‘His Dark Materials’ reviews: Is HBO’s epic fantasy adaptation the next ‘Game of Thrones’?

It has been a few months since HBO concluded “Game of Thrones,” its epic fantasy drama adapted from a series of popular books. Now comes “His Dark Materials,” the pay cabler’s next epic fantasy drama adapted from a series of popular books. HBO is undoubtedly hoping its latest will replicate the mammoth success of “Thrones,” but what are critics saying about the new show, which premiered Monday night, November 4?

As of this writing “His Dark Materials” has a MetaCritic score of 67 based on 14 reviews counted thus far: eight positive and six mixed, but none outright negative. Over on Rotten Tomatoes, which grades movies and TV shows on a pass/fail basis (as opposed to MC’s sliding scale from 0-100), the series is rated 83% fresh based on 42 reviews: 35 fresh, 7 rotten. RT summarizes the reviews in its critics’ consensus, which says, “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.”

So the response has been positive, but with some reservations. It’s being described as a “remarkable, must-see adaptation” of Pullman’s novels set in an alternate world where a girl, Lyra (“Logan’s” Dafne Keen), uncovers a dangerous secret while searching for her missing friend. Keen has a “pugnacious vitality” and “charm for miles,” and co-star Ruth Wilson is “revelatory” as the mysterious Mrs. Coulter. But other reviewers argue that the show’s world-building is “messy” and it feels “empty” without a strong sense of purpose.

This isn’t the first time Hollywood has taken a stab at adapting Pullman’s work. The first novel of his trilogy, “The Golden Compass,” was made into a 2007 film starring Nicole Kidman as Mrs. Coulter, but it was a critical and financial disappointment (though it did end up winning an Oscar for its visual effects). The reviews for the series indicate that it’s a step above that attempt, and HBO has shown faith in it, renewing it for a second season before the first season has even premiered.

And the good news for fans of the novels is that, unlike George R.R. Martin‘s “A Song of Ice and Fire” saga, the source material for this show is already complete, so there’s no risk of getting ahead of the books like “Game of Thrones” did to the chagrin of many fans. So do you think “His Dark Materials” will grow into the phenomenon that “Thrones” was? Check out some of the reviews below, and join the discussion on this and more with your fellow TV fans here in our forums.

Kaitlin Thomas (TV Guide): “‘If the first four episodes of ‘His Dark Materials’ screened for critics are any indication, the show is a remarkable, must-see adaptation of Pullman’s intricate and thought-provoking novels. If for nothing else, it will erase the bad memories that still linger more than a decade after ‘The Golden Compass’ failed to deliver.”

Laura Miller (Slate): “Dafne Keen, with her avid face and pugnacious vitality, makes a better Lyra than the dainty Dakota Blue Richards of the 2007 film, but it is the adults in this adaptation whose performances generate the most power … Wilson’s Mrs. Coulter is revelatory, every small, controlled gesture hinting at a lifetime spent learning how to outmaneuver men who do not merit the authority they hold over her.”

Judy Berman (Time): “It’s a wonderful story, rendered with the liveliness—and the budget—Pullman’s books deserve. Keen’s Lyra has tomboy charm for miles, and her frustration that everyone seems to know more than she does about who she is captures a feeling that, in more abstract form, is universal to her age. Yet the show’s world-building can be messy, as early episodes struggle to establish the conventions of this reality.”

Kathryn VanArendonk (Vulture): “You can also tell when an adaptation’s reason for being has been so sanded down and defanged and jumbled and depressurized that it now feels a little empty … It’s not a bad show, and it’s important to note that many of its flaws are things that the series could still overcome in later episodes. It’s also worth noting that in spite of the series’s missteps so far, I am still absolutely planning to watch the rest of the season, and undoubtedly the whole second season that’s already begun filming.”

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