His Dark Materials TV Series Update

HBO presented a panel to the Television Critics Association on their adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, in coproduction with BBC. Executive Producers Jane Tranter and Jack Thorne were on the panel to discuss the challenges of adapting Pullman’s trilogy. New Line tried to adapt them as movies, but didn’t make it past The Golden Compass.

In Pullman’s multiverse, where humans are paired with daemon animals, Lyra (Dafne Keen) tries to navigate a sheltered educational system. Even her uncle Asriel (James McAvoy) keeps secrets from her. When Lyra’s friend is kidnapped, she goes on an adventure to find him. Along the way she meets Lee Scoresby (Lin-Manuel Miranda) and his armored bear Iorek Byrnison.

The first season of His Dark Materials premieres on HBO this fall. Thorne (who also wrote the adaptation) and Tranter discussed why they shot two seasons back-to-back, why they don’t expect to face the controversy the movie did, and who’s going to make Iorek talk. 

Kids Grow Up Too Fast in Three Seasons

In the year it takes to film two seasons of His Dark Materials, Keen will grow up quite fast. Lyra doesn’t grow up a year during this period in the books. While we could suspend our disbelief, Tranter doesn’t want to push it, hence the decision to film two seasons back-to-back.

“We have children in the show who as we all know grow up very quickly,” Tranter said. “They don’t look the same 12 months later. And yet, Lyra Belacqua, now Lyra Silvertongue, is the same age. So, we had to find a way of turning the piece around quite quickly in order to allow that story to be told. There is a great thing in His Dark Materials of a girl going through puberty and we wanted to be able to pace that story out age appropriately. And so, that’s why we went, everyone, HBO and the BBC, went with us for 16 episodes.”

The seasons largely go in order of the books, but Thorne admitted to shuffling a few things around. 

“There are a few treats I’ve stolen from future books that I’ve tried to infuse this season with,” Thorne said. “To give that away would be to give away some quite big secrets, so I can’t quite do that here. The whole thing was looking at the whole story, three books, and going, ‘How did Philip think of them like this? And how can we celebrate them in the best possible way?’ And sometimes, that celebration involved moving certain elements forward.”

The Controversy Only Applies to the Movie

The Golden Compass faced protests from religious groups who felt it was anti-Christian. The themes of Pullman’s books do include a monolithic authority spreading false information to their subjects. Tranter feels that writer/director Chris Weitz was compromised by the confines of a two hour movie, and the adaptation framed the story as anti-Christian. With time to tell the whole story, she doesn’t anticipate such problems for the show. 

“One of the things that can happen when you adapt a book for film is that you have to sort of cut down the middle of the story,” Tranter said. “We can sound every note that Philip Pullman in his book sounded, and in so doing, we make clear that the religious controversy that there was around the film was not relevant to the books themselves. In His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman talks about oppression. He talks about the control of information. He talks about the falsification of information. And he chooses the form of The Magisterium, which is a fantastical organization which includes church and state and is a byzantine organization, to do it. There is no direct contrast with any contemporary religious organization for His Dark Materials.”

The Magisterium is suppressing science, but it’s the science of dust with magical physical properties. This is still a world where every single person has their own talking animal daemon. So it’s not like Pullman doesn’t have faith in something mystical.

“I think what Philip was doing was digging on themes of the truth needing to be allowed out to the general population,” Tranter siad. “It is not an attack on religion. It is an attack on a particular form of organization. The books are actually some of the most spiritual that I have read. They are full of faith. They are full of belief. Ultimately, they are very beautiful in what they have got to say about people who follow a pattern of faith or belief. So I think that sometimes misinformation can come out, but if you read the books, and you have the privileges we do to adapt them for every note that Philip sounds, that really answers that question.”

I appreciate Tranter’s optimism, but if religious groups can condemn Harry Potter for teaching kids magic, I think anything is fair game for controversy. Also, the books were British. America can be a much more volatile nation when it comes to religion. Ultimately, any controversy just brings more attention to His Dark Materials.

Iorek Won’t Have a Celebrity Voice

Iorek talks, but they have not announced the voice cast for the animal daemons yet. Tranter still wouldn’t name them, but said that the on-set puppeteers providing the reference material would be the final voices. So it won’t be like Dr. Dolittle with celebrity voices.

“We haven’t released all the names of all the demon voices yet, but the actor who voices Iorek Byrnison was also the actor who was on set with Lin and Dafne in the form of a puppet,” Tranter said. “So the character of Iorek has been created not only with that actor’s voice, but also with that character’s whole physical bearing.”

That sounds like a good call too. Make Iorek Iorek, not some recognizable name. They’ve already got an A-list cast with Miranda, McAvoy and Ruth Wilson.

Correction: An earlier version of this post reported that there would be only two seasons of His Dark Materials. Our report has been updated. We apologize for the error.

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