It’s been 25 years since The Golden Compass (Northern Lights in the U.K.) was first published and became a children’s lit hit. A coming-of-age story nestled in a riveting otherworldly adventure filled with witches, talking polar bears, and animal companions, Pullman would use that children’s fantasy smokescreen to slowly introduce an unexpected subversion of Milton’s Paradise Lost. When the heroine Lyra fails to save her friend at the end of The Golden Compass, the shock that that this was not going to be your average children’s fantasy adventure was eye-opening. It was just the beginning of Pullman’s extraordinary twists — soon his lighthearted fantasy adventure turned into an epic of God-killing proportions. By the time The Amber Spyglass hit bookshelves in 2000, readers of Pullman’s newly dubbed His Dark Materials trilogy were changed — coming of age through the series much like the beloved characters.
But 25 years later, His Dark Materials is ready for adulthood. The author made a highly anticipated return to the world of His Dark Materials (after a brief sojourn in 2003 with the short story Lyra’s Oxford) with 2017’s La Belle Sauvage, the first installment in a new spin-off trilogy The Book of Dust. It was a solid new novel that recaptured the wondrous quality of the original books while adding a fairy tale-like spin. But its narrative, which followed two new characters who embark on a journey to protect Lyra as a baby during a flood that nearly wipes out Oxford, was rather slim. The second book in The Book of Dust, the recently released The Secret Commonwealth, swings in the complete opposite direction, with a more mature tone and a complex plot involving religious conspiratorial schemes and roses that stretches out over a monstrous 600 pages.
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Update: HBO, perhaps noting that they will soon have an epic fantasy-shaped hole in their schedule when Game of Thrones ends next year, has joined the production of BBC’s His Dark Materials. According to Deadline, the prestigious American network will act as a co-producer on the series, distributing it outside of the United Kingdom. Our original story continues below.
Fans of Philip Pullman‘s formidable fantasy series His Dark Materials have been nervously anticipating the BBC’s lavish adaptation — and for good reason. The first attempt at adapting the ambitious three-book saga about two children who take on the Kingdom of Heaven was an expensive dud that squandered its perfect cast.
Now BBC’s His Dark Materials has recruited a promising cast, an Oscar-winning director, and an equally lofty budget, but the question remains: Will it be good? BBC seems to think so, renewing His Dark Materials for a second season before the show even hits the airwaves. Now that’s something that even an alethiometer couldn’t have foreseen.
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Philip Pullman‘s His Dark Materials series is getting adapted for the screen, again. The King’s Speech director Tom Hooper will helm a new BBC adaptation of the YA fantasy series, and Logan breakout Dafne Keen will star. Also, rumor has it that Hamilton‘s Lin-Manuel Miranda has joined the cast as well. More on the new His Dark Materials adaptation below.
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After The Golden Compass failed to crack $70 million at the domestic box office, many industry types and American moviegoers pfffft‘d the notion that the other films in Philip Pullman‘s His Dark Materials trilogy would ever be made. However, as Variety notes, the first film, which starred Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, and had a budget of nearly $200 million, is line to be the first film to ever crack $300 million internationally without reaching $100 million domestic. This is an astonishing disconnect, really. Producer Deborah Forte is not only hopeful that The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass will be made, she is adamant…
“This was a success as a family movie in most countries, it’s a very strong family franchise, it won an Academy Award [for Visual Effects]. We have to make the second and the third movie. …”I will make ‘The Subtle Knife’ and ‘The Amber Spyglass,'” she vows. “I believe there are enough people who see what a viable and successful franchise we have.”
The Golden Compass‘s failure domestically and New Line’s decision pre-release to sell off the international rights are seen as primary factors in the studio recently being downsized and absorbed by Warner Bros. Forte doesn’t offer an outright opinion on the gross gap, but hints that she was displeased with the marketing in the U.S. She says that per discussions with New Line, Compass‘s DVD, to be released stateside on April 28th, “must be marketed as a family film.” Moreover, a script for The Subtle Knife has already been written by Hossein Amini (Killshot, The Four Feathers). If Warner Bros. passes on the sequels, it’s even suggested that Forte might seek an independent route.
While I think the marketing in America focused too much on Kidman and Craig, two stars with little appeal to tweens, The Golden Compass faced a tall order of bad, nearly sensational, press domestically, with many outlets playing up the books atheistic messages. Its release during the holidays was also rather careless. The film came to be seen by the mainstream as an anti-Christian Chronicles of Narnia and thus unsuitable for family viewings. As Variety points out the film did well in Italy were the pope publicly called out the film as “the most anti-Christmas movie possible,” but Italy doesn’t have virulent talk radio and Fox News talking heads.
Discuss: Why did The Golden Compass perform so well worldwide? Are you interested in seeing the sequels?