Tag Archive: The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance


Review by C.J. Bunce

Watching the incredible award-winning Netflix series Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, the seamless visuals and storytelling can’t prepare viewers for the amount of detailed craftsmanship required to create the series (which was our pick for Best TV Series, Best New Limited TV Series, Best TV Fantasy, Best Writing for TV, Best TV Costumes/Makeup, and Best TV Soundtrack in our year-end wrap-up last year here at borg).  It was far more involved than any other live-action project, CGI production, or animated series, and that feat is what Daniel Wallace’s The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance–Inside the Epic Return to Thra is all about.

Like in Industrial Light & Magic Presents: Making Solo: A Star Wars Story (a diary of sorts of the making of that film reviewed here), creating this level of rich behind the scenes account for such a complex production benefits from being assembled during the development and execution of the series.  This is a complete story that begins where Caseen Gaines’ compelling The Dark Crystal: The Ultimate Visual History (reviewed here) ends, taking readers from 1982 into the development of Thra’s expanded universe of books, comics, and online resources, all waiting to be combined together to inspire and become the Netflix series.

But the biggest thing not found on the screen–the thing that glues together the book and process behind the series–is the imagination, influence, and contributions of Brian Froud.  Readers will find hardly a page of this volume without a key concept design personally envisioned, painted, or sketched by Froud, the visionary behind the look of the original The Dark Crystal film.

And that explains why the series feels so faithful to Henson’s original film.

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This year we found one series that could easily sweep most of the categories–a single television series that had everything: compelling story, a full range of emotions, great characters, tremendous action, a sharp use of humor, all kinds of genre elements that were satisfying and left viewers feeling inspired.  Richly detailed sets and costumes.  An impossible feat to replicate.  No drama came close.  No other visual effects spectacle could touch it.  And its audience is everyone.  A truly epic addition to television viewing, that series is The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, the greatest television series to come along in years.  If you love genre like we do, this was as good as it gets.  And like icing on the cake, along came The Mandalorian at year end.

But we’re not going to ignore the other good things that happened on the small screen this year.

Our borg Best of 2019 list continues today with the best in television.  If you missed it, check out our review of the Best Movies of 2019 here and the best Kick-Ass Heroines of 2019 here.

Without further ado, this year’s Best in Television:

Best Borg SeriesDoom Patrol (DC Universe).  With this year’s series Doom Patrol we got a look at two borgs, DC Comics’ Cyborg, an update to Martin Caidin’s original Bionic Man from the 1970s, and an older borg created before the word was even coined in the 1960s, Robotman.  Both characters revealed a glimpse at what life might be like with significant cybernetic enhancements (when brought together by a modern Dr. Frankenstein).  For 2019, it was the way to get your borg fix on the small screen.

Best TV Series, Best New Limited TV Series, Best TV Fantasy, Best Writing for TV, Best TV Costumes/Makeup, Best TV SoundtrackThe Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (Netflix).  It was worth the wait.  Jim Henson’s seemingly impossible to replicate artistic vision was successfully achieved thanks to his daughters and the company he founded.  The kindest heroes, the darkest evil, a truly epic, legendary story for the ages.  Everybody is cranking out CGI extravaganzas, but how many are creating artistry so fundamentally real, with so many individual artists and artisans contributing and achieving so much?  Even that wouldn’t be enough if not for the layered mythology and epic adventure story.  Add great humor, high stakes, emotional impact, an all-star voice cast, Daniel Pemberton and Samuel Sim’s  imaginative musical score, and those puppets and all that go into them–it adds up to a rare thing–a Henson masterpiece.

Best TV Sci-fi Series, Best TV DramaThe Man in the High Castle (Amazon).  Amazon Studios could not have adapted a series more faithfully, making changes for the medium and the times, than its take on Philip K. Dick’s most celebrated novel.  The use of science fiction to tell a deep and twisty level of subplots and unique setting all came to a perfect conclusion in the series finale.  Exciting, intelligent, frightening, and the most thought-provoking series this year, it was also different from its sci-fi competition.  Honorable mention: The Mandalorian (Disney+)–but only if we allow space fantasy since the series is not true science fiction, The Orville (Fox)–for its two-part epic movie-worthy space story, “Identity.”

Best New Ongoing TV Series, Runner-up: Best TV Soundtrack, Runner-up: Best TV Costumes/Makeup The Mandalorian (Disney+).  Not a lot needs explaining with this series, which in only its first two hours we rated it closer to the original Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back than anything with the Star Wars label on it since.  The Western motif is still alive, not all that hidden here in space fantasy garb.  And we won’t get started on the impact of The Child (aka Baby Yoda) on the genre-loving world and beyond.  Credit Jon Favreau’s visible enthusiasm and love for the original movies for the success of this surprisingly awesome arrival–the series is proof Star Wars is far from over.

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It’s time for borg′s annual look at the Best Kick-Ass Genre Heroines in film and television.  This year we selected 25 characters that rose to the top.  Again the studios gave us more to cheer about than ever.  We’re highlighting the very best from a slate of fantastic heroines, with characteristics to learn from and root for.  Determined, decisive, loyal, brave, smart, fierce, strong, you’ll find no one here timid or weepy, but all rely on their individual skills to beat the odds and overcome any obstacle that comes their way.  Over the years we have expanded the list to include any tough, savvy, gritty character played by a woman, so villains are welcome here, too.  Some may be frazzled, put-upon, war-weary, or human, but all have fought, some against difficult circumstances, others against personal demons (literally, figuratively, or both), and some against gun and laser fire.  And they all showed what a tough, kick-ass character is about.

Several characters who made previous years’ kick-ass heroine lists returned to TV and film and could very well make the list again, but we’re looking for new recruits.  So we’re not forgetting Lagertha in Vikings, Liv Moore from iZombie, Trish Walker in Jessica Jones, and Juliana Crain from The Man in the High Castle, all in their final seasons of their series, plus Eleven in Stranger Things, Juliet Higgins in Magnum PI, Liz Dudley in Lodge 49, the 13th Doctor in Doctor Who, Betty Cooper from Riverdale, and Sabrina Spellman and Ms. Wardwell from The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.  At the movies Valkyrie, The Wasp, and Okoye were back, this time in Avengers: Endgame, Martha/Ruby Roundhouse returned in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, and Rey was back one more time in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker This year we add a mystic, a former Russian operative, a DHS agent, an adventurer, an undercover cop, a bounty hunter, a general, a gang leader, superheroes, martial arts masters, special agents, survivors, former soldiers, resistance fighters, gelflings, warriors, witches, a bride, and even a cyborg–with a roster evenly split between television and movie characters.

Credit goes to both the writers and other creators of the characters and the actors and performers that brought them all to life.

These are the Best Kick-Ass Genre Heroines of 2019:

Aughra (The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance).  If there was a greater woman character in the history of fantasy film, we don’t know who that would be.  We first met her 37 years ago thanks to Jim Henson in the original movie, and she hardly changed at all for the prequel series that arrived at last this year.  Voice actor Donna Kimball and Muppeteer extraordinaire Kevin Clash perfectly replicated the witchy sorceress whose wisdom, savvy, and mystic powers were stealthily used this season.  She went to death and back again, and was key to defeat the Skekses once again. (Henson/Netflix)

Black Widow (Avengers: Endgame).  After a decade of being the only superheroine in the Avengers, Scarlet Johannson’s Natasha Romanoff finally took center stage this year as the bravest of the entire bunch, giving her life to save not only everyone on Earth, but everyone across the universe destroyed by Thanos.  And yet she still didn’t get the fanfare that Tony Stark did.  We’re hoping she gets the solo film she deserves when she’s back one more time next year in her own movie. (Disney/Marvel)

Hattie Shaw (Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw).  As part of a big bad assassin family, whose mother was played by Helen Mirren and brother by Jason Statham, Vanessa Kirby’s Hattie might be the toughest of them all.  If you need to track down a missing deadly virus in the hands of a cybernetically enhanced superhuman, who else are you going to call to team up with Statham and The Rock?  (Universal)
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Review by C.J. Bunce

Nothing in my lifetime in the fantasy genre has had an impact as great as Jim Henson, his creations, and influence.  That stretches to The Muppet Show and The Muppet Movie, tangent puppet creations like Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back, and Henson’s masterwork, the 1982 holiday release The Dark Crystal.  So nothing could be greater than to revisit The Dark Crystal in a new incarnation, and not only find the people behind it got it right, but set a new standard in storytelling along the way.  No visual storytelling medium is older than puppetry, and nothing reaches inside you like a story told with creations you know aren’t real, yet when done exceptionally well they convey every emotion as if they were real.  The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, now streaming on Netflix, sets a new bar because it expands on the original film’s story, bringing to life a larger, fully fleshed-out world and a timeless tale that firmly installs the name Henson (Jim and daughters Lisa and Cheryl) as equal to fantasists like the Grimms, Kipling, Milne, Howard, Tolkien, Lewis, Beagle, Harryhausen, Lucas, Jackson, and Rowling.  “Wonder” should be the Henson family hallmark.  Beyond that, the series surpasses the best fantasy of television and big-screen productions, so from here on audiences may ask comparatively, “Yes, but does it convey the emotion and wonder The Dark Crystal series created?”

Dynamic, thrilling, suspenseful, and full of action, mythology, sorcery, good and evil, despair and triumph, swashbuckling adventure, unimaginable beauty and love for nature and community, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance presents better than anything before what every other fantasy before it seems to stumble on: Stakes.  The preparation of the viewer for a world of dire fantasy stakes couldn’t have been more artfully revealed.  What is at stake in the film isn’t just another “end of the world” story, but something that reaches in and makes you believe a stack of rocks can be lovable, the innocent can rise against the darkest evil, where the world of humans and their conflicts is not a consideration, and where you may find you want a hug from a giant spider.  Glorious, ground-breaking, faithful to the original, with thousands of creators making a film in a spectacularly difficult way, it more than fulfills its promise.

You could heap all sorts of praise on the series, beyond Netflix for betting its money on a prequel, the Hensons and original visionary family the Frouds, beyond director Louis Leterrier, writers Jeffrey Addiss, Will Matthews, and Javier Grillo-Marxuach, haunting music by Daniel Pemberton, the spectacular assemblage of voice actors, from Simon Pegg and Warrick Brownlow-Pike (who perfectly resurrected Chamberlain the Skeksis, one of fantasy’s greatest villains) to Donna Kimball and Kevin Clash (resurrecting fantasy’s greatest sorceress, Aughra).  The unsung heroes will be those puppeteers and the designers of the production, the puppets, the costumes, and props.  There’s not a big enough award for this series or its many creators, artists, and artisans, and all that had to come together to make it.  A glimpse behind the scenes can be found in a must-see feature following the ten episodes of the series.

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Following the designs created under Daniel Falconer, art director and senior concept designer for Weta Workshop, the famed creation house of all things forged and fantastical, is releasing a new line of statues and replicas from The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, similar in style, look, and feel to Weta’s highly collected products from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.  Many of these items will not be released until next year, but online collectible store Entertainment Earth is taking pre-orders now.  The statues and replicas are every bit the quality you’d expect from the company, known for matching the items seen on the screen with the products it delivers to the public.

First out will be four 1:6 statues, including Rian and Hup, both by Weta Workshop sculptor Steven Saunders.  Maudra Fara’s eyepatched companion Baffi the Fizzgig was created by Weta Workshop sculptor Jane Wenley.  The vile Skeksis Emperor is as creepily real, as sinister, and scary, as anything we’ve seen from Weta.  This statue is by Weta Workshop sculptor Hao Wang, and includes all four arms, plus a metal prosthesis for his rotting nose!  If you’re interested, you’ll want to pre-order the Skeksis Emperor now here at Entertainment Earth, as it will be limited to only 400 units worldwide.  The intricacy on this piece is unparalleled, and it will no doubt go down as one of Weta’s finest high-end statues.

 

A 1:1 scale prop replica of the Essence vial is crafted from glass and resin, with LED lighting to replicate the radiant essence seen on screen (operated via battery).  The Dark Crystal necklace is based on 3D scans provided by Netflix, shaped to be an exact replica of the Crystal seen on screen, its draconic claw is inspired by the Skeksis clasp system in the Castle of the Crystal.  It is a resin pendant complete with gunmetal-plated brass claw, includes a 20-inch stainless steel chain, and is encased in a gift box.

Find more information and learn how to pre-order any now from Entertainment Earth at the links above. Check out several high quality images below, courtesy of Weta Workshop:

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You may have gulped it down in one sitting or maybe you think it’s so good you’re (like us) enjoying this new series slowly, but there’s no doubt Netflix′s original series The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance will be a contender for the best series of the year in any category.  Lisa Henson and The Jim Henson Company have created something special here, and we’re now seeing some of the first tie-ins from this reboot of The Dark Crystal franchise, which began only two years ago with Caseen Gaines’ authoritative look at Henson, his inspiration, and his original Thra creations in The Dark Crystal: The Ultimate Visual History (reviewed here at borg).  If you’re enjoying the new series, you’ll want to dive in to learn about the Hensons and how they created the world of Thra from the very beginning.

Funko has six 3 3/4-inch action figures to add to its earlier The Dark Crystal collection (first discussed here in 2016, these figures sell for top dollar on the aftermarket, with a few still on Amazon like Jen, Kira & Fizzgig, Chamberlain, Aughra, Landstrider, Garthim, and UrSol).  For the new TV series Funko’s first wave of figures have better sculpts and paint work than the prior series.  They feature gelflings Deet and Rian, Hup the podling, Aughra the Oracle, the Hunter Skeksis, and a Silk Spitter (see larger images below, and click on the names to learn more and order these at Amazon, currently about $10 each).

 

The tie-in books to choose from truly have something for all ages.  Look for The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance: Inside the Epic Return to Thra, Heroes of the Resistance: A Guide to the Characters of The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, and Aughra’s Wisdom of Thra.  Below, check out a 10-page preview of the beautifully detailed behind the scenes art book The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance: Inside the Epic Return to Thra Each book is now available for pre-order from Amazon, and the publisher descriptions of each book is included below:

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