EDITORIAL: Not everything needs 10 episodes

Well, dear readers, it’s taken me this long to get through Netflix’s prequel series The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. I will tell you that it’s a beautiful show and it manages to pay homage to the original 1982 film without getting mired in too much CGI. You can’t even tell what is CGI and what is puppetry until you realize that something couldn’t possibly be puppetry. The filmmakers resisted the urge to CGI the heck out of the puppets’ faces, so they are as brittle as puppet faces should be. It’s a lesson that the makers of the upcoming Cats should have taken: CGI is something to be used judiciously.

So OK I’m done fawning over the technique.

My big problem with Age of Resistance is that I really, really didn’t need to spend ten hours revisiting this world. It’s not that interesting. I’ve seen the original The Dark Crystal several times in the last almost-40-years. It is a masterfully dark movie, completely original in its mythology. That means it probably couldn’t be made today, especially not by a studio known for kids’ fare. But even at 93 minutes it was a little long. Clearly there was a lot of mythology there but the movie itself didn’t have enough real plot to sustain it for two whole hours.

Now, the prequel series has been fleshed out to ten hours, and they are calling this “Season 1.” This makes you think that there will be more seasons.

Not only do you get some extremely intricate politics between the main intelligent races of the world of Thra, you get long, drawn-out scenes of people brushing their hair, eating some sort of gruel, and staring. You get beautifully composed short-focal-length shots of bugs crawling. There are parts of this show that REALLY DRAAAAAAAG.

It’s ok to go slow sometimes…

One of my favorite movies, Taxi Driver, is so slow and languid that it’s hard to introduce people to. When I show it to someone new, I ask them to put their phone in another room and I turn off all the lights. This is a movie which demands you take it at its own pace. But even so, this masterpiece clocks in at under two hours. I doubt I could make that demand of anyone if they knew they had to sit through ten hours. Even the 70s-tastic vision of Cybill Shepherd won’t encourage you to do that.

My point here is…

we live in a time when it’s common to tell long stories. Think about it. Movies today are usually sequels or long franchises. We no longer think that two hours is enough time to tell a whole story. Our favorite TV shows unwind over the course of years and take over 100 hours to really get interesting. We have the ability to get engrossed in longform presentations like this because we can go back and watch earlier movies. Or, if we’re lazy, watch recaps on YouTube. Earlier generations didn’t necessarily have that luxury.

But just as I say that it’s great to be able to tell a massively long story over the course of years, not every story really deserves that treatment. Age of Resistance didn’t. It could have been a two-hour movie, maybe 2:30 if they wanted. Yes some of the plot would have to go but maybe they could have continued to develop it into further movies later. Most likely that wouldn’t have been necessary.

Why did they even make ten episodes?

Well, as with most things I’m betting it’s less about giving you a good story and more about return on investment. You know all those puppets cost money. You also know the producers wanted  as much money as possible in return. So why make puppets for two hours of production when you can make them for ten hours of production?

Of course that doesn’t explain why I, personally, should want to watch all ten hours. I still can’t answer that. I liked Age of Resistance but in the end I watched it because there still aren’t new network TV shows on and so I had plenty of time.

And folks, if the best thing you can say about a show is “eh, nothing else is on…” that’s not exactly high praise.