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Dafne Keen in His Dark Materials (2019). Image via IMDb.

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Daemons, Dust and Gypsies: A Review of ‘His Dark Materials’ Season One, Episode One

The wait has ended — the TV adaption of Phillip Pullman’s trilogy His Dark Materials has finally come to the screen. After the lack of success in the film adaptation, The Golden Compass, fans have been concerned about the success of this new show.

Nonetheless, there is still hope that this BBC/HBO adaptation will perfectly delve into Phillip Pullman’s mystical world. This show stars Dafne Keen, who was previously known for her impressive debut role in Logan (2017), as Lyra. Compared to Dakota Blue Richard‘s take on Lyra in the film adaptation, Keen’s seems more cheeky and childlike than Richard’s more intelligent and mature character. The show also stars James McAvoy as Lord Asriel and Ruth Wilson as Mrs. Coulter, who unlike Nicole Kidman’s portrayal, seems gentler, and yet more malicious and disturbing.

This week’s episode (“Lyra’s Jordan”) begins with a mini Harry Potter-style prologue, in which we are introduced to an alternate universe based in an alternate Oxford. In this prologue, we see Lord Asriel taking a baby Lyra to a building with some urgency. The scene’s use of dark, gloomy colors adds to the mystery of who Asriel is running from, alongside why Lyra needs to kept at the college “at all times.” The episode continues to flash-forward twelve years into the future, where Lyra is awaiting her uncle’s (Asriel) arrival. The episode introduces us to a variety of characters, including the gypsies and Mrs Coulter.

In particular, the episode outlines several plot details that will be dealt with throughout the series, including the introduction of the alethiometer (the golden compass) that foreshadows the journey Lyra will take and how she’ll go on in betraying them all.

For example, particular scenes left the audience questioning: Why is Mrs. Coulter so eager to adopt Lyra? Can the alethiometer’s prophecy change? Why did The Master (Clarke Peters) want to kill Asriel? And finally, who are the Gobblers, and why did they take both Billy Costa (Tyler Howitt) and Roger (Lewin Lloyd)?

Moreover, through one’s knowledge of the previous movie, some of these unanswered questions may seem obvious to people already aware of the narrative. However, this week’s writer Jack Thorne has successfully laid out the questions through his use of semi-restricted narrative within the episode that reveals and restricts the majority of the information through the protagonist’s viewpoint. Despite this, there are some unrestricted areas within the plot, such as The Masters’ discussion regarding Lyra’s prophecy, Billy Costa’s abduction and the prologue, which adds to the suspense and tension for the audience.

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Furthermore, the prior film was known for its Oscar-winning visual effects, thus creating a slight competition for the series to meet its Oscar-worthy visuals. Conveniently, this episode, in particular, is filled with a range of visual effects. Beginning with the title sequence, the animated layers of the compass, followed by a reverse zoom-out into the different aspects of Lyra’s journey, had a very Game of Thrones like feel.

Moreover, composer, Lorne Balfe’s use of music within this sequence emphasized this dramatic mood due to the use of choir sounds and drums, also similar to the dramatic GOT introductory piece. The broad range of CGI furthers through the use of daemons accompanying every scene, flying airships, northern lights and dust (which we have yet to discover the true meaning of). These elements of CGI are a key aspect of the story, thus adding to its mystical aroma.

Furthermore, director Tom Hooper works well in adding to elements of the story through his use of color schemes. For example, his use of browns, golds and warm colors creates a prestigious Oxford feel of Jordan College. However, these color schemes drastically depending on the character. For example, scenes involving the gypsies tended to use dark and dull blues and blacks, adding to their less prestigious lifestyle in comparison to those at Oxford. In a similar way, the use of costuming also plays a part in the use of color. For example, Mrs Coulter, the costuming tends to wear rich, bold colors including blues and emerald green, thus alluding to her hierarchical power.

Overall, this week’s episode reached an IMDb rating of 8.4/10. This episode contains a slow pace, allowing room for precise details in the story, that the film rushed. Despite this, there was a lack of action within the episode, making it more informative than visually entertaining to watch. However, this was only an introductory episode meant to introduce characters and plot lines. Next week we can expect more action, intensity and conflicts, alongside Lyra meeting with the gypsies and Ulrich.

His Dark Materials will air next Sunday at 8 pm BBC One.

 

Featured image credit via IMDb.

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