HBO Debuts ‘His Dark Materials’ Trailer at SDCC. Will It Do Justice to Philip Pullman’s Novels?

HBO offered a first look at its highly anticipated new series His Dark Materials to an enthusiastic Hall H crowd at San Diego Comic-Con on Thursday. 

In the trailer, audiences glimps a fantasical world not unlike our own, where every human is accompanied by a daemon — a representation of their soul in animal form. A young orphan girl named Lyra Belacqua (Dafne Keen) is caught between her uncle, Lord Asriel (James McAvoy), who is waging a war against an authoritarian religious group called the Magisterium, and the mysterious Mrs. Coulter (Ruth Wilson), an agent of the Magisterium who first adopts Lyra, then turns on her. Armed with powerful device called an alethiometer that shows her the truth, she sets off with aeronaut Lee Scorseby (Lin-Manuel Miranda) and an armored bear to free a group of kidnapped children.

Doing justice to Philip Pullman’s novels

His Dark Materials is adapted from the first book in Philip Pullman’s beloved fantasy trilogy, which consists of The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. The Golden Compass got a widely derided film adaptation a decade back, but executive producer Jane Tranter told the Comic-Con crowd that this time, they plan to get things right. 

“I thought it was time for the books to be liberated in a space that could do them justice,” she said. 

“Philip Pullman was our guide, really,” Tranter went on to say, adding that they didn’t feel the need to tone down the sometimes dark nature of the source material. “In my experience, children love dark, complicated themes and big questions about who we are and where we are … Pullman said what he wrote was adult books that children should read, and I hope what we ended up making was an adult piece that children will watch.” 

Not that turning Pullman’s complex novels, which deal with weighty questions about morality and religion, was an easy task. 

“I got it wrong an awful lot,” screenwriter Jack Thorne, who won a Tony Award for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, said. “We did 46 drafts of episode one.” 

‘His Dark Materials’ isn’t an attack on religion 

His Dark Materials cast
Dafne Keen, Ruth Wilson, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and James McAvoy of His Dark Materials at San Diego Comic Con | Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic for HBO

Pullman’s books have been controversial, with some criticizing the fantasy series for what they see as anti-Christian themes. Pullman himself has been vocal in his less-than-favorable view of organized religion, at one point saying of the Catholic Church, “I hope the wretched organisation will vanish entirely.” 

But Tranter was keen to make it clear that the series wasn’t an attack on religion. 

“Philip Pullman in these books is not attacking belief, he’s not attacking faith, he’s not attacking religion or the church, per se. He’s attacking a particular form of control where there is a very deliberate attempt to withhold information and keep people in the dark and not allow ideas and thinking to be free,” she said. “It doesn’t equate to any particular church of form of religion in our world.”

His Dark Materials will premiere this fall on HBO.