it — start a resistance movement.
There are some interesting political discussions in here about abuse of power and tyrannical rule, but it feels a little shallow compared to what could have been done with this idea. Perhaps this was for fear of making the show too difficult to follow, but I think the tradeoff is a plot that is not really doing anything new. And because it’s not new, we know more or less where the whole thing is going (especially if you’ve seen the original film), so the 10 episodes feel like kind of a drag when we know how it’s going to end.
This leads me to pacing — the episodes run 46 – 60 minutes long, and it rarely ever feels like there’s enough plot to sustain that length. They attempt to combat this by switching perspectives between 3 main protagonists and the Skeksis, but it only works so well. My favorite character was the book loving Princess Brea. She was easily the most developed and interesting character, but still she was inching towards a truth we already knew. Plus, the characters can really only be so compelling when the puppet faces prevent them from emoting anything beyond happy or sad. The original film was a “children’s” movie, so I supposed that the TV series was also marketed in the “Children & Family” category, but I wonder how children will do with it, as I find is hard to believe many will be able to sit through the hour long episodes.
That being said, there are plenty of great moments in the series, things that surprised me, and some pretty mature ideas. It’s clear that this series wanted to ride on the success of things like Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings, because the world and conflicts work very similarly. If you like that kind of stuff, you’ll probably like this, but for me I needed a little more of something special to really get behind the concept.
All in all it’s a harmless show. It was slow for my taste but a lot of people liked it, so who am I to take that away from them? It’s an honest story with a good message, charismatic characters, and all the fantasy trappings one could desire. It falls a little low for me because it’s not something I haven’t seen before, other than the fact that it’s done with puppets.
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is now streaming on Netflix.
Tell Us: Did you like The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance?