One of television’s most ambitious & successful productions to date

Back in 1982, Jim Henson & Frank Oz set out to create a fantasy world full of strange wondrous creatures – some good, others evil. After a great war between the evil Skeksis and the peaceful Gelflings – virtually eliminating the Gelfling civilization in the process – two Gelfling survivors team up to solve the riddle of the Dark Crystal.

The film itself was a masterpiece of fantasy filmmaking, utilising puppetry for the denizens of Thra. Jim Henson and his Creature Shop threw every technique they had at the film to realise the designs of Brian Froud. Hand puppets, animatronics, full-size costumes, marionettes, you name it – they used it. And with some decent matte paintings, optical effects and elaborate sets, the world of Thra was a wonderful, but somewhat limiting place.

Much has been discussed regarding the sequel to The Dark Crystal: The Power of the Dark Crystal, but ultimately a decision was made to tell a story prior to the events of the 1982 film.

What’s even more extraordinary is that Netflix was able to commission a major special and visual effects spectacular which spans nearly 10 hours of television. HBO and Game of Thrones – eat your heart out. This piece of work is the very best that Jim Henson’s Creature Shop has ever produced. It’s certainly their biggest. More so than Labyrinth. And it also marks an (albeit temporary) welcome return for the JHCS to London – they left back in 2003 after we at MPC had finished on Tomb Raider 2: The Cradle of Life.

That said, Netflix has not spared the pennies making this show. The sets are extraordinary. The vistas of Thra are enthralling. The camera work is now decidedly less static – with sweeping movements and handheld close-ups. We have more inserts of character legs running, jumping and picking up/dropping things which gives the characters a more organic feel. Some characters have a bit of digital augmentation to provide more expression, though the Gelflings still feel as if they’ve been Botoxed up to the hilt:

Guess the mood: happy, sad, angry or as high as a skunk?

But it’s the extremely talented puppeteers’ skill that brings through the physical emotion of the characters, backed up by the excellent voice actors – many of whom are big-name stars. Much praise goes to Mark “Luke Skywalker” Hamil as the voice of The Scientist Skeksis and Simon Pegg as The Chamberlain. And Awkwafina as the hideous Collector (so much mucus for a single Skeksis). There are far too many names to mention here (both voice actor and puppeteer, and sometimes both) as they are so good – all bloody wonderful. The casting people deserve an Emmy.

The story is a slow burner. But that’s absolutely fine. It provides a wonderful orientation to the world of Thra and its inhabitants – considerably more so than the movie which had 1 and a half hours to cram in a beginning, middle and an end. Sometimes the level of detail is so good – especially when watching in UHD/4K, that you could just reach out and grab what’s on the screen. Excellent cinematography and production design (by Jane Goldman/Matthew Vaughn’s Stardust‘s Gavin Bocquet) make everything just pop.

Stand out moments include the Podling bathing scene – in which a bare bummed Podling escapes from Gelflings charged in overseeing their annual bathtime. A Podling named Hup – a paladin with a wooden spoon for a sword – starting a “bar” fight. The Skeksis bathtime. The Heretic and his other-self (especially the opera (a bit of Tuvan throat singing, anybody?) and puppet show). And anything featuring The Hunter. You’ll never see any other Skeksis move so fast.

Having read the earlier graphic novels – The Dark Crystal: Creation Myths (as opposed to Creation Meths) – I was a bit disappointed that they hadn’t included Aughura’s son, Raunip. But having read an interview with co-creators Jeff Addiss and Will Matthews, and co-executive producer Javier Grillo-Marxuach, there wasn’t any space for him in this story. But there is hope he may be present in a future series. Yay!

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is a beautiful, beautiful tribute to Jim Henson for whom I am certain would have loved every single minute of this. I was blown away at the level of detail and care that’s gone into the making of the show. From the scripts through to the puppets, puppet special effects, sets, special effects, visual effects, cinematography, direction – and not forgetting Daniel Pemberton and Samuel Sim’s wonderful score.

The original series soundtrack, now available on Apple Music
Vol. 2 of the soundtrack – even more Gelfling goodness

Netflix MUST renew the show. It took years to get to this point, so renewing now means that the next trip to Thra wouldn’t be for at least another 2 years (2021/2022 at the latest). I’d say that both this and Amazon’s Good Omens have been the TV highlights of this year. Expect the awards season to reflect this – I see many wins for both shows.

11/10 – An absolute blast – best thing on TV for *ages*

The end of an era?

Star Wars was the first film I ever saw at the cinema. I’m too young to remember EXACTLY when I saw it (it was released in 1977 when I was just one year old, so no chance of catching it when it first came out) – but it must have been during one of the semi-frequent cinema re-releases. I do remember going to see Empire Strikes Back in the cinema with mum (and I was scared stiff of Yoda at first!), and Return of the Jedi with both my mum and dad. I loved every minute of it. Star Wars was a wonderful universe, full of imagination and strange creatures. And we could enjoy it as a family.

So Star Wars, for me, is rather special. The forthcoming release of Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker will be quite special in that it ends the 9 films run featuring the Skywalkers. We’ve witnessed the rise of Anakin Skywalker and his transformation into Darth Vader. We’ve seen his son and daughter find each other after being separated at birth and fight the Empire. We’ve seen Leia’s son kill his dad, while Luke abandoned teaching after the terrible tragedy which saw his nephew turn to the dark side.

And it all ends here:

Mind you, while it will be sad to say goodbye to the Skywalker family, we’ll always have Disney+ to look forward to. No idea as to the availability in the UK, but it will carry the first-ever Star Wars TV series: The Mandolorian. Plus there will also be other TV series set in the Star Wars universe to follow. Disney recognises the importance of Star Wars as a brand, so they’re not going to just let it sit there and gather dust – unlike what they’ve done with The Muppets (which is a big shame).

The Art of The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Exhibition, BFI Southbank

I’ve had a very pleasant day out in South London along the Southbank visiting the BFI Southbank for the Netflix exhibition of The Art of The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. It was a chance to get up close and personal with the puppets (or at least sculptures/poseable versions) and learn a bit more about the production.

I’m hoping to attend a screening of the first episode along with a Q&A with Louise Gold on Monday.

It really was quite extraordinary to see the attention to detail that’s gone into these puppets, and as you can see from the many photos, the world of Thra is an incredible place. Even if it has phallic mushrooms/plants. With teeth. Ooer-missus.

Everything above was shot on an iPhone XS Max.

“It was a shame how he carried on”

Ordinarily, Netflix requires that you remain indoors, slumped all over the couch and binge-watch all their TV shows and films which took forever and a day to make, only to be consumed in mere hours.

This Saturday (and Bank Holiday Monday), Netflix is making me (well, they’re not – but the tickets are free) take the train up to London’s South Bank to attend a limited exhibition of art, scenery and puppets from their forthcoming series: The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance.

I’ve been a huge fan of Jim Henson since I can remember, and The Dark Crystal (along with Labyrinth) was a major departure from the craziness of The Muppets. Featuring state of the art puppetry for the time, The Dark Crystal featured absolutely no humans – only spectacularly crafted puppets. It was also dark in tone. I remember when the emperor Skeksis dies – not only did it feature a jump scare, but the crumbling away of his flesh terrified me as a kid. There was nothing quite like it. And although the film floundered at the box office originally, it’s become a cult favourite since its release on home platforms.

There was the talk of a sequel for many years, but nothing ever materialised in the form of a TV or film. Ultimately the sequel became a graphic novel. But the talk of producing something relating to The Dark Crystal carried on. And now we have a prequel which tells the story of the Gelfling uprising against the evil Skeksis in a mini-series which will be airing on Netflix on the 30th August.

So I had to jump at the chance at being able to see the artwork and puppets. On Bank Holiday Monday, Louise Gold, one of the original members of The Muppet Show, a talented puppeteer, actress and singer, will be giving a talk during the screening of the first episode of Age of Resistance.

I’ll be filing my report as soon as I can. Hoping to come away with plenty of photos (and possibly video).


 (*) With apologies to Boney M.

First, it was Good Omens. Now it’s The Boys. Amazon Prime Video has been available on Apple TV devices for a while now. Not long, but long enough. I bought the 4K version of the Apple TV because I have a 4K TV.

I have the Amazon Prime Video app on my LG 4K TV, but I don’t tend to use the built-in apps for the TV because the TV is getting old now and the app and WebOS updates are few and far between. An Apple TV device should continue to receive OS and app updates regularly for many years to come – and one only has to replace one component when Apple stops supporting that device, rather than having to replace an otherwise good working TV. This is why I despise the “smart” in Smart TV.

Amazon’s 21st century equivalent of adjusting a TV aerial

Amazon, like Netflix, has been commissioning original TV shows in UHD (4K). With Netflix and the right subscription, you’ll get the highest resolution out the box without any fuss. If it’s 4K, you’ll get 4K. If it’s HD only, you’ll get HD only. With Amazon, you’re relying on them to put the 4K version of the title on the home page. Except they rarely do. No, with Amazon, you have to dig deep to find the bugger and then add it to your wishlist so that you don’t lose it again.

I had tremendous difficulties playing Good Omens in 4K when it was first released. Error galore. And I had even more difficulty trying to find the link to get help with Amazon (though it turns out when you do find the help page, the contact us section is bottom left-hand side – it’s not as obvious as you think it is when you’re trying to look for it). We then spent about an hour going through a scripted support process before the case was escalated to Amazon Prime Video’s specialist support team.

The thing is, the LG TV could play the 4K version of Good Omens just fine. Yet the newer Apple TV running Amazon’ s own app couldn’t. Eventually, Amazon managed to fix it, but it left a bit of a bad taste.

And now we have a new Amazon series called The Boys. It’s a very good black comedy about a world where superheroes are vile and managed by a massive agency who look after their PR, which comes in handy whenever collateral damage from a superhero rescue comes into play. It’s an exceptional series, but again, I can’t play it in 4K on the Apple TV.

Here are things I’ve tried:

  • Signed out of Amazon, then signed back in again
  • Restarted the Apple TV
  • Signed out of Amazon, deleted the Amazon Prime Video app, restarted the Apple TV, downloaded the Amazon Prime Video app, and then signed in again
  • Sacrificed a small goat to the tech god, “Sodslaw”
  • Admired the extremely impressive Apple TV 4K screensavers when attempting to escalate the issue with Amazon

The reason I got angry about this in the first place was that the TV app on Apple TV made it clear it was a 4K show. But when you clicked on the link to open it, an error from Amazon’s Prime Video app popped up.

I tried to search for The Boys within the app. No joy. And I tried on the web site – again no joy – until today (one day after the release). I added it to the Watchlist so that I wouldn’t lose it again.

I’ve been in touch with Amazon, and I think they’re escalating this – but they also wanted me to restart my router. I said that I didn’t think that was going to be necessary, but they insisted. And that’s when I lost my temper and left the chat.

Some thoughts:

  • Apple and Amazon need to work more closely together
  • Amazon needs to put more developers onto the tvOS app
  • Amazon needs better QA testers for the tvOS app

If these so-called “cord-cutting” services are to succeed, they need to work flawlessly across the many platforms that they’re on. And support for these services needs to be beefed up. Streaming is only going to get more complex – especially if 8K is around the corner (my prediction: won’t see anything serious for the next 2-3 years and even then we’ll still be struggling with 4K like we are right now).