On August 30th, nearly 40 years after the original film, the ten-part prequel series The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance will premiere on Netflix.
Age of Resistance boasts an all-star cast including Taron Egerton, Nathalie Emmanuel and Mark Hamill to name just a few, and will follow three Gelflings as they mount a rebellion against the evil Skeksis, and aims to expand the magical world of Thra seen in the original film.
Released in 1982, The Dark Crystal told the story of the final two surviving Gelflings, Jen and Kira, on a quest to restore balance to Thra by returning a piece of the titular Dark Crystal. The film is a cult classic, seen as one of Jim Henson’s greatest non-Muppet achievements, and to this day remains one of the highest-grossing puppet-animated films of all time.
Why then has it taken so long for a Dark Crystal follow up to get off the ground?
Despite being one of the most successful puppet-animated films ever, The Dark Crystal’s success was not immediately obvious during its initial release. The studio’s view of the movie’s success was hampered by the fact that it was in cinemas at the same time as popular comedy Tootsie and Steven Spielberg’s smash hit E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.
The Dark Crystal earned a decent profit for its budget, but was overshadowed by E.T.’s massive earnings. Adding to this, reviews for The Dark Crystal were mixed. While the film’s world and character designs were praised, some critics disliked the movie’s much darker tone compared to Henson’s earlier work.
It took some time before executives truly crunched the numbers and decided that a Dark Crystal sequel was a worthwhile venture. But by then, Jim Henson was too occupied with working on his next project: the soon to be cult classic Labyrinth, starring David Bowie. The world of Thra would have to wait.
A TRAGIC LOSS
During the production of The Dark Crystal, Jim Henson and screenwriter David Odell discussed ideas for a potential sequel, and continued these discussions in the years after the film’s release. However, Henson was a very busy man. Aside from Labyrinth, Henson had a number of Muppet-related film and TV projects in various stages of production. He always intended to continue working on a Dark Crystal follow-up, it was just a matter of finding the time. Sadly, he never did. In May, 1990, Henson tragically passed away. It was a long time before Odell felt ready to work on the film without his friend.
THE POWER OF THE DARK CRYSTAL
25 years after the first film was released, Odell, with help from his wife Annette Duffy, completed the first draft of the script for a sequel, titled The Power of the Dark Crystal. In 2006, the Jim Henson Company hired Genndy Tartakovsky, then best known for his animated series Samurai Jack and Dexter’s Laboratory, to direct the film. Tartakovsky’s production company, Orphanage Animation Studios, would work on the CGI elements of the film, while the Henson Company would focus on the animatronic characters.
Unfortunately, the production was troubled, and in 2010 it was revealed that Tartakovsky and Orphanage Animation were no longer involved with the film. Australian company Omnilab Media stepped in to help get the film made. More delays followed, mostly due to a number of new writers brought in to tweak Odell’s script. Unable to commit to the Henson Company’s proposed budget for the film, Omnilab also left the project. The film was ultimately scrapped, but the script for Power of the Dark Crystal was adapted into a twelve-issue comic series in 2017.
The idea of a prequel rather than a sequel to The Dark Crystal was first considered in 2013 after the Jim Henson Company partnered with Penguin for a competition to write a novel prequel to the film. While the winning story, The Ring of Dreams, has not been used as the basis for the upcoming Netflix series, it planted the seed that a prequel may be the way to go.
In May 2017, The Jim Henson Company revealed that it was partnering with Netflix to produce a ten-part prequel, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. At the 2018 New York Comic-Con, Director Louis Leterrier promised that the prequel would honour the original film, with the bulk of the work to be completed with puppets. CGI will be limited to mostly greenscreen and enhancing visuals in a few key sequences. The series’ first trailer has been well received by fans and critics alike.
On August 30, 2019, almost 40 years after the original Dark Crystal was released, fans will finally get a chance to return to the world of Thra when The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance arrives on Netflix. Will the series be worth the wait? No one knows for sure, but with stunning visuals, cute creatures and an all-star cast, the odds look good.
Lead image by Kevin Baker.