As Game of Thrones bows out, attention is brought to the upcoming adaption to Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. In this post, I will highlight the 8 things HBO’s “His Dark Materials” has to get right in order to be a successful adaption and television show. Some of my reasons are straight forward and will be agreed by many fans, and others will be more controversial.
This will not contain spoilers for the books, and will focus mostly on the first novel- “The Golden Compass.” As always, this blog post contains affiliate links.
Reason 1: Include The Message About Catholicism, But Be Subtle
There’s no way to get around it: Pullman’s series is not that nice to Catholicism. Whatever your thoughts or relationship with Catholicism is, there is no denying that some of Pullman’s fans are Catholics, and if HBO wants this show to be a success, then alienating them is not a good idea. That being said, Pullman’s message- even if it’s a worldview I don’t share- can be in the show. It just needs to be subtle, more vague and open to interpretation.
Good writing doesn’t shove things down your throat, it isn’t determined to change you into a different person. Art should make you reflect on humanity and be honest. This is a controversial point, but I think it’s the best interest of HBO to hint at greater themes of corruption.
We, as readers, are smart and can pick up on multiple meanings. There’s no need for certain viewpoints to be shoved in our faces. I hope HBO remembers that.
Reason 2: Get The Pacing Right
Fantasy genre works can have peculiar pacing. That was my problem with the adaption to Neil Gaiman’s ‘American Gods‘- it felt off and slow in many parts. We, as viewers, want to immerse ourselves within the world but it should never feel like a slog or a chore. One of the biggest problems critics and the audience had with later seasons of Game of Thrones was the pacing. You’d have an action packed episode, followed by chatter and slow drama.
Unnecessary filler is mostly poor writing, and reveals the worst impulses of authors. Pullman’s books are structured well: you could make a strong season out of each book. Find a number of episodes per book, and stick to it and be consistent. It’ll pay off long term for your viewers, who’ll find comfort in the consistency.
To the HBO writers, I suggest writing that is equivalent to a tight-ship with no baggage. If filler must be created, make it organic. Flesh out characters like Mrs Coulter further. We need depth, yes- but we also require good pacing.
Reason 3: Be Magical
Pullman’s world is magical and interesting. From the daemon creatures, the polar bears, to the alethiometer, to discussion about dust itself- Philip Pullman draws us in with great fantasy and ideas. My suggestion to HBO is to capitalize on this. Don’t weaken the fantasy parts of the story, even if the producers are worried that it won’t sell. People will always be attracted to intricate worlds that are entrancing and complex.
So, HBO- invite us into the world of dust, and give us a damn good reason to stay. Captivate our imagination- from the darkest corners to the lightest arenas.
It’s always a struggle to be ‘magical’- especially as the language of film is difficult to utilize effectively. Yet it’s not impossible.
Which brings me onto my next point. Be magical…
Reason 4: …Yet Be Horrifying
What’s fantastic about His Dark Materials is that it has dark moments of great terror. Without going into spoilers, there is a revelation at the end of the first book that is unsettling and disturbing. My advice for the writers and filmmakers is to not shy away from this.
Disturbing moments are more frightening and dreadful when contrasted to lighter, fluffier moments. Contrast is key for any writer, and I hope HBO doesn’t decide on a singular tone. When we watch the show, we should laugh at times, cry in others, be angry, and also be frightened. Great writing is like making a cake, you need a variety of ingredients.
I want to be horrified during the adaption to His Dark Materials, and I hope I am. This is because the books can be grim beasts themselves, and that is part of the reason why people are drawn to them.
It’ll be interesting to see how the story unfolds.
Reason 5: Let Lyra Shine, She’s The Protagonist For A Damn Good Reason
One of my concerns for the teaser to His Dark Materials was that it didn’t feature any stand-out character moments for Lyra Belacqua. It’s really Mrs Coulter who earns my interest, and that’s a shame, because in the books Lyra is mesmerising and dominates the story.
She’s a flawed character, who is also brave, loyal, perceptive, secretive, ferocious and sly. Reading His Dark Materials, I was delighted that such a multi-layered character existed. Usually, young female characters can get a raw treatment from writers- they can seem one-note and superficial. Lyra is far from that, much to the reader’s delight.
Let’s hope HBO and the BBC bring the magic that we love about Lyra Belacqua onto the silver screen.
Reason 6: Invest In Good CGI And Production Values
My biggest problem with the teaser was the low production values. I hope I’m wrong, but the way the show looked felt cheap. Perhaps it was the quality of the digital camera, or budget reasons.
Here’s the thing. CGI, costumes and make-up aren’t cheap. However, they are worth every penny. A piece of media- particularly a television show- that has good production values- will draw people in. That being said, you can have amazing production values yet still have a poor script.
Viewers care about how things look, particularly in the fantasy genre, which is very visual. Considering the gorgeous cinematography from shows like American Gods, cheapness is not acceptable in speculative fiction. We’ve reached a stage where television must be cinematic and epic, and I hope I’m wrong in saying that- but I don’t think BBC know that.
Reason 7: Give Us Spellbinding Locations
From the storybook streets of Oxford, to lands of ice- Pullman treats his readers to a vast number of locations. I think good locations that make you want to visit them is a huge drawcard for the fantasy genre.
This ties into my sixth point, about investing money in CGI and locations. Let us go with Lyra on an epic journey to faraway lands and bizaare places. We can only do this if great care is done in selecting and establishing the locations.
I really hope the production team takes great care in the creation of the shows locations. A point I hope to make with this blog post is that when great care is taken, it makes a huge difference in how the audience interprets the fantasy world. Because of that, I can’t emphasize the importance of spellbinding locations.
Reason 8: Be Strange
There is a peculiar nature to Pullman’s work- an idiosyncratic style that sets out to make the readers think. I love it. The method for a story to be different to others often lies in a willingness to engage with the strange. I don’t want to spoil the later books, but the strange nature of Pullman’s world helped encourage my imagination.
When reading His Dark Materials, I imagined a fully-fleshed out world with nuances and details. That’s superb writing, and I hope that HBO and the BBC develop His Dark Materials in a way that will lead to viewers enhancing their imagination.
I am quite optimistic about this point, as the ‘weird’ factor of His Dark Materials is appreciated amongst fans. Because of that, I am excited for this adaption- despite my concerns. I believe that if the show is done right, the end result will be enriching and enthralling.
Let’s hope HBO and the BBC are up to the task.
What are your thoughts on His Dark Materials? What do you think has to be done right? Comment below, I’d love to read your thoughts!