Revisiting The Dark Crystal has always been a passion of Lisa Henson’s, daughter of the late Jim Henson and executive producer of the cult favorite’s prequel, the 10-episode The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance.
But The Dark Crystal having been the groundbreaking film that it was when it was released in 1982, with many iconic characters and sets that have become sacred to its loyal fanbase, where does one even start with rebuilding it for the upcoming TV series on Netflix?
For Henson, it was an easy choice: The Crystal Chamber, the place where the evil Skeksis drained the Gelfling’s essence, nearly forcing the entire race into extinction.
“One of the first sets that we built was the Crystal Chamber; it’s exactly the same,” says Henson. “It was a great warm-up, and it was very exciting for us to recreate the Crystal Chamber and to populate it with our Skeksis and have them do the ritual from the movie. It was spine-tingling for that to happen. When we first started the series, people came to the set where we had duplicated the original Crystal Chamber and everyone was very emotional. It was just a universal experience that people went on and they felt like they had been transported into the film that they loved for so long.”
“An amazing story”
Henson admits that turning their planned Dark Crystal follow-up (before the Netflix series was set in motion, there had been plans in place for a sequel film and an animated series) into a 10-episode series “was such an ambitious idea. You have to start with an amazing story. We worked with [writers and co-executive producers] Jeff Addiss and Will Matthews on a story arc, and it was big. It’s the kind of story that is better served in a television series and like the best TV series, it has a lot of surprises and things that you’re left waiting to see what will transpire two episodes later. It’s the kind of thing that we’re quite confident will hold people’s interest for multiple episodes.”
A prequel to the original film, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is set many years before the film, at a time when the Gelfling had a rich and prosperous civilization. “The series kicks off with the Skeksis actually revealing how evil they are – that’s why the series is called The Age of Resistance as the Gelfling realize they have to fight for themselves,” says Henson. “In the prequel world, we have seven clans of Gelfling and they’re just a little bit different based on the geographical area where they live. It was an extraordinary design challenge and a lot of fun to create all these different types of Gelfling.”
New characters aside, old favorites such as The Chamberlain, Aughra, and the podlings are in the prequel, too.
10 hour-long episodes, 1 director
A regular TV practice is different directors direct different episodes. Sometimes, a director helms two, three episodes, but it’s quite rare that one director takes on the challenge of directing all episodes of an entire season. For Age of Resistance, that one auteur is Louis Leterrier, whose directing resume includes the Transporter films, The Incredible Hulk, and Now You See Me. “I’ve never really worked with anybody who has the physical strength to direct 10 episodes, to direct for 10 months, operating the camera and directing every single day,” Henson says of Leterrier. “He has the show in his head and is basically so clear in his vision and his taste is so fantastic. It’s very impressive, the energy and excitement that he brings to the set. But it’s also shooting puppets in a way that they haven’t been shot before, with the handheld camera and shooting them as if they’re people.”
Real puppets, not CGI
Fans of the original film would be pleased to know that Age of Resistance is staying true to what has made The Dark Crystal such an enduring fan favorite: the puppets.
“Part of the joy of the project is that we’re bringing back original techniques and physical effects that you haven’t seen in a long time because, for the last many years, you would expect this type of story to be done in CGI [computer-generated imagery],” says Henson. “There are some techniques that have been developed since the original movie that are modern to a degree, but still puppetry.
“We’re making use of a process we call puppeteer removal with green screen, where we’re still puppeteering the characters but then we digitally remove the puppeteers from the shot. That’s allowed us to give the puppets a lot of physical movement. They can jump. They can escape. They can fly. We have a lot more mobility with the puppets even without having to rely on CG. That was something that we promised early on to Netflix – that there was going to be action and excitement and adventure, and that we would be able to achieve more dynamism in the puppet action than in the original film.”
Another important thread that ties the prequel to the original is Brian Froud, who worked very closely with Jim Henson and Frank Oz in The Dark Crystal. As the conceptual artist for the film, Froud is the man to thank for the title’s beloved (and feared, too, for some!) characters. “We are so fortunate that we are able to have Brian – who did all the conceptual designs for the film and designed the characters – back again designing all the characters and costumes for the series,” shares Henson. “Without Brian doing the designs, I think even the biggest fans might be a little nervous about whether our new characters fit with the old characters. Brian has, of course, brought with him his wife Wendy [who designed the Gelfling in the 1982 film] and son Toby [senior costume and creature supervisor for the series], so we have the entire Froud family supervising the look of everything.”
The critics have spoken and most have been very impressed with Age of Resistance, praising its epic story, talented voice cast, Louis Leterrier, and the creative team’s work on its puppets and other special effects. What is Henson hoping other audiences would take from the journey they’re about to embark on with the Gelfling, the Skeksis, and the world of Thra?
“One of the things that we hope is that people really love the Gelfling and relate to them as if they are humans, as if the Gelfling lead are three of their favorite actors,” says Henson. “There’s a storybook aspect to the way this looks. I think it’s beautiful and magical. I don’t think you’ll forget that they’re puppets, but I think that you may believe they’re alive at the same time.”
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance starts streaming on Netflix on August 30.