His Dark Materials – where to watch in South Africa and what to expect in the first 4 episodes

While holed up in a hotel in Berlin during PUBG Europe League’s Phase 3 promotions week, I spent my down time squirrelled away under a blanket watching the first 4 episodes of His Dark Materials, a new HBO offering that will be on Showmax. I’ve had to keep my mouth firmly shut about what I watched and had the chance to experience, but I can now finally share some thoughts on this new show. Before I jump into what I thought let me give you what you’ve likely come here for:

Where to watch His Dark Materials in South Africa

His Dark Materials will begin airing on 5 November 2019 on Showmax. It is coming in express from the US, much like how Game of Thrones was aired, with a new episode available each week. 

What’s it about?

His Dark Materials, much like every other good fantasy movie or show we’ve watched in the last few years, is based on a series of books written by Phillip Pullman – with the trilogy sharing the same name as the series. His Dark Materials takes place in a world where humans have animal companions called Daemons, which makes no sense right now, if you’re not familiar with the series but will when you watch. The book and series follow the adventures of a young girl named Lyra and Pan, her daemon. She is an orphan living at Jordan College whose adventure begins when a close friend goes missing. As she starts the hunt for her friend she unravels a greater plot involving the kidnapping of a number of children. There’s also a lot of adult characters running around whispering about “dust”.

Why does this sound familiar?

A few years back a movie came out called The Golden Compass. It’s based on the same series of books. The movie didn’t really catch anyone’s attention. I distinctly remember falling asleep in it… oops. So you’ll be forgiven for thinking you know what is coming. His Dark Materials is a lot more than what that movie offered up. Season 1 offers up 8 episodes and, it would appear, that each book in the trilogy will form a season. So expect 3 seasons. Otto Bathurst, who directs the show, says the book and film do diverge in certain places because they wanted to give the series a bit more of a modern edge.

Gloriously made

Again, to re-iterate, I’ve only watched the first 4 episodes. The show is shot with a far more darker and grittier tone than the movie (again, they have no link, but I’m comparing). It goes without saying that we’re now in the era of post-Game of Thrones so you’ll be forgiven for drawing comparisons. The show is dark and somewhat gritty, much like HBO’s fantasy hit. However it is also beautiful, with a host of aerial shots to truly try encompass the magic of the world created. The cast is also incredible. I’m somewhat biased because of my love of X-Men but both Dafne Keen and James McAvoy have dipped their toes into my favourite franchise so I’ve got a soft spot. Regardless, they’re both very talented. Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame also features. The Daemon voice over talent is also an impressive list, so do see if you can match the voices to their famous faces.

But is it enough?

Let me be clear, I’ve only watched the first 4 episodes. I’ve also never read the books. After binging through the bits of the show I had access to I was left… somewhat bemused. Without any sort of foundation to go on I dived right in and I never really felt like I understood what was going on. The first episode does the quickest of run throughs to get you up to speed but I didn’t feel like it was enough. I felt little to no connection to Lyra throughout the episodes. I was aware she had to be special because the story revolves around her, but I was struggling to find out why. It felt to me like the four episodes pushed us along as quickly as possible to get to the point, rather than taking time to flesh out the characters. In episode 4 we’re introduced to a Polar Bear (this isn’t a spoiler, he’s in the trailer) and I found his story somewhat more intriguing than the rest, but even then – the telling of it felt rushed. The telling of Game of Thrones was criticised for being so thorough in character development all the way to the end, before rushing to close the story. For me, His Dark Materials seems to go the opposite route – rushing through the foundation to get to the meat and thus skipping out on fleshing out the characters. There’s a lot thrown at you in the first 4 episodes and it is hard to make sense of what the story is or where it is going.

I wasn’t enamoured by the first four episodes and didn’t feel that same desperate need to keep watching. I kept watching because I was curious but not gripped. If anything, the episodes caused me to go buy the entire trilogy of books because I found the story and the world teased to in the show intriguing and I wanted to get more. However, I felt I could do that by reading over waiting for the show to develop – that’s a bit worrying. Regardless, I think I’ll likely stick this one out as I believe it could easily flesh out in to something magical down the line. But you’ll need to stick with it and soldier through the first 4 weeks. I’m not quite ready to give up on this one just yet but also not 100% convinced. Consider me curious.

Disclosure: I was given press access to the first four episodes of the show by HBO and Showmax. 


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