Tag Archive: The Dark Crystal


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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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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After seeing Jim Henson and Frank Oz‘s The Dark Crystal return to theaters back in 2017 for its 35th anniversary, we were reminded why the movie kept up its status as the best live-action, high-fantasy film for two decades–until the arrival of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings series.  The set for Aughra′s beautiful pinnacle of all set pieces–the location of that mechanical wonder called the Orrery–showcased a fantasy creation that has yet to be surpassed in any film.  We first mentioned Netflix green-lighting the return of The Dark Crystal universe way back in 2017 here at borg, as the studio began work on the ten episode series The Dark Crystal: Age of ResistanceAt last the first trailer has arrived (below) and the arrival date for the first season: August 30, 2019.  The best part?  Fizzgig is back, along with Aughra (voiced by Donna Kimball (Community)) and a re-creation of her incredible Orrery, and Henson’s vile Skeksis, complete with that familiar, creepily sniveling voice.  And as with the 1982 movie, the series uses puppets, which were created by Jim Henson Co.’s Creature Shop and Brian Froud, the original conceptual designer — there will be no CGI in the series.

Taron Egerton (Robin Hood, Rocketman, Kingsman series) will be playing the voice of Rian, Nathalie Emmanuel (Furious 7, Game of Thrones) is the voice of Deet, and Anya Taylor-Joy (Glass, Split, The New Mutants) is the voice of Brea (above)–making up the trio to lead the film as Gelflings.  Other Gelfling characters will be voiced by Oscar winner Alicia Vikander (Tomb Raider, Ex Machina, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), Oscar nominee Helena Bonham Carter (Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter series), Emmy winner Eddie Izzard (Valkyrie, The Riches, Treasure Island), BAFTA nominee Mark Strong (Shazam!, Green Lantern, Kick-Ass, Kingsman series), Golden Globe nominee Toby Jones (Doctor Who, Harry Potter series, Marvel movies, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom), Golden Globe nominee Caitriona Balfe (Super 8, Outlander), plus Natalie Dormer (The Hunger Games series, Captain America: The First Avenger), Shazad Latif (The Commuter, Black Mirror, Star Trek Discovery), and Theo James (Underworld series).

Voicing the Skeksis and urRu (or “Mystics”) are BAFTA winner Mark Hamill (Star Wars, The Flash, and Kingsman series, Batman animated series), Golden Globe nominee Jason Isaacs (Harry Potter series, Star Wars Rebels, Star Trek Discovery), BAFTA nominee Simon Pegg (Star Trek, Star Wars series), Emmy winner Keegan-Michael Key (The Predator, Tomorrowland), Emmy nominee Harvey Fierstein (Hercules, Independence Day), Ólafur Darri Ólafsson (The BFG), Ralph Ineson (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Wars, Kingsman, and Harry Potter series), and Golden Globe winner Andy Samberg (Saturday Night Live).  Other voice roles will be performed by the puppet actors.

Wait no longer–check out this great first trailer for The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If you missed Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen‘s sci-fi/fantasy series Descender, a recommended series from Image Comics we discussed previously here at borg, you’re going to be able to jump into these creators’ exciting adventure universe in a sequel to the series coming this month, Ascender.  Set ten years after Descender, readers are introduced to a strange new world ruled by magic, replacing the mechanized world of the past that leaves the inhabitants of Sampson subject to an all-powerful space vampire witch.

Young Mila–daughter of Andy and Effie from Descender–takes center stage, roaming the wastelands and merely getting by with her father.  But what happened to Effie?  And what are they to do when an old loyal robot surfaces in a place where robot tech is forbidden?  It’s another great beginning to a series from Lemire and Nguyen, in the realm of Image’s sci-fi/fantasy Copperhead series, with artwork and colors that fans of Matt Kindt will be drawn toward.

Substitute names and places and you also have what could easily be the next great Star Wars story, complete with rebels, a dark mystic leader, and plenty of gritty Star Wars space fantasy realism.  In fact Ascender has all the elements we’re hoping for in the final chapter to the Skywalker Star Wars saga we’re looking forward to from J.J. Abrams when Episode IX arrives in December.

Check out these preview images, forthcoming covers by Nguyen, a character sheet and timeline for Ascender, Issue #1:

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A beautifully drawn new fantasy series is coming this week from IDW Publishing and Wizards of the Coast Dungeons & Dragons: A Darkened Wish follows a new young wizard named Helene, as she and her friends meet up on the streets of Mintarn and soon become powerful warriors.  The popular Forgotten Realms will be changed forever when war threatens the Moonshae Isles, bringing forth legendary heroes to defeat dark forces.

The latest D&D comic book mini-series is written by B. Dave Walters (Geek & Sundry, The Rundown) with classic, high fantasy layouts and illustrations from artist Tess Fowler (Kid Lobotomy, Critter).  Fowler’s visuals reveal a fantasy world of adventurous places and strange characters that could easily be situated off the beaten path at the far borders of Middle-earth.  Interior colors are by Jay Fotos (Spawn, Godzilla, Transformers) and cover colors are by Tamra Bonvillain (Doom Patrol, Captain Marvel).

Readers will encounter Hoondarrh: the Red Rage of Mintarn, the Sleeping Wyrm of Skadaurak, and a Red dragon of legendary size, cunning, and strength–“none shall prevail against his might.”  It’s a fun ride and a story that could be found in Sword & Sorcery, Swords of Sorrow, or The Dark Crystal.  Best yet–look forward to plenty of cool new characters.

  

Here are some upcoming covers for the series by Tess Fowler and Tamra Bonvillain, including a variant by Ibrahem Swaid, a character sheet cover, and a black and white retailer incentive variant all for Issue #1:

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After seeing Jim Henson and Frank Oz‘s The Dark Crystal return to theaters last winter for its 35th anniversary, we were reminded why this movie kept up its status as the best live-action, high-fantasy film for two decades–until the arrival of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings series.  The set for Aughra’s beautiful pinnacle of all set pieces–the location of that mechanical wonder called the Orrery–showcases a fantasy creation that has yet to be surpassed in any film.  We first mentioned Netflix green-lighting the return of The Dark Crystal universe last year here at borg, as the studio began work on the ten episode series The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance.  No other news has surfaced publicly about the series until this week.  We now have the first three images of the three lead character Gelflings, and an award-winning roster of voice actors.  And good news for The Dark Crystal fans: Aughra will be returning, voiced by Donna Kimball (Community).

Taron Egerton (Robin Hood, Eddie the Eagle, Kingsman series) will be playing the voice of Rian (below, left), Natalie Emmanuel is the voice of Deet (below, right), and Anya Taylor-Joy is the voice of Brea (above)–making up the trio to lead the film.  Other Gelflings will be voiced by Oscar winner Alicia Vikander (Tomb Raider, Ex Machina, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), Oscar nominee Helena Bonham Carter (Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter series), Emmy winner Eddie Izzard (Valkyrie, The Riches, Treasure Island), BAFTA nominee Mark Strong (Shazam!, Green Lantern, Kick-Ass, Kingsman series), Golden Globe nominee Toby Jones (Doctor Who, Harry Potter series, Marvel movies, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom), Golden Globe nominee Caitriona Balfe (Super 8, Outlander), plus Natalie Dormer (The Hunger Games series, Captain America: The First Avenger), Shazad Latif (The Commuter, Black Mirror, Star Trek Discovery), and Theo James (Underworld series).

And it doesn’t stop there.  Voicing the Skeksis and urRu (or “Mystics”) are BAFTA winner Mark Hamill (Star Wars, The Flash, and Kingsman series, Batman animated series),Golden Globe nominee Jason Isaacs (Harry Potter series, Star Wars Rebels, Star Trek Discovery), BAFTA nominee Simon Pegg (Star Trek, Star Wars series), Emmy winner Keegan-Michael Key (The Predator, Tomorrowland),  Emmy nominee Harvey Fierstein (Hercules, Independence Day), Ólafur Darri Ólafsson (The BFG), Ralph Ineson (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Wars, Kingsman, and Harry Potter series), and Golden Globe winner Andy Samberg (Saturday Night Live).  Other voice roles will be performed by the puppet actors.

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Less than one month away, San Diego Comic-Con returns to the San Diego Convention Center full of writers, artists, publishers, TV and movie studios, and vendors with representation from every major property and franchise.   Legos, Sideshow, Super 7, Mattel, Funko, Mondo, and more.  Already distributors have begun previewing convention exclusives–those sought-after rare collectibles usually available only at the show, but sometimes available afterward in small quantities if all of the inventory from the show isn’t pre-ordered or purchased on-site.

We think it’s time to share some of the best exclusives scheduled to be available at San Diego Comic-Con this year for those of you who are attending or have friends attending that can pick up items for you.  Just can’t decide what to spend your money on?  Check out the SDCC 2018 website for even more information from the vendors and more collectibles.  There’s too much for anyone to be able to see everything at the big Con, so we’ve listed booth numbers so you can make sure you don’t miss out on those toys, posters, and comic books that you simply must have.

These aren’t all the exclusives you’ll find at SDCC 2018–we’ve selected a sampling of some of the best items from popular vendors who have previewed their items with still three weeks until the convention.

Now on to the exclusives.

Gentle Giant is releasing a variety of exclusive mini-busts, plus this large-scale version of the classic Kenner Star Wars action figure.  You’ve seen Boba Fett from Gentle Giant here before–the original was borg.com‘s favorite toy of 2012 and one of the best action figure re-creations we’ve seen.

This exclusive provides one more chance to get this figure, this time reflecting original packaging from Return of the Jedi (sorry, no firing backpack).

From Alex Ross Art (Booth #2415) pick up limited prints and comics, including these new variant covers for Amazing Spider-man, Issue #1:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The beginning of a new film references the scope of the success of the Muppets: In 1978 the Muppets were seen weekly by more than 235 million people in more than 102 countries, and Time Magazine called them “the most popular entertainment on Earth.”  Created by Jim Henson in 1955 and starring in Sesame Street, in feature films, and in animated films, the Muppets endure to this day.  Regularly returning on television and in movies, they continue to entertain and educate young and old alike.  Frank Oz, the creator and actor behind Sesame Street and The Muppet Show’s Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Cookie Monster, Grover, Animal, and Sam the Eagle, Aughra and Chamberlain in The Dark Crystal, and the performer and voice of Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back and Star Wars: The Last Jedi (and director of countless other films), has produced and directed a new film with four other original Muppet performers to recount the development–and fun–of working in their timeless fantasy world.

Feeling like an informal dinner party among old friends, but even more like the first hour of a 12-part series, Muppet Guys Talking–Secrets Behind the Show the Whole World Watched, is a wonderful, cheery glimpse at life working with Jim Henson, who Emmy-winning performer Frank Oz says “wanted to make a better world.”  Originally premiering at last year’s South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas, the film will be available for fans everywhere for the first time next week at MuppetGuysTalking.comFrank Oz brings together Emmy-winner Jerry Nelson, creator and performer of Count von Count, Snuffleupagus, Lew Zealand, Statler, Floyd, and Gobo Fraggle; Emmy-winner Dave Goelz, creator and performer of The Great Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Zoot, and Fizzgig from The Dark Crystal; Emmy-winner Fran Brill, creator and performer of Prairie Dawn, Zoe, Little Bird, Betty Lou, and The Land of Gorch’s Vazh; and Bill Barretta, BTVA Award-winning creator and performer of Pepe the King Prawn, Johnny Fiama, Bobo the Bear, and Big Mean Carl.  Along with providing insight into Muppet mastermind Jim Henson, the “Muppet Guys” provide some advice on creating characters that will be worthwhile to creators in many media, as well as offering a great peek into the job of performing with puppetry.  The most difficult part?  Yep, holding your arms over your head inside the Muppets for a very long time.

From John Denver and the Muppets Rocky Mountain Holiday.  You don’t see the dozen human performers underneath the ground working the Muppets and speaking their lines.

Oz and Goelz recount major difficulties in the craft, like building a hole in the ground around a bonfire with a propane tank near their heads, so they could stand and perform their characters sitting around a real campfire above, as filmed for the famous John Denver Rocky Mountain Holiday TV special and album.  They also discuss Henson performing the risky opening scene of The Muppet Movie, stuffed inside a tube submerged in a backlot, underwater stage swamp with a small TV monitor and his arms above his head to perform Kermit singing and playing banjo on “The Rainbow Connection.”  The discussions among these friends are fun to watch, and the viewers will feel like they are a part of the room.  And viewers can’t help but listen for the performers slipping in and out of various voices–like the sound of Grover and Cookie Monster from Oz a few times when he gets animated or is laughing.  The most valuable bits center around what seems to be a shared tool among the performers–Oz developed a thorough backstory for each of his characters that never makes it beyond his own mind, to assist with his performance (like method acting).

Other highlights include Dave Goelz recounting how he got into the business when he was a young aspiring puppeteer working an office job at Hewlett-Packard, Bill Barretta discussing his inspiration for the King Prawn character Pepe, Fran Brill discussing her fix for performing while not being as tall as the others, and Jerry Nelson coming up with the voice of Snuffleupagus and discussing the late performer Richie Hunt (who performed characters including Scooter, Beaker, Statler, Janice and Sweetums).  Sadly documentary contributor Jerry Nelson passed away before the premiere of the documentary at South by Southwest, and the show is dedicated to him.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

From the voiceover that introduces the new world of The Dark Crystal, like Cecil B. DeMille’s voice narrating some biblical film from the Golden Age of Hollywood, audiences instantly understand this story is going to be epic in scope.  Like Hiyao Miyazaki would create two years later in his Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind, The Dark Crystal is unique in its creation of a fantasy that can’t be tied to Tolkien or Grimm or Baum or White.  If it’s at all derivative its source is the stuff of real-world ancient druids and mythologies outside the Western, Greco-Roman tradition.  The word classic is tied to The Dark Crystal.  It is that, the first and only film of its kind, devoid of humans or their interests, with a cast entirely of fantastical character creations.

Even if you’ve seen Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal on home video recently, you’re likely to notice the detail and awe of the film much better on the big screen.  It returned to theaters Sunday with only five more screenings left as part of the Fathom Events series, showing at 700 theaters nationwide this week and next.  The sound is stunning in a new theater–much better for audiences with modern digital sound systems compared to its initial run back at the end of the year 1982–and the sound effects and sound editing are critical to the believability of these creations.  The music will pull you into this world.  From composer Trevor Jones, who would later create the music for Labyrinth, Sea of Love, Arachnophobia, Last of the Mohicans, Brassed Off, Dark City, From Hell, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, we’re treated to an emotional journey split cleanly in two, with mirrored bleak darkness and fear on the one side, and tranquil hillsides, spiritual communities, and idyllic, pastoral, quiet places on the other.  Jones’s score takes us through both the horrors of greed and gluttony with the Skeksis, and the sweeping, heroic journey of a hero and a prophecy.

Co-directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz, the film demonstrates what a crew of like-minded creative artists can make.  Dozens of performers were required to operate even a few of the characters at a time, and many scenes feature the wide screen simply filled with characters, like the pantheon of ten Skeksis at the deathbed of the Emperor, or the journey of the nine Mystics to the Castle of the Crystal, to the celebrating village of dozens of Podlings, and the finale filled with members of all races, including the over-sized beetles called the Garthim.  The set for Aughra’s beautiful pinnacle of set pieces–the location of that mechanical wonder that is the Orrery–showcases a fantasy creation that has yet to be matched in any film.  Henson and Oz introduce the hero Jen to the room housing this device much like Dorothy’s first glimpse into the other Land of Oz.  An obvious precursor to steampunk, the Orrery is magnificent, and the stuff of true wonder.

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Fathom Events is bringing Jim Henson and Frank Oz’s landmark fantasy The Dark Crystal back to theaters tomorrow and Wednesday, and advance response has resulted in an additional two screening dates the following week and expansion into 700 theaters nationwide.  A member of the Class of 1982, The Dark Crystal just celebrated its 35th anniversary.  The ambitious story of The Dark Crystal takes place in the world of Thra, which has been torn by a fracture in a great magic crystal, which caused two races to be created: the tranquil Mystics, or urRu, and the evil Skeksis, who all but destroyed Thra’s native species, the Gelflings.  The Mystics have summoned Jen, one of the last surviving Gelflings, to find the lost piece of the crystal.  The quest sends Jen on a classic adventure to try to restore harmony and peace to Thra.  Don’t wait–get tickets now here at the Fathom Events website before tomorrow’s screening sells out.

We recently revisited Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal with a groundbreaking look at the film and co-directors Jim Henson and Frank Oz in Caseen Gaines’ The Dark Crystal: The Ultimate Visual History, a new deep-dive into the film reviewed here at borg.com.  According to Henson’s daughter Cheryl Henson, The Dark Crystal was Jim Henson’s most personal work.  This is a great time to have The Dark Crystal fresh in our memory, as we expect to see a 10-episode Netflix follow-on series hopefully by the end of 2018.  The Dark Crystal: The Age of Resistance does not yet have a release date.

Yes, we’re just as excited as Fizzgig–The Dark Crystal was the reigning favorite fantasy film of all time for legions of moviegoers before Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings came along.  The film features performances by Jim Henson as Jen (voiced by Stephen Garlick), Kathryn Mullen as the Gelfling Kira (voiced by Lisa Maxwell), Frank Oz as the astronomer Aughra (voiced by Billie Whitelaw), and Dave Goelz as Fizzgig (voice of Percy Edwards), with Henson, Oz, and Goelz also performing as the Skeksis. Kiran Shah also performs the body of Jen, Kira, and Aughra. With a screenplay by Dave Odell (The Muppet Show), The Dark Crystal also features a majestic score by Trevor Jones (Excalibur, Labyrinth).  Along with Yoda creator Frank Oz, the film was produced by Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back producer Gary Kurtz.

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