I have not read any of Philip Pullman’s books, but a friend has told me the British author is known—and sometimes criticized—for his commitment to world-building.
His Dark Materials, the new HBO series based on Pullman’s trilogy of the same name, clearly abridges the books and prefers to delve into ideas, relationships, and atmosphere in real time rather than history or background, to varying effect. In the four episodes provided to press, there is very limited exposition—newcomers to Pullman’s work will have to wait to find out how exactly the world works and why, or they might observe and guess as they go along. Still, the complex world Pullman outlines throughout his trilogy seems to find ways into the story, though Jack Thorne’s script often paces through it frantically. It makes for complicated viewing: The show, so far, has its bright spots, but often it’s unclear what the focus is.
The first book in Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, Northern Lights (or The Golden Compass in the U.S.) was adapted in 2007 as the film The Golden Compass, written and directed by Chris Weitz and starring Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, and Eva Green. While not a critical or commercial success, the film was Oscar-nominated for its visual effects. His Dark Materials, the HBO series, is an adaptation of all three novels in the series, and stars Ruth Wilson, James McAvoy, and Lin-Manuel Miranda. The series, which is said to be modernized from the book (for example, instead of a Victorian aesthetic there is more of a midcentury feel), also takes great care with visual effects: The daemons—animals that are tethered (by proximity) to each human and represent their souls—are the show’s standouts. Voiced by compelling and playful actors like Helen McCrory and Cristela Alonzo, they are given ample life and personality in their speech and movement without teetering into absurdity.
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