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'Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance' review: Prequel to Jim Henson's epic is worth the wait

Two characters in Netflix's "The Dark Crystal: Age

Two characters in Netflix's "The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance."  Credit: Netflix/Kevin Baker

SERIES "The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance"

WHEN|WHERE Starts streaming Friday on Netflix.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT The Gelfling — gentle humanlike creatures on the planet Thra — are ruled by the evil Skeksis, while unbeknown to them, they have the beloved Aughra (voiced by Donna Kimbrall) to blame. Aughra was once the essence of Thra, also its chief benefactor and spiritual leader, but she decided to take a break from her chores when the Skeksis offered her unlimited use of an "orrery" — a fantastical machine that promises to reveal the secrets of the universe. In exchange, they get full use of the magical crystal, which has governed Thra from the beginning of time, and which they promptly pervert. (In the movie upon which this prequel was based, the orrery was used to predict when Thra's three suns would align, at which point the Skeksis would have complete mastery of Thra.)

The Gelfling are naive: They think the Skeksis are benevolent rulers, but when they find out otherwise, three of them — Deet (Nathalie Emmanuel, "Game of Thrones"), Brea (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Rian (Taron Egerton) — set out on a journey to foment rebellion. 

 This ten-part prequel is based on Jim Henson's fantasy epic, "The Dark Crystal." 

MY SAY Long before "Game of Thrones," long before the adaptations of "The Lord of the Rings" and "Harry Potter," there was "The Dark Crystal." It arrived in 1982, which was also "another world, another time" (as the voice-over at the outset of both movie and prequel observe.) By then, the "Star Wars" machine had taken over the universe. Terry Gilliam's sensational fantasy epic, "Time Bandits," had arrived the year before.

 Fantasy was in the air. But this kind of fantasy? Henson insisted on an all-puppet cast, and mostly eschewed animatronics. Although world-famous, he was world-famous for the Muppets. There was a pervasive malice, a sense of dread and doom in "Dark Crystal." Along with artist Brian Froud, Henson designed "Crystal's" most distinctive creation, the Skeksis, vulture-like gargoyles with appalling table manners. The Skeksis literally sucked the life out of the Gelfling race almost to the point of their extirpation. This was as far from "Sesame Street" as Henson could go. 

"Age of Resistance" therefore arrives as both tribute to that long-ago vision, and continuation of it. There's a lot riding on this, especially for dedicated "Crystal" cultists who patiently awaited the movie sequel. A lot could go wrong too — a lot — but judging from the first few episodes, not much really has.

 As expected, the chief difference between movie and miniseries is technology. All the razzle dazzle that Netflix money could buy has gone into this. The special effects are theatrical-scale, and couldn't be otherwise. Froud's fabulist creations live on, and then some — creatures entirely spun from special effects populate the canvas, while endless grottoes, vast mountain ranges and deep woods are filled with exotic life-forms that scamper through the underbrush or pierce the darkness with their iridescence. "Resistance" has built-out the world that the movie could only hint at over the 90-minute running time.

Otherwise it's mostly a distinction without a difference between movie and prequel. Puppets still command the screen and propel the action. Henson — who long ago said in a newspaper interview that "I want craft and performance to dictate where we go, not the capabilities of a machine" — would probably be pleased. (He died in 1990.)

 The problem? The obvious one: We know how this ends. The movie made certain of that. 

Nevertheless, good prequels know how to bait their own hooks, and whet appetites anew. "Age of Resistance" appears to be a good one.

 BOTTOM LINE A beauty with a fully realized world which seems to know where it's going and how to get there. 

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