There are a lot of classic films out there. It’s hard to find the time to watch them all. For my part I have still not seen Raging Bull. I plan to, I really do. I love Scorsese films. I just haven’t found the time. So it is possible many of you dear readers have not seen Jim Henson’s 1982 classic fantasy film The Dark Crystal.
What is the Original Dark Crystal About?
The Dark Crystal was written by Jim Henson and directed by Henson and regular collaborator Frank Oz. The conceptual design work was done by famed fantasy illustrator Brian Froud. It tells the story of a conflict on the planet Thra. A young Gelfling (Elf like creature) named Jen must battle his way across Thra to heal the Dark Crystal. The Crystal is a mysterious source of power the evil Skeksis (giant buzzard looking monsters) who have used it to cheat death for thousands of years. The landscapes and characters are all wonderfully rendered and totally alien to anything on Earth.
Ok so, think Avatar meets Lord of The Rings with puppets. It is absolutely as weird as it sounds, but beautiful and cleverly written. The movie was a moderate success at the time. Most critics were surprised by the dark and scary nature of a tale told by elaborate puppetry. And make no mistake, the movie is grim and scary at times. It is a classic of the genre and a true work of art.
Then what is the deal with Netflix’s Age of Resistance
While the Dark Crystal didn’t exactly break the box office, it wasn’t an outright failure. In fact, it gained a steady following when it was released for home viewing. So, in the golden age of 80’s nostalgia it makes sense that someone would revive The Dark Crystal. Netflix prequel series is a long time coming. While they announced the series in 2017 it seems the roots of it may have gone back farther to around 2013. And it shows. It is every bit as beautiful, scary, dark, wondrous, and clever as the movie. The show is set an undetermined amount of time before the movie tells the story of how the Skeksis came to be the feared creatures they are and how Jen eventually is set upon the path to destroy them. That said, the heroes of the movie are not characters in the series. The show is rich in characters, plot twists, and mythology. In contrast to the movie, Age of Resistance has a large cast and is nearly 10 hours long. The Dark Crystal has a much smaller cast, runs under two hours, and moves at a slower pace. Both are brilliant fantasy stories told by master artists.
So which do you watch first?
We are of two minds on this subject here at World Geekly News. So we brought in two staff members to argue the point and leave the decision up to you.
Order! Order! (Production) order!
Shortly before I started to read for recreation – I mean, before what the beancounters at my local bookstore knew what they were missing – I happened upon a thick omnibus of the Chronicles of Narnia, which was laid out in chronological order, and as the back of the book explained, “the order in which C.S Lewis intended”, or words to that effect. It was probably my first experience of retconning, where I sat up and questioned the validity of some scholar gaslighting me into reading something “their” way because “oh yeah, this is what the author wanted”, and I’ve always had a problem with it. Apparently, to this day there is still debate about what is the “best” way to read them. The way I see it, if you were an avid reader in the 1950s, chances are you would have picked these up over the six years in which they were published, and to me that just feels “correct”.
Too many times have I heard debates and arguments on what order one should experience a story, for sheer simplicity I’ve always been a staunch advocate that narrative art should be experienced in the order in which it was released to the general public.
One of the infamously-debated examples of this would be Star Wars. Not content with the massive plot reveal we got in The Empire Strikes Back (even I, watching that movie for the first time in early 1998, only had it spoiled for me by an old episode of The Simpsons), had I held out another year and a half I would have gone in wondering exactly who this little orphan Ani was, and why I should care. Who’s that slug guy in the Pod Race audience? Why doesn’t Qui-Gon’s Jedi Mind trick work? What’s a Jedi Mind trick? Help me, Obi-Wan!
Watching it objectively, there is no question; anyone experiencing “Episode 1” for the first time would have minimal-at-best, staggeringly-clunky-at-worst information as to what Jedi are, what the Force is or how it exactly works (spoiler: we don’t need a science lesson); the way the movie tells us is so wonky and technical, and doesn’t give us a clear protagonist. The whole trilogy is built on dramatic irony and relies heavily on viewers’ prior knowledge of what came before (or after, from a certain point of view).
Lucas has been cited that Episodes 1-6 are the correct way to watch Star Wars – bless him, the guy gets a lot of stick – Lucas says a lot of things, and sometimes I feel like he was just making a lot this narrative up as he went. Surely, wouldn’t you want to make the same narrative journey as he? Like The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, “Star Wars” drops us neatly into the middle of an ongoing greater narrative, but as a single unit it works perfectly, tells a satisfying tale with a beginning, middle and end, and leaves the door open for a sequel without telegraphing it from 12 parsecs away.
With Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, as of writing I am barely halfway through the series 10-episode run, and as much as I’m eager to see how it leads us up to the events of the movie, there are so many questions I have about its wider universe. Upon rewatching the movie in preparation, I was reminded at just how vague and minimalist the lore of Thra is conveyed. It’s an incredibly simple Hero’s Journey that we mostly see from Jen’s POV. Heck, I don’t even think the word “Thra” is even mentioned, the Skeksis don’t refer to each other by their actual names, as they do in the show.
It’s one of the reasons the series excited me; and there is so much potential scope to the world – I want to see how the Crystal of truth was corrupted, how the Skeksis and Mystics came to be; just who were the ethereal beings at the movie’s climax? The movie is scant on details, so naturally I’m curious to get some answers. Star Wars gave me all I needed to know in the “first” couple of movies; if they hadn’t been so clumsily numbered, I reckon they could have nailed the “fall of Anakin” story in a single movie in the vein of Rogue One.
The cynic in me did initially question the need for a prequel series; I’ve already cited Star Wars as one of the most glistening examples of how to almost completely botch your perfectly-fine little story with needless padding. And the show has had a couple of pretty obvious callbacks to the film (the filmmakers clearly relished the delivery of “ESSENCE!” so much so that it’s reused in multiple in-episode flashbacks), but there is such an abundance of new elements, new characters, it enrichens what little the movie gave me, and I’m excited to see more.
So, should you watch Age of Resistance before the movie? My initial rule of thumb is being severely tested by the show. It’s a phenomenally well-made piece that feels both faithful to the movie but has a completely new tone, pace, direction, and subtext that the gentler, more sedate movie lacks, and despite some of the heavier-handed nods to the film, one could easily watch and enjoy it on its own merits.
Show… Don’t Tell
The original Dark Crystal is a movie that is sparse on details. There are lots of inferences and hints at and older richer world. But all in all, is a fairly straightforward quest by the forces of good to defeat the forces of evil. If a bit of mythology was not essential to the plot, it was merely hinted at. The show, however, is a nearly 10 hour movie that mines that mythology and comes up with an embarrassment of riches. Since the series is written long after the movie it’s fair to say that it is mostly retconning.
However, it is really good retconning. The characters, the conflicts and the state of Thra all carry much more weight than they did before. If you haven’t seen the movie, everything you need to know will be explained. It works beautifully as an introduction to this world. Arguably it does a better job than the movie.
The series is good enough that watching the movie first, and knowing how much of it turns out will absolutely NOT ruin anything. If you enjoyed the movie you will love the show. However, the show does such a good job of exploring the mythology that your understanding of the movie is bound to be deepened.
There is only one argument I have heard for watching the movie first that I can agree with. The Dark Crystal is very much a product of its time. While it remains a classic work of shear artistry, it is also made nearly 4o years ago. Not only are the special effects not as good, the storytelling methods are older as well. It is a slow movie. The show is not. People might find the movie not meeting their expectations after watching the show.
Ultimately though, I think the slower at times barren, post-apocalyptic feel of the movie serves as a great epilogue to the faster more brazen series. The old storytelling adage proves wise here; show don’t tell. Where the movie either implies or explains Thra, the show allows you to experience it. If you can handle a slow, contemplative ending to an expansive adventure series then I say watch Netflix’s Age of Resistance first then the original movie. And if I am wrong and you’re disappointed, you can always blame Andee for not doing a better job of convincing you.