His Dark Materials: Lyra's Jordan   Books Included 
November 3, 2019 3:06 PM - Season 1, Episode 1 - Subscribe

Orphan Lyra Belacqua's world is turned upside-down by her long-absent uncle's return from the north, while the glamorous Mrs Coulter visits Jordan College with a proposition.

Viewable on the BBC and HBO. Note: some reviews include details up to episode 3.

The Guardian (5/5): Religion, mortality and talking animals combine to gift us a series that captures Pullman’s magnum opus in all its glory

Vanity Fair: But for such creative source material, TV’s His Dark Materials doesn’t push the envelope in any direction at all. It’s an intensely faithful adaptation of the books, in a way that tends to bog down the suspense and pace of the story.

Hollywood Reporter: A strong cast and decent effects help HBO and BBC One's adaptation of Philip Pullman's novels improve on the 2007 film, though much of the books' intellectual subtext is still missing.
posted by adrianhon (30 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
This was pretty decent! Like the movie, it opened with an unnecessarily long spiel about the universe and followed up with plenty of exposition clunkers. I also wasn't convinced by the Gyptian subplot and I'm concerned by the number of non-book reading friends on Twitter who say they have no idea what's going on.

But! Ruth Wilson and Dafne Keen are just fantastic together, and I felt real chills when Lyra first saw the alethiometer. So I'm optimistic.

Random notes:

- Time to Tokay: 15 minutes

- Roger looks like he's three years old

- Lyra shouting at the alethiometer - brilliant

- Please tell me I'm not the only person who loled when Lyra did that shadow puppet bird on her wall map

- I took Philip Pullman's featured photo on Wikipedia!
posted by adrianhon at 3:13 PM on November 3 [18 favorites]


I really liked the books which I think I read when I was a teenager.

I liked the play of this I saw at the National.

I thought this was...fine. But there wasn't anything new in it, really. I get that the series in many ways did it first, so maybe the close adaptation wasn't the right choice in 2019? Probably too early to tell.

Some notes
- it looked a bit like the new Harry Potter films.
- the daemons didn't feel that amazing, although I liked Lyra's
- airships are in lots of things
- was it always that classist? Like the Gyptians. Maybe just the start.
- Why so much steady cam....
- The tone felt a bit off too - the child kidnapping should feel weightier? Is it for children or adults?

I look forward to the next episode. Hopefully it settles in.
posted by eyeofthetiger at 3:46 PM on November 3


I was 100% sold from the first trailer. I was very happy with the first episode. I was afraid MacAvoy wouldn’t have the right gravitas but slightly more scattered and manic is the right characterization in retrospect. Stelmaria was great and her voice actor choice is perfect.

- was it always that classist? Like the Gyptians. Maybe just the start.

If I’m reading you right, that the gyptians seem almost a little too tropey downtrodden-but-happy— Absolutely. The prequel/sequel trilogy hammers this hard (but not overbearing IMO). Pullman doesn’t romanticize the ivory tower or pretty much any traditional bastion of power.

Like GoT I bet HBO is going to hammer that “here’s what’s going on, here’s who everyone is” promo material.
posted by supercres at 7:19 PM on November 3 [2 favorites]


Hm. I figured it was early to have the Master trot out the “Lyra will commit a great betrayal” prophecy (that’s second book) but now I’m seeing that the last episode of this season is called “Betrayal”. Interesting foreshadowing, or maybe fore-foreshadowing. (I assume I know what betrayal would be referred to in this season’s finale.)

I’m very hopeful. Seems like the right pace for the Oxford part of the first book.
posted by supercres at 7:28 PM on November 3


Overall, I thought it was a strong start and it reminded me that I really loved that first book. My biggest problem was the lack of daemons. In a world where everyone has one, where are they? That dining hall and the Gyptian boats should have been full of animals. It didn't seem like a world that was built for people who take their pets daemons everywhere.

- was it always that classist? Like the Gyptians. Maybe just the start.

That was an issue in the books--at least I had a real problem with parts like the servants always having dog daemons.
posted by betweenthebars at 7:29 PM on November 3 [7 favorites]


I was underwhelmed. My expectations were quite high, though.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:49 AM on November 4 [3 favorites]


> was it always that classist?

lmao yes! I just finished re-reading the Golden Compass and Subtle Knife in preparation for the show and in both books there are situations where the worst things anyone on the page can imagine are that a man in power should lose his wealth and status for a piddly thing like breaking the law.
posted by Tevin at 5:41 AM on November 4 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure that I can explain properly, but the whole thing seems like something designed to reflect the expectations of people who already know the books - essentially like a deluxe illustrated edition of the book - rather than tell the story in its own right, which might require rethinking elements of the story. The question is whether fandom for the books is large enough to justify the expense. Certainly there is a sense that things that aren't immediately explained (such as why Oxford is flooded, who the priests are, or why some of the people are followed around by talking animals) are exclusive rather than engaging curiosity. At some point someone will explain, but people explaining things to each other is a lot less interesting than is often imagined.

It's not difficult to work out, but I wonder whether the series as presented gives the uninitiated much of a reason to do so.

When the books were first published they - along with the Harry Potter books - represented a resurgence of fantasy in a world - children's books - that had become prosaic and mundane. Now, however, there are so many steampunk adventures, so many airships, so many magicians, so many talking animals, so many Special Chosen Ones and ancient evils to be fought that it is in danger of just looking like more of the same.

It's fine, I suppose, but it does seem enormously complacent.
posted by Grangousier at 7:46 AM on November 4 [5 favorites]


I wonder if the adaptation's devotion to the book is influenced by the success of Game of Thrones, which (hear me out!) hewed surprisingly closely to the source material in the early seasons. And then there's the fact that this was written by Jack Thorne, he of the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child fanfic-cum-play.
posted by adrianhon at 7:59 AM on November 4


So wake me up when the armored bears show up, because really that's the only thing I remember from the book

To be fair, just the bears alone practically justified the series.
posted by happyroach at 11:21 AM on November 4 [1 favorite]


I enjoyed it but also felt it suffered from what I think of BBC-itis. Gorgeous sets, great performances but lacking soul. A bit too staged.
posted by roolya_boolya at 1:21 PM on November 4 [4 favorites]


I like the handling of the story better here than in the movie, and the cast is nice. But for all of its flaws, the casting of the movie was perfect.

DOT, Jr's review: "The first episode is just like the beginning of the first book... kind of boring, except when Lyra is around."
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:02 PM on November 4 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the movie had just magnificent casting all the way through. (Nicole Kidman will always be the ideal Mrs Coulter for me, because I'm simultaneously drawn to her and scared of her, "her" meaning both the character and the actress). That said, the actors did well here with the material. James McAvoy seemed a lot more present than Daniel Craig did as Lord Asriel, which actually succeeded in highlighting what a tremendous asshole the character is. And Rita Wilson's Mrs Coulter is blatantly manipulative, but doesn't drip evil in the same way. (Ozymandias, on the other hand...)

There were definitely some clunky moments ("Lyra will commit a great betrayal,” basically everything with the Gyptians, or about how special Lyra is), but that's not surprising in a pilot. I loved that they devoted so much time to Lyra parkouring her way around Oxford, because that always made a great impression on me when I was a child. This is not a perfect show, but it's encouraging enough that I'll watch next week.
posted by grandiloquiet at 8:44 PM on November 4


I felt like there was a lot of awkward dialogue in this. Like someone took the first draft of the script, and circled everything meant to be mysterious and gradually revealed over time, and wrote "I don't get it! Make it clearer!" next to every circle.

I'll certainly keep watching because I love the books, but I hope it chills out with the overexplaining and just lets us live in this world.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:39 PM on November 4 [6 favorites]


Now, however, there are so many steampunk adventures, so many airships, so many magicians, so many talking animals, so many Special Chosen Ones and ancient evils to be fought that it is in danger of just looking like more of the same.
I think this is true unfortunately, my hubby who hasn't read the books wrote the whole thing off within a few minutes as "nothing I haven't seen before.. dystopian future.. magic..whatever" I was like it's neither of those things. He was like dystopian past then. I was like nope, not that either! Almost like you haven't actually seen this before! Extremely annoying.

Anyway I'm a big fan of all three books and the prequel (anyone read that yet? It was good)

I liked the way they did the Gyptians and didn't try to map them to any particular marginalized identity. On the one hand it was a *little* corny, but sometimes corny is good. I'd rather have something be sweet and corny than mean and ugly. I can't take any more of that.

Also is it really classist to depict a class-based society, especially one that's also shown to be flawed & corrupt? I always felt like the choice of dog daemons for servants was more an indictment of the concept of servitude rather than a dunk on servants themselves.
posted by bleep at 11:15 PM on November 4 [4 favorites]


Several years ago, I made a FPP about Philip Pullman's influences for His Dark Materials. (Note that there are spoilers in some of the links mentioned). People often compare His Dark Materials with the Harry Potter series - but I think the difference is that Pullman's books are built on a scaffolding of literary, scientific and artistic references that he challenges readers to explore (starting with the correct origins of the title, and incorrect one made as part of mistake by his American publishers). The books serve as a gateway.

To me therefore, you can't hope to adapt HDM without considering all these influences - and I was encouraged that the producers do appear to have done this here: we get the beginning of the theme of the borderline between childhood and adulthood, for example (see the essay "On the Marionette Theatre" which was influential). It also helps to have a TV series rather than a film as mechanism: we have 8 episodes to cover that is presumably just the first book. That offers a lot more time to flesh out details. I do, also, hope that the producers are not too hidebound by the text of the book and feel free to add some new elements. Like Pullman, I hope that they set out to seduce people into following up on the references - not preach to them.
posted by rongorongo at 11:27 PM on November 4 [7 favorites]


I'm not convinced their decision to go mainly-CGI on the daemons was the right choice. For one thing, they seem to be really stingy with actually showing daemons, to the point that you could almost get the impression that only Lyra and a couple of other key figures have them, and that they're like pets who you can leave in a crate while you go to work rather than semi-detached parts of your soul who you have to always be within like thirty feet of.

With Asriel's snowy leopard, sure, CGI is really the only option. But the Master's raven? They could have gotten a real raven, which wouldn't really have had to do anything specific other than be in the shot, and it would have both looked better and they wouldn't have had to carefully ration how much to show it.
posted by Pyry at 12:02 AM on November 5 [9 favorites]


is It really classist to depict a class-based society, especially one that is depicted to be flawed and corrupt

Of course not. But you have to check it lands as you intends. This overlaps a bit uncomfortably with the sense only narratively important characters have daemons. If the story is deeply concerned with who “matters”, visually communicating that not a lot of people do is a confusing choice.
posted by eyeofthetiger at 1:47 AM on November 5


(I love that Mrs. Coulter's golden monkey is a golden snub nosed monkey instead of a golden lion tamarin. Much more scope for intimidation!)
posted by ChuraChura at 3:44 AM on November 5 [1 favorite]


Grangousier: Certainly there is a sense that things that aren't immediately explained (such as why Oxford is flooded, who the priests are, or why some of the people are followed around by talking animals) are exclusive rather than engaging curiosity. At some point someone will explain, but people explaining things to each other is a lot less interesting than is often imagined.

The animals/daemons are explained like first thing, right on the title cards before we get the opening shot of Oxford.
posted by tzikeh at 7:53 AM on November 5 [1 favorite]


grandiloquiet: And Rita Wilson's Mrs Coulter is blatantly manipulative

Oh God I know you meant Ruth Wilson but the associations alone....
posted by tzikeh at 7:57 AM on November 5 [1 favorite]


Well I guess the choice was always going to be "HDM can't be adapted bc one animal per on-screen human isn't feasible" vs "We can adapt it but one animal per on-screen human isn't going to happen." Unless like Bezos was a huge fan and financed it himself.
posted by bleep at 9:10 AM on November 5


Also why is everyone complaining that it's too much like the books? If they made changes we'd be complaining about the changes. There were some additions to flesh it out, and I thought they were great.
posted by bleep at 7:49 PM on November 5 [1 favorite]


I felt like there was a lot of awkward dialogue in this. Like someone took the first draft of the script, and circled everything meant to be mysterious and gradually revealed over time, and wrote "I don't get it! Make it clearer!" next to every circle.

This pretty much sums up my take on it as well, including the opening titles that explain the whole thing with daemons instead of letting the audience just figure it out. I was surprised they didn't just bring in Harrison Ford to do a voice-over explaining everything.
posted by mach at 9:18 PM on November 5 [5 favorites]


I liked it OK. I thought the airship visualizations were interesting. The passenger compartment of the commuter airship was a pleasing mash-up of the Hindenberg’s (and presumably the Graf Zeppelin’s) passenger lounges (the angled windows, some of the color choices) and prewar London Underground railcars.

The hull design of the ships incorporates a sheet-metal envelope and a stiff full-length keel. There have been historical ship designs that incorporated both features, but I don’t think they’ve been combined.

Interestingly, the best-known keeled designs were the work of Italian airship designer (and, notably in the context of HDM) polar explorer Umberto Nobile. The Norge came first and was followed by the Italia, which was lost with attendant mortality in the North.

Of metal-clad ships, only the ZMC-2 ever proved successful.
posted by mwhybark at 5:42 AM on November 6 [11 favorites]


I liked it! Highlights for me were the Gyptian coming-of-age ritual (spooky and cool!), and the airships. I liked how the ships felt both fantastical but also well-used and almost mundane (that passenger compartment at the end.)

Since apparently the series has been completely ordered and planned out, I wonder if we're going to get exactly the book outline or if we're going to start getting some parallel worlds stuff earlier on. It might be nice to see hints of Will appear earlier than halfway through the series.

The Nerdette podcast pointed out that the ginormous Magisterium hall wouldn't be able to stand without more advanced structural engineering than they've shown. Is this the new show for architecture truthers?
posted by Wulfhere at 8:18 AM on November 7 [1 favorite]


Wulfhere - Overall it looks like they're playing around with the tech level of the world - the airships for example looked much more Earth-modern than I'd pictured. Actually the most striking design choice for me was the Gyptians' clothing, which wouldn't look at all out of place today. I'm curious how London will look, since after all, our modern Oxford's construction doesn't look a damn thing like modern London.

On the parallel worlds stuff, I'm still not sure how I feel about them dropping that info so early. From my recollection we didn't learn about that for quite a while in the book, and that slow reveal was something I enjoyed about it.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:46 PM on November 7


I'm pretty sure I read that the producers were intending to make Lyra's world a little more modern, and a little less steampunk than the books. So far, that compromise seems to be working well – going Full Steampunk would have probably seemed a bit contrived in 2019.

Wow, that's some small text in the captions and credits.

The diversity of the cast is a pleasant surprise, and the decision to not make the gyptians any one race seems like it was a very good one. (That being said, I'd kind of hoped the TV adaptation would have given them a different name... )

I'm not getting a smoldering-evil vibe from Mrs. Coulter or her daemon yet.

Making Ma Costa weak and vulnerable seems like a very big miss. I really hope her character develops further.

Oh hey. It's the guy from Torchwood.
posted by schmod at 4:11 PM on November 8


The Nerdette podcast pointed out that the ginormous Magisterium hall wouldn't be able to stand without more advanced structural engineering than they've shown. Is this the new show for architecture truthers?

I am loving the Nerdette HDM podcast . It seems that the series has brought them out of post-Game-of-Thrones hibernation. Everybody should really have that conversation about that their daemon would be in the HDM world; miniature donkey why not? I presume daemon's are house trained at least somewhat.
posted by rongorongo at 10:34 AM on November 9


I presume daemon’s are house trained at least somewhat.

I think this gets at one of the issues I’m grasping towards. When I read the books, I saw the daemons as more ghostly, and not physically real. The world as visually depicted doesn’t look like a world where every human has an animal with them all the time that other humans shouldn’t touch.

From a design standpoint- tables and chairs are different, personal space is different, who you make eye contact with (person/daemon/both), how they eat, where they sleep, do you argue, do they shit, are they autonomous, do they shed, so many questions.
Zootopia did this quite well, and I hope the later episodes have this more. But at the moment it feels like CGI, not a different world.
posted by eyeofthetiger at 7:18 AM on November 10 [4 favorites]


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