If any book series deserves to be made into a TV series, it’s Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. The phenomenal books create the most intricate, layered, fascinating world.
Why, then, wasn’t this on screen on Sunday?
I have a couple theories. One: I’m experiencing the Game of Thrones syndrome–changes to the source material make me antsy and prevent me from taking it all in. Two: (related to the first?) the pacing was rushed, covering too much ground, introducing too many characters, too many plots at one; as if Game of Thrones had left a roadmap that the team behind HDM is now closely following. Three: there’s too many motivations introduced too early; The Northern Lights was insanely suspenseful and the twists made it good. Why confirm gobblers exist? Why the buzz over the alethiometer? Why that pronouncedly stealthy shot of Ms Coulter’s golden monkey? Four: there was a sore lack of dæmons. Dæmons are crucial to this universe and to the characters. They better have planned a big scene where Lyra meets Farder Coram(‘s dæmon), otherwise, what are we doing here?! Dæmon GCI is not where you can be saving money in Pullman’s universe.
Ok, my issue is that it tries to be Game of Thrones and it really does not need to. Why does Pullman love this again? Is it too much to ask for a scene-by-scene, accurate, epic adaption? Can it be a little darker?
The narration is completely different. In the first book, most (or all? I haven’t read the books in a few years) chapters feature an 11-year-old Lyra’s narration of a brand new confusing world. Suspense, thrill, and twists stand at its core. It’s a bold move giving the viewer a bird’s eye view of all the machinations happening–this might be a good thing. The next seven weeks will be intense. They might pull it off. Yet. . .I don’t know if ending the episode with what I imagine is the highlights of the whole coming season (rather than just episode 2) was meant to excite the viewers, but I felt cheated. Although I know the plot, I’ve read this trilogy tens of times over, I feel like I’ve been spoiled the series.
Otherwise? The acting is a bit rough, as if the cast didn’t entirely buy into the world they need to be creating, but casting itself is fantastic. Ms Coulter and Lord Asriel are as good as they can be; Dafne Keen as Lyra was a little shaky, but here I blame my brain, which has shaped a complete Lyra in my head over the past 13ish years. Magisterium staff as wellas Oxford faculty were mostly brilliant. I would’ve liked more time at Oxford; but I suppose we haven’t said goodbye to those characters yet even though Lyra’s left.
What else was good? The gyptians!!! I’m so excited for them. It wasn’t hard to override my preconception of them, they were so good. A real sense of community, power relations, and what they’re about straight off the bat. Except, um, I. . .did not picture Ma Costa as a skinny blond lady. But ok. In general, I think they’re going to try to say some really powerful things about politics, power, theology, science, and give us lots to think. I hope that’s the reason the beginning was so rushed. This should have been ten episodes, we could have split this beginning in two easily. Though rushed, it felt a little slow: I think giving a bit more time to the characters to develop would have helped here.
Finally, I need to say something: I’m sorry for the shit I gave to A Song of Ice and Fire fans for being upset with the HBO adaption. I will put in my best effort to enjoy this TV series. I can’t promise a thing. But I’m looking forward to Sunday evening.
Let me know what you thought! I’m really excited to read everyone’s takes on this; my absolute childhood favourite, and adding more layers the older I get as I read it. If you link your review (or twitter post/thread), I’ll be sure to take a look!