In 1995, the first book of the “His Dark Materials” trilogy was published. Philip Pullman crafted a rather robust young adult novel about a girl in a fantasy world that resembled our own but with a touch of magic. Not quite like Harry Potter, this was a darker world where girls (and boys) needed to be cautious, and adults couldn’t be blindly trusted. It was only a matter of time before this first book, “Northern Lights,” would be adapted into a film. But was it a success?
The Golden Compass – the movie
“The Golden Compass” hit the screens in 2007. Following the success of Harry Potter, it was believed to be the next big phenomenon. However, the film ended up softening a few of the story’s sharper edges and had to omit much of the story’s depth. A movie of under two hours can’t possibly explain all the details about the main characters, the world, and the laws of this reality. Nevertheless, I found the film visually stunning. But alas, there was no second or third film as the returns weren’t as expected.
If you’re a fan of fantasy films, I’d still recommend it. One of the most attractive ideas from the story is that every human has a ‘daemon’: an extension of your personality manifested as an animal. Until you reach puberty, the daemon can assume various forms, from a cat to a marten, a monkey, or even a panda bear (I didn’t see that one, but it sounds delightful). You can converse with them, and they’re always close by. Sounds like a lot of fun!
His Dark Materials – the TV series
It turned out to be a viable option to adapt all the books but as a TV series. This allowed more room to properly explore everything from the books. Each book received its own season. In 23 episodes, everything was told, and it was done beautifully. However, it was much darker than the film. You need to realize that the main character, Lyra, really does seek out danger. Her life is at stake, and you feel it intensely in the TV series, less so in the film. In the series, it’s very clear that a group of adults has sinister plans involving a group of vulnerable children. It’s no wonder the series is rated for 12+ and the film is not.
Lyra is also not a perfect heroine. She does want to do the right thing, but she’s also incredibly headstrong. And sometimes, she makes mistakes, but she learns from them. She must figure out who she can trust and who she cannot because everything in her world is untrustworthy. Even parents! This is a series that can create quite a bit of unrest in a young child.
Talking Polar Bears!
It’s a beautiful fantasy world, one that’s interconnected with our own. The viewer is asked to draw connections as some seemingly unrelated scenes are intertwined. In their world and ours, the youngest and most vulnerable members of society aren’t always well protected. It’s a disturbing thought. And despite Lyra’s strong personality and determination, she needs champions to help her. Such as talking polar bears.
Lyra gathers various allies around her who assist and protect her against a malevolent institution in her world. They help her discover herself and learn to trust. Essentially, everything you’d wish for a young girl. It’s a fantastic TV series, and the movie is nice too, but kinder and less perilous. I recommend them both. But above all, do read the books.