His Dark Materials: a bear necessity
Philip Pullman’s trilogy of young adult fantasy books collectively called His Dark Materials might arguably have achieved greater fame had they not been overshadowed by a certain boy wizard with a lightning-bolt scar on his forehead. Nonetheless, the first book – The Golden Compass – attracted enough attention to get the Hollywood treatment… but the result was whelming at best, and a huge disappointment for fans. The TV adaptation, now streaming on Showmax, promises to make amends.
Despite being ostensibly targeted at teens, Pullman’s novels tackle some decidedly adult concepts, which we won’t go into too much here, because we’d hate to ruin any of the numerous surprises to come. We’ll stick to the fare covered in the trailer, which includes an armour-clad polar bear.
Battle bears and other curiosities
That’s right, there are battle bears. There are also shiny, silver zeppelins, stolen children, art deco stylings and, oh yeah, everyone has an animal familiar – called a daemon – that accompanies them wherever they go, specimens of which include snakes, snow leopards and a creature that looks like a cross between a gibbon and Ed Sheeran that’s had its tail trodden on.
In short, it’s clear from the start we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto. The world of His Dark Materials is somewhat like ours… but imbued with magic, art deco buildings, vehicles and wardrobes, and Ruth Wilson (the leading lady du jour) as the beguiling and sinister Mrs Coulter.
The star of the show, though, is the teenaged Lyra (Dafne Keen) who grows up in a university of sorts after her explorer uncle Asriel (James McAvoy) deposits her there as a child. When Lyra’s bestie is abducted, the plucky youngster sets out to find him, even if it means trekking to the snowy north, where something nefarious is definitely going on.
The night is dark and full of… bears
Given the fantasy vacuum left by Game of Thrones, it’s no wonder productions like His Dark Materials are cropping up. Except with Pullman’s story, there’s an obvious advantage: he’s finished writing them, so fans needn’t worry about showrunners running roughshod over the beloved source material.
It’s the bear we’re really excited about. Why is there a bear? Who does it want to fight? Does it accept tummy rubs?
At least, one hopes not. With only the first four episodes made available to the press, with new episodes released weekly on Showmax, things could still go awry, but early indications suggest the tale is in good hands. Also, there’s a Game of Thronesian face to ease the stress: James Cosmo, who played Jeor Mormont. If you’re a fan of British TV, you’ll also have a great time playing “I-know-that-person-what-were-they-in-again?” with much of the cast.
But, more importantly, did we mention there’s a polar bear with armour? We did? Good. Because as exciting as it is seeing Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame dressed as a pilot and looking for the aforementioned bear, it’s the bear we’re really excited about. Why is there a bear? Who does it want to fight? Does it accept tummy rubs?
These are all valid questions, and ones we’ve been asking ourselves. At least some of them will hopefully be answered in the series’ 10 episodes… though inevitably they won’t be, because the show has already been renewed for second outing.
If you enjoyed Terry Gilliam’s brand of dystopia in Brazil, love sumptuous sets and costumes, find the phrase “scholastic sanctuary” intriguing, or simply want to hear McAvoy speak with an accent like that of a British aristocrat, His Dark Materials will delight you. If none of the above appeals, well, you probably haven’t read this far anyway.