His Dark Materials is a 2019 HBO series modeled very loosely after the Philip Pullman His Dark Materials science fiction trilogy.
2 out of 10 stars. I’ve read this series twice. It’s very dark but it’s rich in imagery. HBO has a nasty habit of taking well-written novels and turning them into cheap trash. Yes, like they did with Game of Thrones. They did the same thing here. The writers should be shot.
His Dark Materials is a series of three science fiction novels by Philip Pullman. It begins with The Golden Compass which was made into a film in 2007 from a screenplay beautifully written by Chris Weitz. That screenplay was very close to the novels and the casting was perfect. The CGI was stunning and it recreated Philip Pullman’s world perfectly. What HBO should’ve done was brought back the cast from that film and filmed the sequel The Subtle Knife instead of embarking on this suckfest.
It’s hard to explain His Dark Materials without describing the plot. It begins in a world that’s ruled by a strict oligarchy called the Magisterium. They’re a terrifying lot. They’ve outlawed most books and education and adhere to a very strict doctrine. Within the Magisterium is a covert group called the General Oblation Board nicknamed Gobblers who kidnap and kill children. In this world people’s souls are outside of their bodies and take the shape of animals called daemons. Around 13 years old, when the child hits puberty, the daemon eventually settles on one animal and stops changing forms. The gobblers are kidnapping children who are younger than 13 years old and cutting their daemons away from their bodies to create “dust”, a magical substance that comes from the souls of the children and enables travel across worlds into parallel dimensions.
The heroine of the series is a little girl named Lyra who grows up in Jordan College as an orphan and under something akin to educational asylum. She soon discovers that the two people to fear most in this world are her actual biological parents, Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter, head of the General Oblation Board. When her best friend Roger is kidnapped by the Gobblers she begins an adventure that will take her around her world and into another.
Much of the novels’ scenes have been dropped. Just dropped. Instead they added new scenes that really don’t add to the series at all. In fact, most of them detract from it. Like adding major characters from the second novel, The Subtle Knife, in the third episode and moving that entire universe into modern day London. :0 If they had stuck to the plot of the novels and then added material that supplemented the novels that would be different, but they didn’t. They cut stuff out to make room for this garbage. 🙁
The trilogy itself is very dark, but it’s rich in imagery. That’s where the series completely fails. First, Mrs. Coulter and her daemon, a golden monkey, are described in great detail and that detail is carried throughout the trilogy of books. In the 2007 film Golden Compass, Nicole Kidman even colored her hair to reach the exact color of Mrs. Coulter’s golden hair that matches her golden monkey daemon. So casting Ruth Wilson with dark brown hair (and very unattractive) was a huge jolt when she first came on screen, not to mention her monkey daemon’s hair was still golden! Then there’s Lord Asriel who is quiet, eloquent, and at times obviously feels love for Lyra, who is his daughter. Daniel Craig in the 2007 Golden Compass was perfect. James McAvoy is exactly the opposite. He runs around like a guy with ADHD, very scattered, and not at all intelligent. Nothing like the Lord Asriel of the novels. Then there are the Gyptians. I think I was most disappointed in the casting here. This is a tribe of people, but they cast completely different ethnicities and the script really didn’t give the actors a chance to display who belonged to which parents, so it was confusing. In the novels they are described as ethnically Italian or Greek, dark haired with olive skin. But that’s not who they cast at all. Another departure, and horrible casting job, was that they already introduced Will from the second novel and he’s not even remotely like his character in the novels.
Obviously they needed some CGI to finish this series because it takes place in another world with armored bears, flying balloons, daemons, and a million other cool things we don’t have here. But HBO really skimped on the budget. Rather than creating a CGI world more true to the novels, they took river boats in London and threw on a bunch of the cast from Game of Thrones in gypsy clothing. That was it. :0 In fact most of the series quite obviously was shot in London. I hate London. It’s not pretty.
Probably the worst mistake HBO made was having one of the Gobblers travel between parallel universes without dust. Keep in mind the entire trilogy is about creating dust to enable travel between worlds. In fact they are so desperate for dust that they’re killing children to get it. So having a Gobbler just walk through a portal to reach another world is a big cheat and would never happen in this universe. It completely ruins the plot.
2 out of 10 stars. It’s been 12 years since they filmed The Golden Compass. That’s plenty of time to put together a great screenplay for The Subtle Knife. Instead, HBO took over the project and ruined it like they usually do. Chernobyl was a fluke and written by an experienced screenplay writer. Every other series from HBO is garbage, even when they start with a well-loved, well-written trilogy of novels.
Message to HBO’s writers: Don’t try to introduce your own garbage into a storyline that’s famous. Do it justice or don’t do it at all.
Golden Compass 2007
In case you missed how perfect the casting and CGI were for The Golden Compass 2007 film, here’s a visual walk down memory lane.