News

His Dark Materials First Reviews: Logan’s Dafne Keen Dazzles in Game of Thrones–Sized Fantasy

HBO's sumptuous series brings Phil Pullman's book to the small screen. Will it succeed where The Golden Compass movie failed?

by | October 25, 2019 | Comments

HBO and BBC have joined forces on His Dark Materials, an edgy, effects-heavy, family friendly fantasy television series. For fans of Phil Pullman’s book, The Golden Compass — which this is a new adaptation of — the TV show has been a long time coming. The eight-episode first season of the series, which is set to hit HBO on November 4, stars Logan‘s Dafne Keen as Lyra Belacqua, James McAvoy as Lord Asriel, Ruth Wilson as Marisa Coulter, and Lin-Manuel Miranda as Lee Scoresby, in a program that is sounding more-and-more like the network’s next attempt at Game of Thrones greatness.

Die-hard fans of Pullman’s work have been wary; after all, we’ve been here before. Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Sam Elliott, Eva Green, and Ian McKellan all starred in 2007 feature film The Golden Compass. The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter movies brought in big money for New Line and its parent company Warner Bros. Pictures, and The Golden Compass might have been the next big thing, but the movie was stripped of the book’s critical religious themes, replacing narrative complexities with happier elements. The film bombed big time, leading the studio to scrap its sequel plans.

This brings us back to His Dark Materials, produced in part with another Time Warner media property, HBO. The eight-episode first season of the fantasy series aims to tap back into the lush world Pullman originally imagined in 1995. Will the show translate Pullman’s fantastical homage to John Milton’s Paradise Lost, while maintaining the dark undertones that were lost in the movie? From its lush effects and talking animals to the good-vs-evil, classist elements of the story, there’s a lot to unpack. Will the program resonate with today’s audiences?

Here’s what the critics are saying about season 1 of HBO’s His Dark Materials.


His Dark Materials s1 keyart (HBO)

(Photo by HBO)

HOW DOES IT COMPARE TO THE BOOK?

Fans of the books will be glad to know that care has been taken to get it right this time. From what I’ve seen so far, nothing of consequence has been left out. — Robert Lloyd, The Los Angeles Times

Despite the rich complexities of the novel’s world of daemons, power-hungry players and warring faiths, HBO’s “His Dark Materials” feels like it could have been plucked from most any other fantasy epic out there. — Caroline Framke, Variety

National Treasure screenwriter (and screenwriting national treasure) Jack Thorne has pulled off the improbable if not quite the impossible, delivering an engaging and sumptuous take on Pullman’s world that cleaves impressively close to the books while still making a few tweaks for the visual medium. — Huw Fullerton, Radio Times


DOES THE ENSEMBLE CAST DELIVER?

Dafne Keen in His Dark Materials (HBO)

(Photo by HBO)

Keen is spellbinding. She is modern enough not to alienate the younger audience members but also possesses a sort of old-fashioned pluck that helps to propel the action. Among the adult cast, James McAvoy is commanding as Asriel, while Ruth Wilson’s Mrs. Coulter is like an irresistibly enigmatic screen siren from a Forties film noir. — Ben Lawrence, Daily Telegraph

Dafne Keen, recognisable from 2017 X-Men film Logan, plays main character Lyra with willfulness and spark. James McAvoy is terrific as her Byronic uncle Lord Asriel, while you’d call Ruth Wilson a revelation as the glamorous and mysterious Mrs Coulter if she weren’t always this watchable. — Louisa Mellor, Den of Geek

Only Lin-Manuel Miranda, as “aeronaut for hire” Lee Scoresby, hits a false note. The actor wears his fedora at a determinedly rakish tilt, but his swagger (and his intermittent Southern drawl) are more playacting than performance. — Kristen Baldwin, EW


Ioryk Byrnison the bear in His Dark Materials (HBO)

(Photo by HBO)

HOW ARE THE VISUAL EFFECTS?

While we’re on the subject of the way things look, everything from the tourist-board realism of the canals, via the cobbled streets inhabited by the Gyptians (a group of water travellers whose children are going missing), up to the skyline of Oxford, are sumptuous examples of imagination manifested. — Matt Rodgers, Flickering Myth

All the lavish CGI has other limitations. The more ambitious it gets, the more studio-bound the acting becomes. You can’t help remembering that the stars are performing in front of green screens, talking to imaginary animals and running through unseen buildings. — Christopher Stevens, Daily Mail


James McAvoy in His Dark Materials (HBO)

(Photo by HBO)

SO, IS THIS THE NEXT GAME OF THRONES?

This is an ambitious series that tackles some lofty themes about power and faith while still giving us spectacular special effects and thrilling action sequences. In short, this is HBO’s first series that has the scale of Game of Thrones but is accessible for all ages. — Alex Maidy, JoBlo’s Movie Emporium

His Dark Materials is very much a fantasy series made in the aftermath of Game of Thrones, with the story’s more fantastical elements given as much weight as the conspiratorial mysteries and complicated character dynamics. — Hoi-Tran-Bui, SlashFilm


His Dark Materials season 1 premieres on Monday, November  4 on HBO.


Adjusted Score: 87.709%
Critics Consensus: The daemon is in the details and while His Dark Materials visual splendor and exceptional performances deftly capture the essence of Philip Pullman's seminal novels, it could use a little more magic.
Synopsis: An adaptation of Philip Pullman's acclaimed trilogy "His Dark Materials," considered a modern masterpiece of imaginative fiction. The first series... [More]

Like this? Subscribe to our newsletter and get more features, news, and guides in your inbox every week.

Tag Cloud

OneApp Awards Tour Film Festival cooking social media hispanic Universal Apple TV+ Kids & Family spain Alien CBS Disney streaming service Fox Searchlight NBC Disney Channel stop motion award winner Biopics 20th Century Fox hidden camera hollywood AMC child's play Nominations pirates of the caribbean godzilla superhero razzies Cannes MTV kong Britbox The Arrangement thriller comic die hard christmas movies singing competition The Witch RT21 halloween USA Certified Fresh Tarantino Baby Yoda zero dark thirty classics heist movie Country Hear Us Out Premiere Dates FX CBS All Access science fiction women witnail miniseries Interview Sneak Peek Arrowverse TV One 2016 Endgame 2015 Tubi GLAAD jamie lee curtis CNN Lifetime Christmas movies MSNBC Hallmark Christmas movies Broadway Walt Disney Pictures BBC America docuseries aliens worst movies dramedy 99% TBS Summer Rocky fast and furious Shudder San Diego Comic-Con satire screenings Acorn TV HBO Max cartoon SXSW Amazon Prime LGBT Emmy Nominations NYCC monster movies Rock stand-up comedy best justice league comics Turner historical drama FX on Hulu Ghostbusters Lifetime hist TCA Winter 2020 Women's History Month The Walking Dead anthology Year in Review cults VICE spinoff Reality Competition facebook french Superheroes scary movies video on demand festival Writers Guild of America festivals psycho BAFTA 2020 a nightmare on elm street teaser universal monsters OWN Best and Worst Song of Ice and Fire batman kids football Turner Classic Movies name the review DirecTV PaleyFest finale boxoffice 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards true crime Trailer Crackle Netflix Christmas movies popular renewed TV shows supernatural Sony Pictures documentary DC Comics emmy awards black Legendary Ovation cancelled TV series remakes The Academy WGN Holidays Rocketman police drama all-time National Geographic blockbusters nfl toronto Extras theme song binge Musical BET italian Reality ABC Family Box Office asian-american ABC Signature based on movie critics 007 Nickelodeon Brie Larson Chernobyl laika dragons The Walt Disney Company Captain marvel rotten biography dc Marathons Toys Spectrum Originals politics TCM harry potter APB prank Columbia Pictures Rom-Com The Purge Mary Poppins Returns E! Starz stoner Emmys spy thriller Lionsgate ESPN scorecard 93rd Oscars slashers GIFs unscripted natural history Christmas Fall TV Showtime television Super Bowl Trivia discovery Red Carpet HBO Ellie Kemper Trophy Talk Sundance Video Games cancelled TV shows Paramount Fantasy E3 Lucasfilm movie adaptation boxing TCA Comedy Central Avengers Winter TV canceled Hallmark Netflix IFC TV Land rt archives parents japanese Exclusive Video zombies LGBTQ Academy Awards Disney+ Disney Plus Funimation BBC One DC streaming service Holiday Warner Bros. FXX Amazon Studios nature WarnerMedia New York Comic Con reboot Sci-Fi 21st Century Fox rom-coms dark directors Martial Arts Podcast TNT TIFF Star Trek king kong Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Calendar FOX ViacomCBS Family Television Critics Association cops twilight children's TV Valentine's Day movies what to watch spanish language YA romantic comedy MCU game of thrones strong female leads sitcom documentaries Action History halloween tv Western concert talk show revenge trailers obituary Anna Paquin IFC Films HBO Go zombie Drama canceled TV shows Marvel Television sports streaming Bravo disaster comic books TV Pride Month Heroines sag awards video foreign deadpool series adventure Mystery independent green book Nat Geo archives sequel travel Disney anime Apple TV Plus crime thriller golden globe awards Spring TV book spider-man free movies Comic Book jurassic park GoT worst political drama Paramount Plus Pixar YouTube Winners game show richard e. Grant Peacock reviews Marvel 2018 ID Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Classic Film Mary poppins 2019 SDCC First Reviews robots screen actors guild ITV Comedy Freeform Amazon Prime Video Tumblr Animation Infographic Pop BBC YouTube Red Countdown joker medical drama cancelled television DGA Fox News cats golden globes toy story 71st Emmy Awards Binge Guide casting animated superman Dark Horse Comics crime drama Polls and Games blockbuster south america Masterpiece Shondaland space transformers Amazon chucky PBS TLC mutant Mindy Kaling Crunchyroll TV renewals Paramount Network See It Skip It franchise DC Universe 4/20 Musicals tv talk Esquire Creative Arts Emmys Mudbound Teen war PlayStation RT History Schedule 45 werewolf dogs Sundance TV composers TCA 2017 Sundance Now crime Discovery Channel Hulu 2017 spanish indie comedies ABC new star wars movies latino ratings nbcuniversal crossover Election Horror australia 72 Emmy Awards Quiz films psychological thriller USA Network mission: impossible telelvision kaiju VOD CW Seed dceu Music First Look news Cosplay SundanceTV Pet Sematary ghosts Grammys Photos Pirates romance Oscars Set visit elevated horror Film breaking bad mockumentary Stephen King comiccon versus rotten movies we love BET Awards Mary Tyler Moore blaxploitation 2021 Vudu Star Wars Epix Character Guide quibi diversity indiana jones cinemax Spike cars cancelled Television Academy VH1 Elton John Food Network Marvel Studios james bond Black Mirror Pop TV Disney Plus TCA Awards Opinion President CMT Logo A24 docudrama serial killer Watching Series book adaptation sequels Adult Swim doctor who A&E fresh X-Men El Rey Superheroe Black History Month Thanksgiving Apple vampires Awards The CW TruTV American Society of Cinematographers venice technology Cartoon Network Syfy 24 frames period drama Travel Channel criterion Tomatazos Comics on TV YouTube Premium