‘The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance’ Documentary Review: A Can’t-Miss Look Behind the Scenes

     September 2, 2019

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If you just finished your first of fiftieth binge-watch of Netflix’s The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, you probably have some questions. Some of those are undoubtedly, What’s next?, What just happened?, and What exactly is a Podling?, but one of question should also be: How the heck did the puppeteers and production team achieve all of that on-screen magic and mythology in the fantasy world of Thra? Luckily, an 82-minute deep-dive documentary is here to answer that very question.

The Crystal Calls: Making ‘The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance’ should auto-play as a suggested “next episode” at the end of your series binge-watch, but just in case it doesn’t, you can find the documentary here. The bonus episode of sorts, which comes as a welcome surprise after the show itself has lulled us into a wonderful suspension of disbelief, is spearheaded by filmmaker Randall Lobb, known for nostalgia-focused fare like documentaries on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. (Look for my chat with Lobb about this new Dark Crystal documentary tomorrow!) The Crystal Calls explores the people, puppets and puppeteers, and incredible production personnel behind the scenes of The Dark Crystal–both the original movie, through archival material, and never-before-seen footage from the new series–in a must-watch special for fans of all things The Dark Crystal.

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Image via Netflix

Having watched both Lobb’s He-Man and The Dark Crystal documentaries, what’s most impressive about them–beyond the extent to which he hunts down information from all available sources–is how objective they are; it’s all about the franchise, not the fan. That should go without saying for a documentary, but I’ve also seen some nostalgia fare that puts the emphasis on the fans above the content itself. Not so in Lobb’s work; his fandom shines through in the way that his documentaries come together and explore an exhaustive list of behind-the-scenes “how it’s made” trivia.

But a lot of people had a hand in bringing The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance to life, including quite a few executive producers from both Netflix and The Jim Henson Company. And, rightfully so, seemingly every one of them want to get their screentime in this special. That’s fine since their anecdotes help to set the stage for how this prequel series came about and reveal how it developed from a movie, to a test-shot blend of practical puppetry and CG Gelflings, to a full-on puppet-driven Netflix series over the years. We also get some insight from voice actors Taron EgertonJason IsaacsSimon Pegg, and Natalie Dormer, as well as time well spent with iconic artist Brian Froud and his wife and son, Wendy and Toby, who also have a big impact on the production. For the writers out there, the story of how Jeffrey Addiss and Will Matthews came to develop this series with Netflix and Javier Grillo-Marxuach (Lost) is an inspiring one; writing team members like Vivian Lee and YA novelist J.M. Lee and their major contributions to the lore are also featured here. All this being said, it does take 20 minutes or so to get into the meat-and-potatoes aspects of the production.

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Image via Netflix

That’s where the magic of The Crystal Calls really starts. Once the camera pulls back to reveal the puppeteers with their Podling hand puppets, more-advanced Gelfling puppets, and Skeksis body suits, the suspension of disbelief may be broken, but the understanding of this Herculean task starts to set in. Just about everything you see in the final production of The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is half of the story; the other half, below the camera’s frame, is the puppeteers themselves who walk, run, crawl, and amble beneath their puppet counterparts, holding the increasingly heavy characters straight up above them for minutes to hours at a time, all while turning in dynamic performances that range from comedic, to despairing, to scenes of action-packed peril.

As accomplished as those puppeteers are, the puppets themselves are just as impressive. The inner workings of some of the series’ hero puppets are revealed, including Aughra, the Gelfling, and the Skeksis, and there’s an extensive making-of sequence on Podlings and their little potato butts as glimpsed in the Deterge. The only things I wish we spent a little more time on in this section of the documentary were the costuming and paint/”puppet make-up” teams who had the massive task of designing a ton of costumes and looks for the greatly expanded cast in this prequel series.

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