Hollywood has never been shy about co-opting young adult book series into full-on movie franchises, evidenced by the avalanche of adaptations we’ve had over the last decade — Twilight, The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, and Divergent among others. This trend has made it that much more bizarre that Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy has been left by the wayside. After the first novel in the series was brought to life by New Line’s The Golden Compass, the film franchise found itself dead in the water following a tepid reception from critics and audiences alike.
Pullman’s original trilogy was one that held an overtly atheistic message, leading many conservative Christian groups to boycott New Line’s movie. The end result was a toothless final product that lacked much of what made the source material so great in the first place. A series that featured an expansive universe full of witches, alternate dimensions, armored polar bears, and political intrigue found itself buried under controversy, and fell into obscurity soon after The Golden Compass‘s release.
There may be redemption on the horizon though, in the form of a full series on BBC. Variety tells us that BBC One has commissioned an eight-episode run, headed up by Bad Wolf Productions. Additionally, Pullman will be brought on as a producer, putting His Dark Materials in decidedly steady and dependable creative hands this time around. You may remember, Bad Wolf is owned and operated by Julie Tranter and Jane Gardner, the talented execs behind Doctor Who, Torchwood, and Da Vinci’s Demons. Between them and Pullman, it’s hard not to feel good about the potential for the upcoming series. After all, New Line’s 2007 effort sets a low bar, and we’d be surprised to not see it topped.
While it’s exciting that His Dark Materials is getting a second chance at all, the biggest win is by far the fact that this is happening in the form of a full series. Each novel in the trilogy is packed with material that would find itself on the cutting room floor for a two-hour film. In an eight-episode series though, it allows for a lot more time to unravel the complexities of Pullman’s rich story. Looking at what HBO did for Game of Thrones, it’s hard not to see a similarly favorable format for His Dark Materials on BBC. Combine that with a network not concerned with radical religious protests, and we have a recipe for the adaptation this series has always needed. Just imagine the following (summarized by Variety) over a full run of episodes:
The first part of the trilogy, “Northern Lights,” introduces Lyra, an orphan, who lives in a parallel universe in which science, theology, and magic are entwined. Lyra’s search for a kidnapped friend uncovers a sinister plot involving stolen children and turns into a quest to understand a mysterious phenomenon called Dust.
In “The Subtle Knife,” she is joined on her journey by Will, a boy who possesses a knife that can cut windows between worlds. As Lyra learns the truth about her parents and her prophesied destiny, the two young people are caught up in a war against celestial powers that ranges across many worlds, and leads to a thrilling conclusion in “The Amber Spyglass.”
Of course there’s still the matter of gathering a talented cast of actors, writers, and directors, but Bad Wolf has proven itself to be nothing if not trustworthy over its various successful projects. Also worth noting is the fact that Bad Wolf and HBO recently agreed on “a non-exclusive first-look deal,” giving us yet another reason to believe in the future of His Dark Materials on television. On board with Trant, Gardner, and Pullman will be the original Golden Compass producers, Toby Emmerich and Deborah Forte, giving the project some much-needed insight into what went wrong the first time around.
For years now, Pullman’s masterpiece trilogy has been the most egregiously ignored series in Hollywood, made into a black sheep thanks to its more controversial themes. It seemed odd given the fact that the novels have sold $17.5 million copies in over 40 languages worldwide. There’s a market out there for an adaptation, and only now is someone going to capitalize on it in full. Thankfully, that “someone” is a company with the resources to finally deliver on the massive promise of His Dark Materials.
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