His Dark Materials series dropped on the scene November 4th here in the US and it’s making some changes to the original child-friendly Golden Compass movie. We’re relieved to see and hear that it’s much more reminiscent of the OG Pullman books. Which is good news indeed!
His Dark Materials Hit Religious Boundaries
The original book’s storyline was based on heresy towards the Christian and Roman Catholic religions. Because of this, when the movie The Golden Compass debuted in November of 2007, it was heavily protested by the Catholic church. So much so that The Golden Compass didn’t get enough backing for the movie to continue with the franchise. As a kid seeing the movie for the first time, it was a thought-provoking and enjoyable story. Filled with enchantment, magic, and other-realm like wonder. It was, of course, watered down as to not offend religiously speaking, but that wasn’t enough. The story within the books was so blatant in its accusations and religious connections, the Catholic Church thought it best to continue its protests against the movies to prevent families from buying the books for their children during the Holiday Season.
It was because of this that the movie and narrative progression was halted. But now HBO has given that story another chance at seeing life in a new adaptation. This time it’s definitely not watered down, by any means. From the very first episode, you know very well that when they speak of the “Magisterium” that it’s using religious traditions and ways to keep the people blinded by what is going on around them. (Without giving too much away story-wise.) This was kind of ironic to what was happening when the movie first came out.
Casting Concerns About His Dark Materials
HBO did an astounding job at casting for His Dark Materials, getting some big names in there like James McAvoy and the sensational Lin-Manuel Miranda, which was a magnificent choice. Lin-Manual adds heart and a different level of character to Lee Scoresby. He helps you connect more to the progression of the character.
Ruth Wilson does an admirable job of playing Mrs. Coulter as well. The issue that stands is that most people come into watching this series with the memory of Nicole Kidman playing that role and it’s difficult to compete with that. Although the two bring a completely different feeling to the character. Nicole brought that ambitious anger, she was definitely someone you feared. Ruth brings a more emotional stance to the character.
The scene between Lyra and Marisa allows us to know why they’re cutting the Daemons out of people. (Removing the temptation of sin from someone’s life completely.) When Mrs. Coulter explains this to Lyra in “The Daemon-cages,” it lets you into her mind about how she must feel about herself and the sins she has committed in her life. Bringing a new layer to the character that we just didn’t get to see before.
I feel like Mrs Coulter is a bit of a control freak. She needs to be in control, and that’s in her look as much as everything else.
Ruth Wilson on stage at the London premiere of His Dark Materials.
So far they’re going in the proper direction, but their execution is falling short of where it should be.
His Dark Materials Story Changes
It does seem that His Dark Materials reaches out to its Philip Pullman roots. Sometimes even pulling words straight from the books themselves, which more film adaptations should do. There are times when the story does seem a bit dry. We need more character development to really feel attached and drawn into their story and have empathy towards them.
They’ve also crossed books in the series. They added in The Subtle Knife storyline much sooner than was intended. Jane Tranter, executive producer, explains why she added Lyra’s co-protagonist Will into the story so soon.
Child actors’ hours are very limited. If we were only filming with Lyra [played by Dafne Keen], we’d still be shooting the first season now! – We had to put in Will and more adults and pick up the pace of it. It’s easy if you just follow Phillip Pullman’s timeline. Will has a timeline that starts earlier than the Subtle Knife. In the end, it just made sense to it.
Jane Trantor – at the BBC Writers’ Room Festival.
But only time will let us know if they will give us what we’re searching for character-wise. But as things are rolling now, everything is falling into place story-wise the way it should.
Needs More Daemons
When Lyra brings up that one of the ladies at Bolvangar doesn’t have her Daemon, it comes as a shock. Was it even noticeable before they mentioned it? Not really, and that is because the Daemons in these scenes are as scarce as they are, it doesn’t make the impact it truly should. They should have spent a bit more time cultivating these connections. Inside Bolvangar, when Lyra was almost separated from her Daemon, there should have been more of a moment between her and Pan, a heart-wrenching moment where she may have lost a piece of herself.
As opposed to just the conflict that happens within the scene. Even the battle seems to have been cut short. The actual Bolvangar was made into narrow hallways and small corridors. This limited the scenes for battle and the witch army was reduced to only having Serafina Pekkala. She just swooped in and dropped the enemies down like flies. Making you wonder why they even bothered with having the Gyptians battle.
But the biggest concern that the story has had thus far is the depiction of the Daemons. We’re aware that CGI can become a bit costly, but the cuts that were made due to this did not help in portraying the story the way it should be. As an audience, we need to see and understand just how strong the connection is between the people and their Daemons. These are direct lines to one’s soul, and nothing can replace a soul. Many of the scenes in Bolvangar had numerous children and only a handful of Daemons. Not much communication between humans and their Daemons either. In doing this you lose a bit of the big picture of why they have Daemons.
Despite that, the CGI is also much better this time around, giving us a beautifully armored bear and creatures with much more detail. Although it does still leave us lacking and wanting more. Even though we’d normally say quality over quantity, in this case, we do need more quantity here. In His Dark Materials, it needs to be more apparent who these Daemons are in this world, and the impact they have on the people they are bonded to.
What Will They Do Next?
His Dark Materials needs to spend more time building up the characters in this world and their ties to one another. Give us a bit more emotional bonds to hold onto, so that the emotional scenes can hold more weight. But as things stand, this is already shedding much more light on the story than the movie ever did. Thank you, HBO, for giving us the opportunity to see this all play out on screen.
But the Daemons and their role in everything needs to be displayed more. A few pivotal scenes were removed, like the freeing of the Daemons just as the children were freed. This was a chance to show more than just “Pet” like creatures in this world. But they cut out that opportunity to play on that. Here’s to hoping they can fix that going forward. There’s still time for growth within this series and we still have higher hopes that His Dark Materials will get better.