The Journey to Mordor Went Faster and Clearer than Season One of His Dark Materials

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HDM Season 1

The premise of Philip Pullman's HIS DARK MATERIALS is one with a lot of promise. It's theological at its core, positing an alternate world much like our own, with an identical creation story of Adam, Eve, and Serpent. But beyond that, things diverge. The world is one of dirigible and balloon transport, and the architecture seems older and more industrial revolution era. But beyodn the trappings of technology, there is more: humans are born with a "daemon" -- a spirit animal that can change its form until the human host reaches puberty, at which point it settles on one specific animal. The connection between human and daemon is considered sacred, and indeed what effects one is felt on the other. When humans die, their daemons disintegrate.

This is a setting in which so much could be done. And when coupled with the fact that there are heretical studies being done that the ruling Magisterium (a theocratic analog to the Catholic Church) would like to put an end to, studies that confirm there are other worlds -- including our own -- that not only exist but can be reached, the potential becomes one out of which an epic could be crafted.

Unfortunately, while the book series sold rather well, this long-form live-action adaptation makes a marathon of Peter Jackson's LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy (starting with THE HOBBIT, with all the poetry included and inserting an intermissional interpretive dance recital of THE SILMARILLION) seem fast-paced. Watching these eight one-hour episodes, I truly felt that Frodo and company made the trek to Mordor faster in real time.

The focus -- such as it is -- of HIS DARK MATERIALS is on one Lyra Belacqua (Dafne Keen), who fulfills the "child of destiny" trope. Delivered as an orphan to a college, she discovers her parents are indeed alive and working opposite and equal sides of... well, here's where it all falls apart, because while we know what Mrs. Coulter (Ruth Wilson) is doing, we are left to fully understand the motivations for it. It seems religious in its nature, as though she's doing it for the good of mankind -- separating kidnapped children from their daemons, while looking to iron out the kinks in the process that always seems to kill them if not leaving them soulless zombies. Meanwhile, Lord Asriel (pronounced Azrael, the name given in our world to the Angel of Death) seeks to use the energy released of such a separation to build his own Bifrost from that world to the next, seemingly to dethrone God himself.

Unknown to either of them, a bridge already exists from their world to this, and is being crossed regularly by members of the Magisterium, as they watch over the Perry family; rather, the "widow" and her son, who believe their patriarch of the family died. In reality, John Perry made the crossing to the Magisterium's world years earlier. 

The plot of this first season involves Lyra seeking her father, Lord Asriel, in the far north, and hooking up with a band of "Gyptians" to do so as they seek out whomever has been kidnapping their children. She's been entrusted with a magical device of her father's, a "golden compass" that acts like a Magic 8 Ball if you know how to use it. You ask it a question, it always gives you a true answer. It takes years of training and interpretation through copious manuals, yet once Lyra gets the hang of it she's reading it faster than Evelyn Woods scans a takeout menu.

Ultimately, the season ends with no victories, many deaths, and an expected cliffhanger ending. Lyra will surely be motivated to avenge the dead, and we will perhaps get to understand why all those useless cutaway scenes to Earth were so important, as they certainly added nothing of detail to this first season. HIS DARK MATERIALS has superficial appeal to children because of talking animals (except for Mrs. Coulter's golden monkey, who just screeches)

2.0 / 5.0