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His Dark Materials: HBO drops first trailer for series adaptation

An epic and controversial YA novel series is finally getting a complete adaptation.

A teaser trailer was released today for the first season of His Dark Materials, which is being produced by the BBC but will release in the United States on HBO. The scintillating spot was posted to HBO's YouTube Channel.

The three books in Sir Phillip Pullman's series attracted not just critical acclaim and wide readership, but also a fair amount of controversy due to their critical — albeit highly fantasy-infused — take on organized religion in general, and the Catholic Church in particular. The series begins in a world similar to ours, where all human beings are accompanied throughout their lives by animal companions known as "daemons," which reflect their personality. 

In the first book, 1995's Northern Lights (released in the U.S. as The Golden Compass), 12-year old Lyra Belacqua and her daemon Pantalaimon become embroiled in a conspiracy orchestrated by the Magisterium (a rough analog for the Catholic Church), which is kidnapping children and experimenting on them by cutting them off from their daemons. As the series progresses, Lyra and her companions must travel through parallel dimensions in an effort to discover the origin of Dust, an elementary particle which the Magisterium believes to be the cause of all sin. The first season of the BBC/HBO series will focus on the events of Northern Lights; seasons two and three will adapt 1997's The Subtle Knife and 2000's The Amber Spyglass, respectively. (via Slashfilm)

The new trailer is long on quick cuts and and startling imagery, showing us Lyra's home dimension (in which zeppelins float above cities full of Victorian architecture and towering spires) and hinting at the rebellion growing in opposition to the Magesterium's mysterious plot. There are torch-lined caverns, stark grey scientific facilities, the suggestion of a military mobilization, and ominous, out-of-context snatches of dialogue galore — oh, and an armored polar bear, which should make fans of the novels grin from ear to ear.

The spot also showcases the series' killer cast. Starring as Lyra is young Dafne Keen, who made a strong impression in the role of Laura/X-23 in Logan, her feature film debut. Also on board are fellow X-Men series alumnus James McAvoy, Peaky Blinders' Ian Peck, The Strain's Ruta Gedmintas, Luther's Ruth Wilson, Ariyon Bakare of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and famed multi-hyphenate Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose Broadway play Hamilton: An American Musical has become a cultural phenomenon.

The series looks to be unafraid to lean into the more controversial elements of Pullman's works, which contributed to the profound tanking of the first attempt to adapt the novels for the screen. 2007's The Golden Compass, which starred A-listers like Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, was meant to be the first in a theatrical trilogy — but unfortunately, the filmmakers and studio New Line couldn't agree on how many of its themes (which could rightly be seen as flat-out anti-religious) should be handled. The film came under fire from religious groups well before it was even finished, prompting studio New Line to demand that changes be made while it was deep in post-production. Of course, these changes stoked the ire of secularist groups upon the flick's release, proving that when it comes to certain subjects, it's pretty much impossible to make everyone happy.

In the end, the film ended up hanging its hat on the novel's fantasy elements, alienating fans of the novels and causing general audiences to respond with a solid shrug. The $180 million dollar production underperformed at the box office, and the planned adaptations of The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass subsequently fell into limbo. 

The producers of the new series doubtless kept the whole brouhaha in mind during its development, and — given that The Golden Compass endured a great deal of criticism for basically being toothless — it's likely that we'll be getting a much more faithful adaptation this time around. Also, the serial format will give the novels' narrative much more room to breathe, rather than trying to condense their labyrinthine plots into easily digestible two-hour chunks.

Visually, the series looks fantastic, and it's tough to imagine what could go wrong with a cast like that. The trailer only promises that the show will drop sometime in 2019, with no formal release date yet announced; we'll keep an eye out for news, and report it as it becomes available.