Muppet Thread: The Henson Legacy

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Garrett Gilchrist
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Re: Muppet Thread: The Henson Legacy

Post: # 10245Post Garrett Gilchrist
Wed Sep 25, 2019 11:35 pm

I spent several years restoring rare Jim Henson material, such as The Jim Henson Hour and Little Muppet Monsters, from VHS and other sources. Here is an older Youtube upload of Little Muppet Monsters, compared to my fan-DVD restoration of the same source.

https://twitter.com/TygerbugGarrett/sta ... 2168129536

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Garrett Gilchrist
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Posts: 6688
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Re: Muppet Thread: The Henson Legacy

Post: # 10276Post Garrett Gilchrist
Fri Oct 11, 2019 9:59 am

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (Episode One) - Sometimes a revival of an old property gets things exactly right. It's a miracle that this show exists at all.

Jim Henson's 1982 fantasy film The Dark Crystal is a masterpiece of puppetry, perhaps the most impressive puppet-based film ever made. It's also a flawed film that wasn't well-received in its time, and I doubt there was much demand for a revival now. It was originally filmed with very little English dialogue. After test screenings Henson and the producers got cold feet and added voices to the Skeksis villains, as well as more voiceover for lead Gelfling Jen. This explained the film better but also dumbed it down. It overexplained its own simplistic plot, leaving viewers wanting more than the visually-lush film was providing.

Tonally the film is probably a bit too scary for children, and adults weren't necessarily clamoring for a fantasy film starring Jim Henson's Muppets. It's a visually stunning masterpiece, but it's a film that even many Muppet fans respect rather than truly love as entertainment.

Somehow, the exact tone and style of the original 1982 film have arrived intact in this Netflix TV series revival. It's still done with puppets. There's an all-star voice cast of in-demand Hollywood actors, but behind the scenes you'll see the names of veteran Muppeteers who've worked on Muppet films going back decades. There are some digital effects, but only to expand the world.

And this is a much-expanded view of Thra, the world of The Dark Crystal. The series is a prequel, and expands our point of view, and the scope of the piece, beyond what was possible in 1982. The ambitions of this series are more on par with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the Star Wars sequel trilogy. Except with Muppets.

The series reproduces the look and feel of the original film, and recreates everything that was good about it, but its ambitions are larger on a story level. The story of the 1982 film was a simple one. The series has more characters and more to say. There's never been a film quite like The Dark Crystal, before or since. But this series recaptures that style with precision, and improves on it by telling a bigger story, involving a lot more characters.

The vulture-like Skeksis are back, as are the elflike Gelflings, who were a nearly extinct species in the 1982 film. Here, there are several thriving Gelfling clans all across the world of Thra. As puppets the Gelflings aren't as expressive as they could be, and they all look similar enough to one another that it may take a little effort to tell them apart. Some puppeteers are better at closing the Gelflings' mouths than others.

The Skeksis, who are not originally from Thra, rule over the Gelflings, Podlings and other creatures, with apparent benevolence. But the Skeksis are greedy, using the power of the Crystal of Truth to extend their lives unnaturally and make themselves immortal. They don't care about anyone but themselves. In the original film they represent the Seven Deadly Sins, and the same characters reoccur here. They are the ultimate ruling class, and their continued success depends on the failure and poverty of everyone else on the planet. Their greed is destroying the Crystal, and destroying the world.

Jim Henson usually had a message behind everything he did. He found his early fame teaching children how to read on Sesame Street, and his later work usually educated children in a more subtle way. By watching The Muppets you could, perhaps, learn something about friendship, family, and self-expression. Muppet Babies and Little Muppet Monsters were about creativity, and intended to inspire children to be creative. The Jim Henson Hour was about creating television, as a profession. Fraggle Rock was intended to promote world peace, by showing very different races of creature whose survival nonetheless relied on one another, in ways that aren't obvious until you see the larger picture.

Jim would have approved of "The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance," which is effectively a parable about capitalism and climate change. The greed of a vulturous ruling class has hollowed out the world for the benefit of just a few. The world is now crumbling with a disastrous change which will kill the struggling poor first. The people see their rulers as benevolent rather than greedy, but must learn to take charge for themselves and overthrow the ruling class, otherwise their species, and their planet, is doomed within the space of ten episodes. But knowing what we do about the original 1982 movie, it sounds like this "Resistance" is doomed.

The Skeksis, in this revival, benefit a lot from their English dialogue. The original Skeksis were not intended to speak English, and their dialogue was an afterthought. It shows. Here we get a masterclass in puppet acting that Jim would have approved of. You get used to the Gelflings as well, once the story kicks in. The puppet work is well up to the standards you would have expected of the Jim Henson company when Jim was still around, and I can think of no higher compliment.

The revival series is beautiful and delivers everything that fans of the original film could want. It feels like any producers who might have wanted to change The Dark Crystal into something it isn't were asleep at the wheel. This feels very much like a production made by the Jim Henson Company, for fans of Jim Henson and the Muppets, and for lovers of fantasy epics like The Lord of the Rings as well. The series is also pretty dark and complicated. It might be too dark for kids and not be what most adults are looking for either. In that regard, it's just like the original 1982 film.

I've only seen one episode so far, but I can't recommend it highly enough. It's that rare revival of an old property that gets everything exactly right.

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