It has been ages since I read Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, and a good eight years since I hit up the cinemas to line up to watch The Golden Compass. While I’m going to need to reacquaint myself with the series, it doesn’t change the fact that this is pretty exciting news for a fan such as myself.
For those unfamiliar with His Dark Materials, the trilogy is comprised of The Golden Compass (originally published by Scholastic under the title Northern Lights), The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. The first book follows the story of Lyra Belacqua, a young girl on the cusp of growing up in a world where humans live side-by-side with dæmons, the manifestation of a human’s “inner-self” which takes the form of animals.
Lyra’s search for a kidnapped friend, brings her in contact with the other denizens of her world and puts right her in the middle of a conflict much larger than herself. Said conflict involves a mysterious substance called “Dust”, which is at the center of dispute between the scientists who are researching it and the religious leaders of a church-like governing body called the Magisterium, who oversee and influence society.
While most people are familiar with the film adaptation of The Golden Compass, released in 2007 by New Line Cinema and originally slated as the first of a trilogy of films in the same mold of other fantasy book-to-film adaptations, but it has also been adapted into other media. The London’s Royal National Theatre, for instance, had two successful runs in 2003 and 2004 of a stage adaptation of the books, and a radio drama by BBC Radio 4 featured Terence Henry Stamp (Wanted, The Adjustment Bureau) and Lulu Popplewell. Audiobook editions were released with Pullman himself as the narrator while featuring various talents to voice the characters. Now, we have Bad Wolf and New Line partnering up with the BBC to bring us an eight-part mini-series, which is speculated to do the books more justice than it’s silver screen predecessor.
I cannot deny that film version of The Golden Compass was definitely a treat for the eyes. However, the enormity of Pullman’s universe which is honestly, difficult to compress in just two hours, the controversy and call to boycott the film from groups that felt that the critique of religion (watered down as it was to the disappointment of many fans) made for a film that didn’t do well enough in the box office. While adjustments in book-to-movie adaptations to better translate the story are commonplace — and sometimes even expected — I do personally recall coming out of that theater feeling more than a little let down, as key aspects of what made Pullman’s story what it was had felt glossed over, leaving just another fantasy/steampunk adventure showcasing the current progress of CGI in cinema.
No release date has been cited as of yet and casting has yet to be determined, but we do know that production is confirmed to take place in Wales. There are hopes that the small-screen adaptation will do much better than it’s predecessor, and I for one am ready to wait and see how this goes.