Kieran Moore – One of the best things about being part of the Muppet fan community is getting to interact with some truly talented puppet performers. We know their names, we know their faces and sometimes we even know what they had for breakfast. So as I watched the tenth episode of The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (henceforth known as TDC:AoR to prevent me getting repetitive strain injury [henceforth known as RSI]), I couldn’t resist upsetting Netflix’s desire to make me watch something else and reading the credits to see all the names I know. People like Louise Gold, Warrick Brownlow-Pike, Victor Yerrid, Andrew Spooner and Tim Cherry-Jones (who actually lives in my hometown and I know for real, for real).
In amongst all those names, I spotted a credit for the British Film Institute. The British Film Institute (henceforth known as The BFI…), “works with government and industry to make the UK the most creatively exciting and prosperous place to make film internationally” and were involved as such with everyone’s new favorite crystal-based TV show. Like Justin Timberlake they were instrumental in bringing Skeksis back…
All of this is basically a really long, rambling way of telling you that for two weeks at the end of August/beginning of September the BFI in London held a Dark Crystal exhibition showcasing props, puppets, artwork and other awesome things from TDC:AoR.
Also, I went.
And took pictures.
And you’ll see some of those now.
The Thra-shaped goodness started as soon as me and Passepartout, my travelling companion, entered the lobby of the building with an impressive display of the Skeksis Emperor, skekSo, in his throne room and a mightily impressive Aughra. It’s entirely possible that Aughra might just be one of the best exhibits on display and it’s so cool that they’ve put her where everyone can see and enjoy her beauty. That said, tickets to the exhibition were an absolute steal as they were completely free! All we had to do was book a time! The exhibition itself was small, but perfectly formed meaning the time slots were just 10 minutes apart. I really appreciated this staggered entry as it gave us plenty of time to linger without feeling like we were getting in other people’s way.
Upon entering, we were given a small guide to the exhibition which included a puzzle to solve, some paper Deet ears and a Netflix pencil. I thought this was excellent considering how much we’d paid to attend.
With souvenirs in hand we entered the exhibition. I won’t mention everything we saw individually, but will just mention a few of my personal highlights and feelings.
The tour started with a short video of Aughra telling us what to expect, getting grumpy and telling us to move on. This was a neat touch and another indicator that the event wasn’t done on the cheap. Directly next to that was a huge (floor to ceiling) image of Jim Henson with the following quote from him:
“It was the most work. It was the most difficult, but it was the most fun and it was the most rewarding. And of all projects it’s the one I’m most proud of.”
I don’t really think I need to underline the magnitude of that quote. When you consider that this guy created the Muppets – you can see just how special The Dark Crystal is. That TDC:AoR is doing so well, getting incredible reviews and is being touted as the start of a physical effects renaissance and is set in the world Jim was most proud of, makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. To think nearly 30 years after his death his legacy is being honored and his work is still influencing the entertainment industry is astounding. I can only imagine how his children must be feeling right now.
I experienced the exhibition before I saw the show which was a shame as it meant some of what I saw probably resonated with me less than it might, but seeing props and puppets and behind the scenes wizardry is always astounding. What was made completely obvious throughout was just how much time, effort and love has been poured into the production. Everything was insanely detailed and the artwork was gorgeous. For me the highlight of this section was coming face to face with Sidetic, The Scientist’s pet and the awesome model of the Sanctuary Tree.
Did You Know: It took six months to film TDC:AoR? That’s incredible. It works out to roughly 2.5 weeks an episode. I can’t decide if I’m impressed they put so much care into production that it took so long or astounded they produced such quality so quickly!
After seeing the props and behind the scenes stuff we came upon the Crystal of Truth! To be honest, I’m not sure if this was a replica prop or simply not as impressive in the flesh, but it was still cool to be face to face with a movie icon. The puzzle I mentioned earlier involved decoding the letters around the base of the crystal to complete a word – then when we reached the obligatory gift shop we could claim our prize. We noted down 9 letters that spelt absolute gibberish, but carried on regardless.
I don’t know if you’ve ever met a Skeksis before, but they are genuinely horrible. I can honestly say I don’t think I’d want to be the guy locking up the studio each night while the show was being filmed. I have been lucky enough to have my picture taken with a real life Skeksis before, but I couldn’t resist donning a robe and posing for another one.
Then it was on to what was hands down the best bit of the exhibition for me. Passing through some very studio-esque black drapes I suddenly found myself in a dark forest surrounded by flora, fauna, podling and gelfling. It genuinely took my breath away as I first took in the scene. It was easily on the level of similar things I’ve seen in very expensive theme parks (looking at you Disney). The space felt truly immersive and, because of the restrictive time slots, as if we had the place to ourselves. It was truly magical.
Sad to say, that was pretty much the end of the exhibition. Coming out of such an enchanting setting and back to the utilitarian stairs of the gallery felt like being kicked out of Utopia!
Of course, we then exited through the gift shop. Passepartout and I told the very kind lady behind the counter that we had no clue what the word was, but she asked to see what we had written down. She said the word was an anagram of what we had, but we only needed five of the letters. I must admit this was a bit sneaky, but I’d already spotted that “Truth” could be spelt out so we were gifted with two gorgeous posters featuring artwork from the show. They also had Dark Crystal beer which was a genius idea, but I couldn’t work out if it was for sale or not so came away sober.
All in all, I thought the whole experience was incredible. To see real-life props and puppets was a thrill, to be treated to seeing them in such great settings was even better. The exhibition felt like a love letter to loyal Henson fans, but better still to Jim himself. Now that I’ve seen TDC:AoR I can happily say that in that respect the show and the exhibition feel like two sides of the very same being.