I’m a massive Dark Crystal fan, always have been and always will be. I first saw it when I was three and remember running away from the TV because I was terrified of the opening sequence and the decaying, raptor-like SkekSis. My Dad came after me, sat me on his knee and told me that if I didn’t watch the film all the way through to the end then I’d always be frightened of the SkekSis. So I did, and I wasn’t, which was quite the profound and lasting revelation.
In my twenties, after long nights of clubbing, The Dark Crystal was the film to soothe my head when sleep was an elusive improbability. I still watch it every blue moon and then and it makes me cry even now with its conceptual elegance, the sheer love that went into its hand-crafted, cinematic wizardry and the deeply relevant yet achingly ancient poetry that radiates from its heart.
It’s also no secret that the ‘Great Conjunction’ – as depicted by the UrRu in their sand drawings on the floor of the Mystics Valley – is tattooed on my back. To me it’s a symbol of unification; a cyclical model of time where past and present have always and will always merge in some pre-destined, long ago moment where all events, personal and transpersonal, end and simultaneously begin. The design itself was in fact the very talisman that led me to a certain esoterically minded tattooist in 2012, who would eventually become my husband. A cycle of my own, ended and began that very day.
Back in 1982 when The Dark Crystal first came out it was the darker, weirder older sibling of everyone’s favourite fantasy romp Labyrinth, whose popularity was in no small way boosted by a chameleonic, cod-piece wearing Goblin King played by David Bowie. Unlike Labyrinth, which is more playfully eccentric and acts as a mirror-world to our known reality, The Dark Crystal is unapologetically unsettling and at times violent and, most importantly, is purposefully out-of-time. The world of Thra as we now know it, exists in a proto-mythological landscape where humans are not even considered.
At the crescendo of the original film you discover that the two opposing forces; the gentle UrRu (representing ritual magic, ancestral gnosis, a connection to Nature, creativity and tradition) and the greedy, materialistic SkekSis (representing Ego, the harnessing of natural forces for secular purposes, consumerism and the domination / destruction of the environment) originate from the UrSkeks, beings of truth and balance who arrived during an earlier conjunction through a star portal and later, during another conjunction, cracked the crystal of truth in a moment of ignorance – unwittingly catalysing their fall into duality.
You can see the Dark Crystal’s original mythology here as outlined by J.J.Llewellyn who wrote The World of the Dark Crystal book (released in tandem with the film). Incidentally, the website referenced pre-dates the Netflix’s series by a couple of decades and has been running competitions for writers to come up with a worthy prequel for as long as I can remember. I’m naturally kicking myself that I didn’t have the self-belief to submit my own prequel in my early twenties, but there’s always time.
To me, the ultimate message of the 1982 film / book combo was simple: Shadow needs light, and light needs shadow – they are part of the same creature and create a self-replenishing circuit or, as the UrSkeks so succinctly explain whilst resurrecting the dying heroine Kira; “Hold her to you Jen, for she is part of you, as we are all part of each other”. When we are ‘whole’, i.e. conscious and self-aware, we may know eternal life: if we are like the SkekSis, trying to cheat death or manipulate our way into a false immortality we sap the essence of everything around us and destroy the delicate harmony of Life itself.
To open this up even further, The Great Conjunction is a clear metaphor for spiritual alignment and enlightenment: it is when all knowing and every aspect of ourselves come together, transcending duality and embracing our demons and our highest selves in an impermanent yet everlasting moment in time. The whole wonder of The Dark Crystal is its metaphorical symmetry, the enacting of a quest to Know Oneself, truly, or allow our very essence be drained away and weaponised by a maleficent force.
But about The Age of Resistance…
All year friends of mine have been excitedly posting trailers from Netflix’s new Dark Crystal : Age of Resistance series on my Facebook page, and I’ve been staying (as much as I can) purposefully neutral. There’s not been a good run of reboots of my childhood favourites, Conan the Barbarian being the deepest and most painful wound (I tried to watch it, twice, but couldn’t get past Ron Pearlman’s death scene….it was almost as painful as when they made Anne Rice’s Queen of the Damned…and don’t get me started on my fears for The Crow or Big Trouble in Little China…). I did notice quite early on a glaring plot hole in what the trailer’s seemed to be setting up; that the Crystal of Truth (or Heart of Thra as it’s now known) is whole and intact in this prequel and yet the SkekSis exist, independently, from the UrRu.
How have the script writers muddled past this massive incongruity, when it was such an integral part of the film? I wondered, deciding to wait and see if they’d figured something cool out.
Last night it became clear that they have not. In fact they’ve conjured up a story blaming Aughra (originally a bad-ass, cosmically neutral astronomer and the only one willing to openly insult and stand up to the SkekSis) for giving the crystal away in exchange for an giant orrery that allows her to commune with the stars. They even used the phrase “The SkekSis bewitched Aughra” which, if you’ve seen the original film, seems pretty ridiculous because Aughra is the very definition of She-Who-Sees-All. Her name itself comes from the word “augury”, which is defined as “an omen, a sign of what will happen in the future” and so whilst it firstly makes no sense that the SkekSis even existed as an independent entity before the Heart of Thra was cracked / given over to Dark Forces, I find it highly unlikely that Aughra, the Witch, the renegade, the cosmic Witness and Seer, could not foretell the consequences of her actions (or even intuit the toxicity of the SkekSis).
Intuition also seems to be completely lacking in the Gelfling in the Age of Resistance, as they have been demoted from a culturally rich and self-sufficient civilisation to defenders and supporters of the SkekSis. The Gelfling are obedient castle guards, clapping crowds of mindless sheep or book keepers and even get in an excitable flutter when SkekSis carriages ride past or they are invited to a ball (??). I get that the creators are parodying our relationship to our world leaders / celebrity culture, but anchoring it so firmly in our world-order really spoils things for me and stops the series from moving into a complete and alternative fantasy of its own.
In the original, Jen and Kira always seemed rooted by their intuition and their connectedness to the flora and fauna around them and that made their quest even more magically meaningful to me. Where has that gone? How can they have blinded themselves so enthusiastically against the corruption in front of them? I’m willing to admit that I’m being overly harsh, but my sneaky suspicion is that all this will not play out well, or get anywhere near the cosmic crescendo of the first film. My fears are only amplified by a really clumsy script that turn Rian and Deet’s romance into a stumbling, smaltzy cliché and the SkekSis’s vileness into triteness. “You want to be careful, because big things often run over little things” said a SkekSis to the Gelfing Princess last night. No shit, really? I think I shouted at the TV, frustrated with having everything spoon fed to me. These kind of points were made much more skilfully and effectively in the film with barely little dialogue, and the cruelness of the SkekSis made plain as we watched them gorge on the creatures previously seen flourishing in the swamplands of Kira’s home. Most of the dialogue felt clunky and repetitive throughout, which was such a shame when the artists, set-designers and puppet makers have clearly gone above and beyond to stay true to the integrity of the original.
None of this even touches upon the complete omission of the UrRu in the first episode, whose lives / journey paralleled every action and movement of the SkekSis in the film (remember when the Emperor and the UrRu Elder both die at exactly the same time right at the very beginning of the story – that was a major clue!) Whilst I’m sure there’ll be some hero’s journey that take the new Gelfing protagonists to meet the UrRu and gain insight or some magical tools, completely omitting them from the offset loses some of the wonderful symmetry that underpins everything in the original narrative.
Everything in The Dark Crystal was designed according to a very specific and complimentary set of mathematical designs (triangles inside circles) and if you read The World of the Dark Crystal conceptual art book you’ll see everything; the sets, the creatures, the artwork, the back drops, the props, everything you can see fits within these geometric principles. That’s why the whole world looks and feels so conceptually whole and to their credit, the Henson / Froud led designers of the Age of Resistance have held true to.
But to leave out the UrRu and this sense of narrative symmetry as it unfolds really loses some of the potency as far as I’m concerned. I can’t help but think that the original Dark Crystal crew, writers and concept designers spear-headed by the amazing (and clearly magically minded) Brian and Wendy Froud were themselves a bunch of eccentric, creative witches and wizards who understood that the most complex and revelatory wisdom is best expressed through subtle and innocuous mediums: children’s fantasy. They certainly instilled a collective masterpiece with a sublimated magical current that elevated The Dark Crystal into something so much more than fairy tale yarn.
This to me was the whole wonder and beauty of The Dark Crystal, the metaphorical symmetry of darkness and the light, the ultimate quest for each and every one of us to Know Ourselves truthfully, on a deep and fundamental level, guided by our intuition and played out through the SkekSis and UrRu.
I really, really want to like The Age of Resistance (especially now when what we need most is the impetus to rise up against our own very real essence draining overlords!!) but I’m not even sure if the beautiful effects and incredible puppetry will stop me from wincing (or shouting) every time the Gelfling’s say something dumb or the story moves further and further away from its original heart and soul. The film wasn’t faultless, I’m not totally blinded by nostalgia; Jen sounded like Michael Jackson and constantly whinged aaaall the way through, but it felt like a cosmic myth, instead of badly written allegory, and I’m really not sure if The Age of Resistance has skipped over the most essential and relevant point.
I guess there’s nothing to do but sit tight until the end and hope all my fears are unfounded.