Consider the new series, which is based on Philip Pullman's beloved His Dark Materials and provides conclusive evidence that television is now the best medium to bring epic literary fantasies to the screen. The tricky part in adjusting the trilogy has always been the demons – a sort of externalized soul in animal form that accompanies every human being in Pullman's alternate universe. The stage version of Nicholas Wright from 2003 came closest to reiterating the incredible splendor of the books and used stylized dolls that were used by faceless figures in black bodysuits for depicting the demons away with something like that. The Golden Compass, the film adaptation of the first book of the trilogy from 2007, was and could be burdened and immobilized by its special effects like a Spanish Infanta in her brocade, farthingale and jewels.
Credibility does not spring from visual perfection, but from drama, a principle central to this co-production between HBO and the BBC, written by Jack Thorne. (In the US, episodes are aired on HBO on Mondays.) The Game of Thrones, whose popularity was supposed to mimic its dark materials had dragons and battles, admittedly great, but more importantly There were contentious siblings and fraudulent spouses, palace intrigues (which are actually just workplace intrigues) and disgusting neighbors – situations that everyone can identify with and believe in.
At the center of His Dark Materials is 11-year-old Lyra Belacqua, an orphan living in the confines of Jordan College, Oxford, surrounded by ancient scholars to romp around and deal with filth On the street, boys enjoy every chance they get. Lyra's Oxford is not our Oxford. It exists in an alternative, steampunk-like version of the world, where people travel in enormous airships, and a monolithic church called the Magisterium intends to extend its authoritarian control. Everywhere Lyra goes, Pantalaimon (voiced by Kit Connor), her demon and alter ego, accompanies her.
Pullman's trilogy is notable in children's literature as it places importance on adulthood. He does not consider it tragic that Lyra will grow up, but in every moment of the story. Being an adult gives Pullman access to a kind of presence that is both painful and great. It should be real. Child demons are constantly changing their form, but when a person grows up, his demon blends into a consistent shape that helps you recognize who you really are, as a much older character explains Lyra.
Dafne Keen, with her eager face and combative vitality, makes a better lyre than the petite Dakota Blue Richards of the year 2007 movie, but it is the adults in this adaptation whose performances produce the most power. Lord Asriel (James McAvoy), Lyras uncle, and Mrs. Coulter (Ruth Wilson), a glamorous and mysteriously powerful woman, are two adults who are very interested in Lyra. Mrs. Coulter, whose beauty and recklessness make her a very effective villain in the novels, can be considered a cipher. In the 2007 movie, she was played by Nicole Kidman, whose flawless Botox appearance perfectly suited the description of the novel and not much else. But Wilson's wife Coulter is revealing, any small, controlled gesture that points to a life in which she has learned how to outmaneuver men who do not have the authority they have over them. (Wilson has the figure, a tiny "Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm He is not afraid to stay in Wilson's face. He realizes that what flashes about is just as exciting as Zeppelins over London and computer-generated polar bears.
The plot of His Dark Materials is a fusion of adventure yarn and coming-of-age storyline. Neglecting the latter in favor of the former is a mistake that this staging does not commemorate, since the plot awards the audience more than the character. The expansion of eight episodes makes it possible to cope both with comprehensive tasks and with intimate conversations. Lyra leaves Oxford to look for her best friend Roger, an orphaned mate, who is kidnapped along with other children by a shady operation nicknamed Gobblers. Persecuted by the Magisterium for unknown reasons, Lyra finds refuge among the Egyptians, a nomadic people who live on canal boats traveling up and down the rivers of Brytain, England. Together, they travel north, where Lord Asriel has performed heretical experiments with a substance called dust somewhere in the Arctic Circle, capturing the missing children. On the way, searchers pick up Lin-Manuel Miranda, who plays a brisk American "Aeronaut", and his friend Iorek Byrnison (voiced by Joe Tandberg), the overthrown king of armored polar bears.
Pullman fans love the rugged Iorek, and in truth, this battered, self-doubting warrior in the fourth episode of the series is an impressive presence. But what came to my mind was a quiet scene in the hold between Lyra and Coram van Texel, the gray-haired adviser to the King of the Egyptians. Coram, played by Scottish actor James Cosmo, tells Lyra that decades ago he fell in love with a witch, the queen of a female, not entirely human, people living in the north. The couple had a son who died of an epidemic, and the loss divided them up. "It's been a long time," he tells Moose Lyra, Cosmo's eyes are wet in the midst of his wrinkles. Unlike so many similar exchanges in countless films, it is rich with the breadth and depth of those years, the breadth of a life that was fully lived in all its joy and sorrow.
These are the moments that give its dark materials its ballast, which keeps it from floating in a fantasy of artificial eye candy. Without the time span of eight episodes, such moments would almost certainly be lost or shortened beyond recognition. Instead, there is room for both extensive tasks and confidential conversations, stunning views and the human face.