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The Dark Crystal Fear Index

A fright-for-fright look at how Netflix's Age of Resistance compares with the original film.
  • A promotional image from The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. (Netflix)
    A promotional image from The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. (Netflix)

    With The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, Netflix is ready to rehash your childhood nightmares. Expanding the weird world of Jim Henson's 1982 cult classic, the series serves as a prequel to the fantasy epic, and reacquaints us with all of the terrifying magic that made the original film so fascinating and scary.

    Age of Resistance flashes back to before the film's heroes Jen and Kira saved Thra, and shows how their Gelfling ancestors were decimated by the Skeksis. Following a new set of Gelfling heroes, including Rian (voiced by Taron Egerton) and Brea (voiced by Anya Taylor-Joy), as well as the return of the less ancient but still salty Aughra, the Gelfling start a rebellion as the Skeksis begin to exploit them for their essence. It's like watching your one gothy classmate in high school get a very expensive glow-up at the reunion.

    However, even though the limited series has a glossier new package, it's still remarkably true to its very scary and very bizarre roots. Yes, The Dark Crystal universe is still inhabited entirely by puppets, and it's going to scare the crap out of you and your kids just like it did in 1982. But regardless of how it stands up to the original's lore, the biggest question for fans is if the new series can fundamentally creep us out to quite the same degree. As a guide, here is your Dark Crystal Fear Index...

    The Skeksis

    The original Dark Crystal's primary nightmare factory are the Skeksis themselves, so Age of Resistance has much to live up to in revisiting these vicious, birdlike autocrats. The Skeksis, canonically queer in their violently opulent costuming and constant infighting, are easily Henson's least adorable creations. They squawk, sneer, and crumble to ash before our very eyes - and that's all before they subject Gelfling and other peaceful creatures to the traumatizing sight of essence-sucking. You largely forget that most of their scenes in the film are basically staff meetings because they are so damn scary.

    Age of Resistance takes a somewhat different approach with the Skeksis. Naturally, they're much less decayed as we're hopping back in time, and their less-crusty frames make them somewhat less intimidating. But more significantly: these Skeksis are really funny. Awkwafina and Harvey Fierstein voicing Skeksis may be genius voice casting for their appropriate abrasiveness, but scary they are not.

    What's Scarier? The Movie

    Dead Eyes

    You know what's terrifying about watching anthropomorphized puppets that we're supposed to emotionally invest in? Those vacant, dead eyes. And it's not just having their essence sucked out of them that makes these puppets' eyes go blank, heroes like Rian and Jen are genuinely creepy when summoning emotion or fighting their foes. The Gelfing characters especially have massive, IMAX-sized eyeballs that make the uncanny-valley-tinged terror all the more prominent.

    By comparison, the film's low-fi technology makes this somewhat par for the course by today's standards when rewatching. Meanwhile, the series' elevation not only in production value but especially puppet articulation makes the void behind their eyes all the more pronounced. Thra's gotten fancier, but the eyes have only gotten creepier.

    What's Scarier? The Series

    Cuddly-Scary

    Is everything terrifying in the world of Thra (minus the Skeksis) also kind of adorable?! Forgiving the heroes' dead eyes, they are empirically the hottest puppets you've ever seen. Jen is a puppet with abs.

    But one thing that is characteristic about The Dark Crystal sagas is that there is a deception that cute things can also become suddenly very scary, or at least very gross. The Collector, Awkwafina's hilarious Skeksi, drowns us in nasal fluids. The doughy Podlings become skeletal, bug-eyed shells once de-essenced. And the Aughra, though delightful in her gruff wit, is perhaps Thra's quintessential Scary Old Person with horns, patchy beard, and removable eye. The edge however is given to Fizzgig, heroine Kira's fuzzball pet, whose species returns for the series. Entering The Dark Crystal fangorious teeth first, Fizzgig gives the film its biggest jump scare and also triggers all of us kids who were also a little afraid of their dogs.

    What's Scarier? The Movie

    World-Building

    It's not just the characters and puppetry that make The Dark Crystal uniquely scary, it's also the fact that it presents a fully realized and dangerous other world. And one that Henson and crew make visually unlike any other fantasy saga of its kind, despite a few key narrative similarities to the likes of The Lord of the Rings. Thra is filled with dark energy that puts us on an edge with its unpredictability. We're never sure where a new threat might emerge.

    The series doffs the original's foreboding narrator for Sigourney Weaver, which we will naturally allow, even if it kicks things off on a false bright note. But crucially, the series also uses its Netflix dollars to maximize production value potential to depict a lush Thra before the Skeksis have drained its resources. It's more ambitiously visual beyond the creature and set design of its predecessor, creating a soaring and immersive aesthetic that maintains firm tension throughout.

    What's Scarier? The Series

    Weirdo Factor

    Put simply, the world of Thra and its Dark Crystal is deeply, deeply strange. Part of what makes the original so unsettling - particularly for adults - is a high dosage of “what the hell am I watching?” befuddlement. In the years since its 1982 debut, The Dark Crystal's fantasy contemporaries from Tolkien to Dungeons and Dragons have all become more and more mainstream - and yet The Dark Crystal hasn't gotten any less weird. And that coloring-outside-the-lines quality still keeps us on edge, like we're unearthing an artifact from another planet.

    The series hues closer to the fantasy adventure rule book as we know it today, even as it invents strange new creatures and operates unashamedly in Thra's bizarre lore. It makes for a more consistently thrilling watch, but its oddness can't match the scariness it created in the original.

    What's Scarier? The Movie

    Overall What's Scarier? The Movie; but thanks to Age of Resistance’s ability to appeal to modern fantasy audiences without sacrificing the strangeness of the original, the series is no disappointment.

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    Chris Feil is a freelancer writer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His previous work can be found at Vulture, Vice, Paste, and The Film Experience. Follow him @chrisvfeil on Twitter.

    TOPICS: The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, Netflix, Jim Henson