Tuesday, 3 September 2019

U Can't Skek Sis [review: Dark Crystal episode 2]

Episode 2 of The Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance has many pleasures. Deet has found her way to the surface, and despite being unused to the glare of the three suns has met her first podling and her first fizzgig who may prove to be a bit of a scene-stealer. The Skeksis are as treacherous as ever - not least to each other, and Rian and Brea are both in so much trouble for different reasons.

With some movies or shows there is a drive towards realism, whether through special or visual effects, with the ultimate goal of making the audience forget they are watching a created fantasy. Here the effect is different. It's never in doubt that you are watching puppets - Muppets, even, but the artistry is so good that you still accept them as real characters and care about their struggles.

I have taken a decision not to binge-watch The Dark Crystal. It's too good - I want to take a bit more time and enjoy each episode. Also, at this point two episodes in I feel a need to go back and watch the 1982 movie, strictly for research purposes.

Sunday, 1 September 2019

Fantastic Beasts And Thra To Find Them [Review: Dark Crystal episode 1]

The world of Thra is changing. The Skeksis, alien vulture-like creatures who have ruled over the native Gelflings for hundreds of years, have plundered the power of the Crystal to sustain themselves, and this is beginning to influence Thraian lifeforms in sinister ways. Most of the Gelflings are extremely gullible and view the obviously evil Skeksis as benevolent lords, but one or two are beginning to smell a rat. Junior guards Rian (Taron Egerton and Neil Sterenberg) and Mira (Alicia Vikander and Helena Smee) are searching the Skeksis castle for an escaped Spitter when they have an unfortunate encounter with the Skeksis chief scientist; meanwhile Gelfling princess Brea (Anya Taylor-Joy and Alice Dinnean) becomes suspicious of the tributes offered to the Skeksis lords during the annual tithing ceremony, and underground-dwelling Deet (Nathalie Emmanuel and Beccy Henderson) discovers that her favourite baby nurloc has become a little irritable. Something isn't quite right.

Set before the events of the 1982 movie, The Dark Crystal is a new TV series produced by the Jim Henson company and available on Netflix. Like the movie, it's an ambitious attempt to tell an epic science fiction story through puppetry - the cast, and the many forms of wildlife on Thra, are all portrayed by puppets. However this is not an anti-CGI campaign but a pairing of visual and special effects, with live-action puppetry transported to a computer generated landscape.

Thra is a planet rich in fantastic beasts, and they have been created with imagination and humour - this is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the episode. Imagine Avatar re-created by the Muppets. In fact there are plenty of similarities between Pandora and Thra. Both ecosystems have been imagined in great detail, and there does seem to be a lot of bioluminescence about on both planets.

The first episode has to introduce the planet's backstory through a brief history lesson, introduce the many Gelfling factions, and begin the stories of the Gelflings and Skeksis central to the plot - as a result the action switches from region to region rather like an episode of Game of Thrones. And without providing too many spoilers, as with Game of Thrones maybe you shouldn't get too fond of any particular characters.

Speaking of characters, each major role in Dark Crystal is credited to two people - a voice actor and a puppeteer. The voice cast is stellar - see examples above, but the list also includes Mark Hamill, Simon Pegg, Sigourney Weaver, Helena Bonham-Carter, Killjoys' Hannah John-Kamen and a few Game of Throners for good measure. Look at the full cast list on IMDb here and weep. I haven't heard of any of the puppeteer cast but I now wish I had - they are incredibly talented.

Conclusion: a strong first episode that provides exposition, starts off several plots, introduces characters and gives some idea of just how epic this series could be. The rest of the series has much to live up to.