Cast: Dafne Keen, Ruth Wilson, Lin-Manuel Miranda
Release Date: August 4, 2020
A Review By: Kevin Lovell
Disc Rating: 8/10
His Dark Materials takes place in a world parallel to our own, where a human’s soul exists outside one’s body in the form of a talking animal called a “daemon.” The all-powerful Magisterium rule over this world where they suppress any knowledge that attempts to challenge its ideas, particularly around the theory that multiple worlds exist. Season One of this compelling HBO series follows Lyra (Dafne Keen), a young orphan who was left as a baby at Oxford’s Jordan College by her uncle Lord Asriel (James McAvoy) and desires a life of adventure beyond the confines of her bookish, scholarly surroundings. But when Lyra’s best friend goes missing, her search for her kidnapped friend uncovers a plot involving stolen children and transforms into a quest to understand a mysterious phenomenon known as Dust. Over the course of the season, as she journeys through the different worlds – including our own – Lyra encounters extraordinary beings and dangerous secrets, with the fate of both the living and the dead at stake.
Please Note: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the Blu-ray I reviewed in this Post. The opinions I share are my own.
Based upon the book series by Phillip Pullman, the debut season of ‘His Dark Materials’ introduces viewers to a parallel world with many similarities to our own, along with a handful of significant differences; most notably in the relationship each human shares with a kindred version of their own spirit in the form of talking animals known as daemons, a bond which is sacred and results in pain when one’s human and daemon counterparts are separated. The story largely focuses on a young girl named Lyra who grew up at a college shielded by a scholastic protection law. But as she finally ventures out into the world she finds herself confronted by various lies and truths that aren’t quite what they seem and soon discovers that she may be destined to play an important part in a looming war.
The first season of ‘His Dark Materials’ introduces a unique and intricately crafted world populated by colorful characters and magic, with secrets and legacies to be uncovered around each turn and far too many mysterious individuals who are far from what they claim to be. While I’ve never had the pleasure of reading the novels that serve as the basis for the series and am therefore unable to provide any insight in regard to the adaptation itself, the series certainly does a great job of handling the material in a suitable way that newcomers to the story such as myself may need a minute to connect many of the dots and fully understand the larger scope of what’s occurring. Fortunately it comes together quite smoothly before long and promptly grabs ahold of your attention, taking you along for a powerful, tense and heartfelt adventure in which you’ll be anxiously awaiting (and at times even dreading) what might occur next. Greatly benefitting from a well selected cast that features many talented individuals and includes Dafne Keen, Ruth Wilson, Ariyon Bakare, Lin-Manuel Miranda, James Cosmo and James McAvoy along with many more, some of who may have more prominent roles than others (and some play crucial parts yet are more recurring roles than starring) but most of which all do their part to help this incredibly human fantasy tale work as beautifully as it does, as does the passionate behind the scenes work of Jack Thorne who adapted the book series by Phillip Pullman for television.
Overall, season one of ‘His Dark Materials’ welcomes viewers into a visually dazzling world filled with magic, danger and an array of curious characters, some with good intentions and others with anything but. It’s an engaging series with plenty to keep you thinking while simultaneously offering up its share of visual treats and anyone at all intrigued by the show will want to consider giving it a chance whenever possible. Those specifically curious about the technical merits of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment’s 2-disc Blu-ray release of ‘His Dark Materials: The Complete First Season’ can also rest assured that it provides generally impressive high definition video and audio presentations for each episode, along with various Behind the Scenes Featurettes that explore bringing it to life (see the technical specifications section of the review below for more detailed information regarding the video, audio and special features). The release is recommended for anyone already thinking about picking up a copy.
The Blu-ray release of ‘His Dark Materials: The Complete First Season’ features a full 1080p High Definition presentation with the show’s original 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio on all of the debut season’s episodes. The video presentations look quite great altogether, with each episode featuring a sharp, smooth and nicely detailed presentation from start to finish and never with any unexpected issues or faults to be found along the way. They hold up impressively even during the numerous darkly lit, fast moving and/or extravagantly detailed sequences, never causing anything occurring onscreen to become negatively affected or rendered indiscernible. Overall, these are solid high definition video presentations that should please fans of the series as well as newcomers.
The Blu-ray release features a 5.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on all 8 Season One episodes. These multichannel soundtracks provide crisp, clean and quite active audio presentations on every episode. They repeatedly take advantage of all five available channels in order to send music, characters, nature elements and plenty more throughout the various speakers whenever appropriate and never allowing any dialogue or other audio elements that might be occurring simultaneously to become distorted or rendered inaudible in the process. Overall, these are great 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtracks that deliver in every way while also contributing some extra excitement and fun to the overall viewing experience.
The Blu-ray release of ‘His Dark Materials: The Complete First Season’ includes a number of fun extras in the way of various Behind the Scenes Featurettes that include interviews/comments with the cast and crew, plus behind the scenes footage and more. The included Featurettes are ‘Making His Dark Materials’ (running approximately 33 minutes in length), ‘Adapting His Dark Materials’ (running approximately 4 minutes), ‘Building His Dark Materials’ (approximately 6 minutes), ‘Dressing His Dark Materials’ (3 minutes), ‘The Daemons of His Dark Materials’ (4 minutes), ‘James McAvoy: Bringing Lord Asriel to Life’ (3 minutes), ‘Lin-Manuel Miranda: Bringing Lee Scoresby to Life’ (2 minutes), ‘Ruth Wilson: Bringing Mrs. Coulter to Life’ (3 minutes) and ‘Dafne Keen: Bringing Lyra Belaqua to Life’ (4 minutes).