The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance and the Future of Puppetry

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Marni Hill – It seems like forever ago when we first got wind of The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance going into pre-production. I remember feeling unexpectedly elated watching the 30 second announcement and enjoyed the ripple of shock that sent the Jim Henson fandom and beyond adrift (but in a good way, of course).
But then the momentum came to a dead stop. We heard nothing for months at a time, then got a small snippet of news once in a blue moon, and rinse and repeat for nearly two years.

Now normally, that wouldn’t bother me. After all, it’s easily understood that that this type of production can take forever, especially when you recount just how long the original film was in pre-production before they could even start principle photography. Luckily for us, this time around The Jim Henson Company had a head start since they are expanding the world of Thra rather than building it from scratch. Normally, all this waiting wouldn’t bother me as I’d normally happily occupy myself with Muppet productions in the meantime.

THE DARK CRYSTAL: AGE OF RESISTANCE

But…uh…there hasn’t exactly been a smorgasbord of those these past couple of years, has there?

Then, in-between everything, Happytime Murders erupted from the depths of forgotten curiosities and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’d rather be eaten by Beautiful Day Monster a million times over than go down that road again. By this point, I’d forgotten completely about Age of Resistance and started to fear that sugar-snorting puppets was the epitome of quality the JHC was going to provide for the foreseeable future.

I have never been more grateful for a trailer then when I woke up last Friday morning! It was instant love and instant relief. It didn’t occur to me just how much I was missing puppetry until I saw Aughra coming up over the hill. I may or may not have come close to crying-whether out of joy or sadness for what used to be is something I couldn’t tell you for sure.

It is my firm belief that Jim Henson would feel proud of what has been accomplished here. The trailer had everything: stunning visuals, a score which incited wonderment, the perfect mix of light and darkness, the appropriate colour filters to give a same feel as the original film, suspense, surprise and lastly-and I can’t stress this enough- the Creatures are simply gorgeous. I’m very much looking forward to observing just how much 30+ years of technological advancement has changed the amount of fluidity and range of expression these Creatures can provide.

I suppose the reason I’m blabbing on about this is because it’s all reminding me how much of a shame it is you don’t get to see this much dedication to physical, practical effects outside of the theatre, Henson related properties and Star Wars. The latter I’m rather happy about the latter due to the size of it’s fanbase and perhaps Age of Resistance can expand on people getting excited about puppetry.

THE DARK CRYSTAL: AGE OF RESISTANCE

I’m afraid that despite Jim’s efforts to bring it into popular culture, the brilliance of puppetry is flying over the heads of newer generations. Puppetry is a gimmick to them; amusing for a few short moments, then completely irrelevant within the next second.

If Age of Resistance is successful, which I can guarantee it will be, then I sincerely hope the JHC takes it as a sign to do more on such an extravagant level. I would hope that Netflix would jump onto the opportunity of becoming a puppet enthusiasts one stop shop for everything Creature-related, whether just revisiting the Storyteller series or something entirely new.

We seem to be reaching a point in entertainment where people are determined to start experimenting more than ever with new concepts and ideas for different mediums. Just look at Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse. It’s still 2D animation, but we had never seen anything like that before. It’s hands down the best animated film I’ve ever seen due to that fact.

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Which brings me to the main point of my ramble; when did the world forget that puppetry- an artform thousands of years in the making- is completely capable of evolution? I’ve heard a few people over the years say that as technology evolves, puppetry will become less personal and more artificial the more efficient animatronics get. To those people, I apologise, but I call complete bull.  Pushing a bunch of buttons and levers or writing codes into a computer may seem less personal than the simplicity of relying on the very movement of your hand to manipulate the felt enveloping it, that’s true. However, there is no difference between the dedication and joy of creating and then performing said creation on both sides of the spectrum. It will be with great pleasure that I watch the simplicity of the Podlings in juxtaposition with the rigged-up faces and talons of the Skeksis. I encourage a healthy mix of both and it’s with great confidence that I bet we will see such a thing this coming August.

Until then, I’ll probably watch the trailer a million times more and continue to wax poetic over the tiniest of details. If you haven’t checked out the trailer yet, I highly encourage you to do so soon. You’re sure to be enthralled by the intense beauty of Thra!

THE DARK CRYSTAL: AGE OF RESISTANCE