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It’s been just over a decade since Philip Pullman started publishing the HIS DARK MATERIALS series, and I’d certainly say there’s a passionate cult audience that has embraced the books. HIS DARK MATERIALS is an ambitious and difficult fantasy trilogy that features any number of pitfalls for someone trying to adapt it. Which isn’t to say that I think it’s wrong to try. Far from it... I admire the sort of obsessive vision it takes to try and turn something so literary into a film experience. I’m just not sure I believe this is going to be New Line’s new LORD OF THE RINGS, which it needs to be based on the amount of money the studio is putting into the first film, THE GOLDEN COMPASS. When I was invited to visit the London set of the film, I was happy to take New Line up on the opportunity. Normally, I try not to schedule things at the exact same time as other outlets, but in a case like this, everything came together at the last minute, and it was either join a fistful of other journalists for the tour or skip the production entirely. I’ve been interested in how this was going to work as a film ever since my first conversations with Chris Weitz way back when he was first announced as a possible director. I like that he walked away from the project for a while because he was intimidated by the size of the production. Chris Weitz loves HIS DARK MATERIALS. I can tell you that I believe the book is in good hands in terms of respect for the source material. Chris strikes me as a director with taste. ABOUT A BOY didn’t have to be as good as it was. Even with the same cast in place, I’m willing to be that they could have made a shitty studio version of that film that would have made a lot more money, but it wouldn’t be as good as it is. Chris saw something in that material, brought just the right touch to it. I’m willing to bet he’s going to do just as well with THE GOLDEN COMPASS. And the special effects stuff will be excellent because Chris has hired some exceptional talent. Same with the stunts and the production design and the costumes and the cast. This is what $250 million buys you. It buys you giant names at the head of every department. It buys you time to get your effects work finished right. It buys you a dream cast and the right to give an unknown the lead. After spending a day meeting the heads of those departments and walking through a fairly well-mounted presentation by New Line, I can say that everyone onboard is giving this film everything you’d expect, every bit of the expertise that $250 million is buying. But can $250 million buy you an audience? And can it buy you a good film? That’s a real question, and the most important one for New Line right now. Before I went to the set, I was skeptical of the film as a commercial property. It’s a fundamental thing... I’m just not sure I see this dense metaphysical fantasy story that is about the nature of free will and the value of our souls as something that any studio can sell to the public in thirty seconds. And now that I’ve been to the set, I’m still skeptical of the film as a commercial property. Or even as a film worth watching. Seriously... what’s the thirty-second version of THE GOLDEN COMPASS? Or even the sixty-second version? I asked this question of “Lord Asriel,” the webmaster for the biggest HDM fansite in the Netherlands, and he tried to sum up the themes of the book for me or he tried to explain daemons to me or he tried to somehow convey that this is good because people like it already. But he couldn’t do it. And, look... I think New Line’s run some great campaigns (LORD OF THE RINGS being the playbook for the new millennium blockbuster, as far as I’m concerned) and they’ve run some campaigns that just plain never worked (no matter how much they loved LITTLE CHILDREN, they never managed to open it)... just like most other studios. This is a challenge. This is a huge, crazy challenge. My suggestion is this: “Lyra is special. Here’s the Alethiometer that she uses. It tells her what to do. Here’s her daemon shifting shapes. It helps her. They’re on a journey. Where? North! Why? Save some kids! Polar bear! Daniel Craig! Cowboy! Lyra in the machine in danger! Nicole Kidman! TITLE UP.” And then pray. It’s your best bet. And I’m not being negative just to be negative, either. Like I said, I think the film might turn out to be very good. And I certainly think it’s faithful to the book. But I think Brad Silberling’s A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS was a faithful adaptation that was stylish and well-cast, also, and the Lemony Snicket books are huge, commercial in a way that HIS DARK MATERIALS isn’t. The Snicket books are “dark,” but they’re also comfortable and franchise-minded. If the film got as close to the mark as it did, starring Jim Carrey, a bigger star than anyone who is appearing in THE GOLDEN COMPASS, and that film didn’t manage to connect with the public, then what chance does this series have? If you’re not familiar with it, it is the story of a girl named Lyra who lives in a world that’s very similar to ours, at least on the surface. There are some notable differences. Airships and dirigibles seem to be a favored mode of transportation. Magic and witches are accepted as part of the natural order. And most significantly, every person has a daemon, a sort of external extension of their soul, an animal spirit that is attached to them and that follows them everywhere they go. Bringing those daemons to visual life and explaining them to the audience is one of the trickiest tasks that Chris Weitz and his team face. When people are still young, their daemons can change shape into several different animals, but as people age, their daemons shapeshifting powers fade, so that by the time they reach adulthood, the daemons have chosen one form and that’s how they appear all the time. I think that’s actually a lovely metaphor for the way our natures change as we “mature,” as we gradually close ourselves off to possibility and wonder. Children are potential, and so are their daemons. Looking at the design work for all the daemons, it’s obvious that THE GOLDEN COMPASS is trying to make them look like photorealistic animals. Nothing exaggerated or cartoony or fantasy about them. The daemons aren’t meant to look fantastic or wild, and they don’t. Neither do the polar bears, which also play a big role in the film. Iorek Byrnison is a down on his luck “panserbjorne,” living in shame because he’s managed to lose his armor. See, all of the polar bears in this world are warriors, and they all wear armor. Lyra meets Iorek and helps him regain his self-respect, and in return, he becomes her most ferocious defender. Their interaction is a big part of the film’s success... or failure. When we walked onto the greenscreen stage, which looked a lot like every other greenscreen stage, three walls of towering green panels with the occasional reference X, it was just as cold inside as it was outside, so we could all see our breath. And when I say “all,” allow me to point out again that there were more of us than there were of crew members. It was a small army being herded around. There were an absurd number of people representing all sorts of print and online outlets present, and I’m sure by now, you’ve been able to read lots of good coverage, like the stuff at Collider or CHUD. New Line knows that the battle now is getting the word out, making sure that the title itself... THE GOLDEN COMPASS... becomes omnipresent in the next year, so that by the time it comes out, everyone will already have seen enough material to feel invested, fully acclimated to the world. There was nothing like a set on view. Dakota Blue Richards, the unknown who was chosen to play Lyra Belacqua, was the only actor onset. She was playing her scene with a large foam sculpture shaped basically like a polar bear, but with no detail work done to it. And, to her credit, she was acting her ass off. It was the best tearful farewell played to a vaguely polar-bear-shaped piece of foam that I’ve ever seen. The rest of the cast is pretty impressive, which is why I think Weitz was able to cast the right girl, no matter who she is. Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig are going to become a familiar duo on theater screens this year, while this film also features a reunion between Craig and Eva Green. So far, the single most impressive thing I’ve seen from the entire production was a short scene played between Richards and Craig, who is Lord Asriel in the film, Lyra’s uncle. He’s been away for a while, leaving her to fend for herself. It’s what she’s used to. Lyra’s an orphan, and she was essentially raised by Jordan College, where her uncle is a scholar. He’s doing important work on something called Dust, which is the thing that sort of drives the plot of the film overall. It’s complicated stuff, and the nature of what it does and where it came from is some of the most provocative material in Pullman’s books. Lyra wants to be like him, and although he’s not in a lot of THE GOLDEN COMPASS, they’re casting him in the hopes that they’re going to make it to the third movie, where his role really explodes. Nicole Kidman’s got the adult lead in the film. She is a mysterious benefactor to Lyra, but she’s got shady motives, and by the end of the film, Kidman gets to play a lot of different faces for Mrs. Coulter. I think she’s got the craziest of the daemons, a golden monkey with a disturbingly aware face. There’s something unnerving about it, even in the production art. Coulter’s connected to the larger mystery that Lord Asriel’s been pursuing, and she’s also connected to The Magisterium, which is Pullman’s metaphorical amalgam of both Church and State into one totalitarian controlling body. The big Kidman scene we saw was her first big scene at dinner with Lyra, and Kidman was in fine eccentric form. What I like about Kidman is the way she sometimes makes horribly embarrassing choices as an actor. Her baby doll performance in BEWITCHED is a nightmare, but I give her credit for making a strong choice and going for it. She really throws herself at roles in strange ways, and when it pays off, it can be riveting. I hope the scene we saw is indicative of how she’s playing Mrs. Coulter. She could be a memorable monster, which is great since the character’s got such a terrifying last name already. We didn’t see any real footage of Eva Green as Serafina Pekkala, but we did see behind-the-scenes material of her learning to fly for her role as the queen of the witches of the lake, and I am prepared to go on the record as saying she is hot. There’s a fair amount of magic at the conclusion of the film, it looks like, and some little flurries of action here and there earlier in the film, but I’m guessing this is not going to be a typical adventure film. The books have more on their mind, just like NARNIA did. As pro-Christian as those books are, and as much as they were a reflection of C.S. Lewis and his philosophy, Pullman’s books are almost a refutation of Lewis and his work. Pullman is a big proponent of choice and how free will is the single defining thing about us as people. It’s no accidental irony that Lyra spends much of the film following the direction of the Alethiometer, a device that looks like a big crazy compass/pocketwatch. By reading the way the device vibrates between small symbols, Lyra learns things, hints and clues about the fate of her friend Roger and the nature of Dust and the real agenda of Mrs. Coulter. She’s able to follow what she learns from the Alethiometer and depends on it during her adventure. The question the books raise is whether or not that faith she places in the device is a good thing. Free will and the condition of your soul are the things driving these characters, not treasure or “ruling the world” or any of the conventional motivations of movie bad guys. And I’m all for that, of course. I just wonder if audiences will be able to get their heads around it. It’s like when we were watching the presentation by Dennis Gassner, the film’s production designer. He was excitedly explaining to us how the challenge of the film is creating a slightly different version of our world. “The Oxford in our film is not the Oxford everyone’s familiar with,” he said at one point. I think there’s one problem with that... not everyone knows Oxford. And even those who do might not know what it looks like... at least not well enough to know that they’ve altered this building or that one, but not the ones around it. Same thing with the Londong Gassner’s creating in the movie. It’s really beautiful production art, no question about it, and Gassner’s one of those guys who has more than proven himself, leaving in his wake a pretty fascinating roadmap across the last 20 years of film: THE HITCHER, EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY, FIELD OF DREAMS, MILLER’S CROSSING, THE GRIFTERS, BARTON FINK, BUGSY, THE HUDSUCKER PROXY, WATERWORLD, THE TRUMAN SHOW, O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU?, THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE, ROAD TO PERDITION, BIG FISH, and JARHEAD. He works with strong visual artists, making possible some truly amazing things. I love the landscapes in his films, the spaces he creates. And as he talked about the way he works, it’s seductive. I get why Gassner is who he is. He thinks about every corner of the world you’re going to see in the film. He has an amazing art department turning out some remarkable things for Weitz to try and bring to life, and much of what we saw looked like it was shot directly out of Gassner’s production art. I am glad to see New Line try to make this film. I think no matter what happens, there’s a lot of genuine love going into this one. The people who really click with Pullman’s books become a little evangelical about them, and if there’s anything I can say for sure after visiting the set, it is that fans are involved at every level with this film. New Line’s sticking pretty close to their LORD OF THE RINGS marketing plan so far. If you haven’t done so, spend some time poking around their official site, which is still sort of basic. It reminds me a lot of that first LOTR site in terms of layout and design. The Alethiometer thing is interesting and does a nice job of explaining what it is. It feels like Weitz and the people supporting him are people who love the source material and they are doing their stone-cold best to honor it. I want to think the audience is there for it. I’m just not sure they like their beliefs challenged or their faith questioned by what claims to be a fantasy adventure. You’re asking a lot of audiences, and I guess that’s to be commended. I’m glad you’re making this one, and I cross my fingers that you get the chance to actually finish what you’ve begun. I’ll have some more set reports in the days ahead, including the second half of the London trip, a look at what I think is one of this year’s sleepers-in-waiting, and a chat with the director and producer of TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES.

Drew McWeeny, Los Angeles

Readers Talkback
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  • Feb. 7, 2007, 5:47 a.m. CST


    by AddictedtoBoobs

    First. Can't wait to see the film

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 5:49 a.m. CST

    Nicole Kidman


    Something about her face freaks me out.

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 6:02 a.m. CST

    Re: Nicole Kidman


    her face and the ginger beast within. they have no soul.

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 5:51 a.m. CST


    by Rendell

    looked very cute in Dead Calm.

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 5:54 a.m. CST

    Dead Calm


    You might be right, anyone who puts the beatdown on Billy Zane, can eat my cookie. though the curls freak me too. ginger pubes

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 6:59 a.m. CST

    Films will disappoint. No

    by Kizeesh

    Films will disappoint. No matter how good the first one is, the second will bomb, as its not as good a story and if the third is even made, it will be a disaster unless they adapt it heavily.

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 7:09 a.m. CST


    by ledbetter51

    Don't they basically kill God at the end of the third book? I don't think that's going to sit well with the general public. And I agree with Kizeesh. The end of the first book was friggin' awesome. After that... not so much.

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 7:34 a.m. CST

    further spoilers

    by Kizeesh

    well its not really God, you see thats how he manages to include God and refute God in the same book. bit of a mindfuck there if you ask me. Its just the oldest living "angel" who proclaims himself to be God. Thats why the last book will fail as a movie, its preachy and lacks any of the narrative impetous that the first 2 books had.

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 7:32 a.m. CST

    I liked the books.

    by Nice Marmot

    Thought book 2 was as good as, if not better than, book 1. Don't even think book 3 was as bad as most think. Although there is some seriously weak stuff in it like the Elephant Biker creatures & the battle at the end. As much as I like the books, I have a BAD feeling about the first one's film adaptation being successful enough to warrant the 2nd & 3rd. And people need to realize that the books speak out against FANATICAL BIBLE THUMPERS, not the BIBLE itself.

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 7:45 a.m. CST

    What is the budget for this movie?

    by MKiro

    Oh yeah, 150 million. Seems like you had to mention it about a hundred times. The budget doesn't matter. It could be 50m or 300m. The whole thing rests on the shoulders of the storyteller - the director. If it's immersive then people will forgive cheap effects. If it's boring, then everything about the movie will be criticised. Why are you so hung up on the budget, Mori? I know you tried qualifying your concerns, but you do come off overly negative about the prospects for this. The bottom line is, is the director up to it? We'll find out when the movie comes out......

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 7:50 a.m. CST

    The real problem

    by peliopoulos

    The real problem isn't that the film will challenge beliefs. The problem is that preachers/pastors/meninfunnyrobes/meninfunnyhats will be actively discouraging their flock from taking their children to see this film. Unfortunately, as influential as the Xian community was in bringing crowds out to Narnia, they will also be influantial in making this movie bomb. The controversy will be way worse than Life of Brian and The Last Temptation of Christ. With Life of Brian, you had the built-in Monty Python audience. With TLTOC, it was generally a pro-Christ message. Here we've got a direct atheistic response to the Narnia books. It's going to be bad.

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 8:39 a.m. CST

    The Subtle Knife (2nd book)

    by Daphmax

    The Subtle Knife is stronger than book one (less pipe, more actual story) and the magical tool/device is a lot easier to explain: the knife is magic, it cuts windows into thin air, you can move through the windows into other worlds. Done. The boy lead, Will, also finally gives Lyra someone to play off of. I think if TGC plays well, movie 2 will also work. It's #3 that presents the major problems. It's the weakest book in the trilogy. And yes, the "God" character dies in it. Err, is murdered. This seems to feed a lot of the anti-trilogy/ban the books attitude out there. Which is odd. Because IMO the "God" character isn't representative of your personal God unless you uh, want him to be.

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 8:33 a.m. CST

    Yeah, but...

    by Ghotopi

    I think that the most marketable selling point of the entire franchise right now is its attacks on organized religion. Sure, a lot of Christians are going to react negatively to it, but eventually curiosity will get the better of them if it manages to be controversial enough. Atheism is a hot topic right now, and the series itself raises some pretty complex and legitimate charges against the nature of faith and belief. They'll come, for the same reasons Liberty University students flooded Richard Dawkins' lectures. And if they raise enough of a stink, everyone else will come too.

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 8:54 a.m. CST

    The same people that made Narnia and The Passion a hit

    by The Decider

    ...Are going to make The Golden Compass a huge flop. A nation of fundamentalist Christians simply WILL NOT go and see an atheist fable.

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 8:49 a.m. CST

    The London stage adaptation

    by Jbud

    For what it's worth, I only know the story from the phenomenal 7-hour stage adaptation they did in London and the audience reaction was overwhelmingly positive, and they certainly didn't sugarcoat any of the metaphysical stuff. I'd say it demonstrated how an adaptation of these books will not necessarily alienate folks because of the religious implications. It certainly didn't prevent them from paying their $ to see the second night and it didn't prevent the whole run from being way sold out, including when it was brought back the next year due to its popularity. (I don't know how closely the last 3rd followed the 3rd book but it seemed just as exciting and involving as the rest of it to me)

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 9:11 a.m. CST

    John Leguizmo says Nics carpet and curtains match

    by Col. Tigh-Fighter

    He confirms this in his new book, where he says as Toulouse Le'trec in Moulon Rouge he spent so much time on his knees he was able to look up Kidmans skirt. <p> Go John!

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 9:30 a.m. CST

    Mori, it'll be EASY to sell this to people!

    by performingmonkey

    Just put talking CG creatures and snow in the trailer and people WILL go see it. The whole daemon aspect is a surefire winner with kids and adults alike. Craig and Kidman will also attract enough attention, I feel. And in no way will this movie be an 'atheist fable' or whatever. Religious nuts only get on this series' back because they don't understand it (although that's Pullman's fault, he wrote a MESS of a third book that in parts is incoherent bullshit). It's like saying Dan Brown is trying to bring down the Church with his books. What IDIOTS you all are! It's just a fucking novel!!! It's only people INSECURE in their religious beliefs that have a problem with Brown or His Dark Materials or ANYTHING in novel form which supposedly 'challenges' religion.

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 9:44 a.m. CST

    The Amber Spyglass

    by mooseaka

    (Spoilers Follow About Book 3) If you think about it, Book 3 could actually make a terrific movie as long as they adapt it properly. When I read Book 3, I had the same problems most people did: too much time with the wheeled animals, not enough time covering the awsome battle against the Authority, and a very subtle, almost anti-climactic ending. <P> But don't forget: Book 3 had some amazing moments in it: The journey to death/hell, the "bomb", the battle with heaven, and finally a big reveal about what the true nature of dust is, and who exactly Lyra and Will are. <P> If they cut back a little on the Mary Malone story (who by the way, must be played by Toni Collette) and extend the battle with the Authority (remember, the battle of Helms Deep was only 25 pages in the Two Towers), the movie could be amazing.

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 9:49 a.m. CST

    peoplell see it

    by aestheticity

    because the third film will be unrecognisable. i state my ground here, we can come back to check in 5 years time just fine.

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 9:50 a.m. CST

    I know this is a lost cause but

    by freydis

    please don't group all clergy with the powerhungry manipulative crazies. Contrary to the way they've been portrayed in movies and books for the last 40 years (and it makes sense, it's a great plot device to have the corrupt moral leader) the real people are generally not really pulpit-pounding, free-will-hating, manipulative, massively hypocritical scumbags, just like Islamic clergy are, in general, not raving power-hungry militant leaders. Those are just the ones that make a lot of noise. I hope the movie is good-- I liked this book, although I did think the series dropped off in the second two, they weren't as tightly written.

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 9:52 a.m. CST

    now I've never read

    by Bloo

    HDM so I can't comment on it, nor I have I ever even heard of it till this movie started up and AICN reported on it, but reDan Brown, I don't think it's his novels that are trying to bring the church down but rather his continual assertation that his novels are based on fact, he calls them "fact-ion" when most of his facts are based on shakey information and flat out lies that have been refuted. Now I'm not saying that we christians have it much better I know that there are many people who use the James ossuary as a p oint of evidence when there is little fact for that (I personally believe it's a fake but that doesn't shake my belief in Jesus), same with the Shroud of Turin and there is other stuff too that is shaky. It's ok to have beliefs CHALLENGED but so many, on both sides believers (any believer not ust christian) and atheists, are afraid to have their beliefs challenged that they believe anything that promotes itself as fact with little to no evidence, or even evidence in the contray.

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 9:52 a.m. CST

    thank you mori...

    by occula

    for a thoughtful post AND for the nice shout-out to the production designer. i don't think you have to worry about his creation of a 'hyper-real' oxford etc. good production designers do that all the time, it's just not really pointed out to you so specifically. example off the top of my head, since it's only 8 am and i'm not firing on all cylinders - all the harry potter movies. all the non-school environments are slightly over-the-top, just enough so you get the feeling something wacky COULD happen. it's a fun challenge for any designer.

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 9:55 a.m. CST

    oh and regarding freewill

    by Bloo

    most people it seems here, think that Christianity preaches agaisnt free will and that is not simply the case, Biblical Christianity teaches free will that we are free to make any decision we want, but we must learn to live with the consequences of that choice, no matter how painful it may be. See Eustace turning into a dragon in Lewis' Voyage of the Dawn Treader for an excellent example of that

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 9:48 a.m. CST

    I loved the first two book but the third onenot so much

    by Lovecraftfan

    I don't even remember if I finished. It just sort of went flying off the rails for me.

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 9:49 a.m. CST

    it's NORTHERN LIGHTS you dimwit yanks!

    by Pegase

    that's the name of the bloody book, why can't they respect even that??! His Dark Materials was voted the 3rd best book ever in the UK (after LOTR and Pride and Prejudice)...but if they call it Golden Compass no-one would have a clue what they're on about..

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 9:51 a.m. CST

    The point isn't whether people "understand" it

    by The Decider

    But, as peliopoulos pointed out earlier, these people don't do the thinking for themselves. Their priests/pastors/radio&TV personalities will tell them that if they allow their children to see this Satanic movie they will burn in hell.

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 10:20 a.m. CST

    TheDecider is right.

    by Zarles

    It's funny that free will is a topic in this movie, because that is exactly what is going to make or break this movie among the religious types. If some mouthpiece for the Christian right decides that this movie is 'evil', then a good percentage of the minions are going to stay away from it. It's just how religion works in this country. Those delusional zealots at are going to have a FIELD DAY with this one.

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 10:29 a.m. CST

    I hope this film is not too shit

    by Kristian66

    People are going to really start (if not already) hating the English accent if they do not stop making these mediocre fantasy/adventure (Eregorn/D&G/Narnia) type films. It is not even us that are making the fuckers.

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 10:38 a.m. CST

    The Decider

    by Veraxus

    I don't totally agree. This is a fantasy work, after all - even if it's pseudo-modern and modelled after reality. After all, the book deals with angels and daemons - just not God in the way people normally think... furthermore, this is based on just the first book, so the crazier anti-religious stuff might not be so obvious in this particular film. In any event, it couldn't possibly be as horrible as Eragon or as sterile as Narnia. I expect something a little more Harry Potterish, but darker and less banal.

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 10:39 a.m. CST

    Northern Lights versus Golden Compass titles

    by cyberskunk

    According to a faq at <p> Apparently, Pullman's original name for the series was The Golden Compass Says..., and that was the name under which he sent it off to American publishers. He heard nothing from them for months, and in the interim, decided (with his British publisher's full blessing) to rename the series His Dark Materials. Months later, RandomHouse sent a letter to inform him that they would be thrilled to publish The Golden Compass and, when Pullman explained that the name had changed, insisted that the cover artwork was already slated to publicly appear the following month, and it was too late to change the title.

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 11:21 a.m. CST

    film title, uk vs. usa

    by Daphmax

    I suspect New Line will have to decide between keeping the film title "The Golden Compass" for the universal release of the film, or changing it for the UK audience to match the novel (much like "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's/ Sorceror's Stone"). I don't think it's a big deal, though. People are calling it TGC because that's what it's being called for the US press. Geez. And re: people who might start a movement to protest/shun the movie ... I strongly suspect it'll happen since the books are considered banned/blacklisted by some social and religious morality groups. (Ha, then again, so is "Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret"). But as we just witnessed with the Hounddog/Dakota Fanning news fury, it'll simply lead to more stories about the HDM films. And isn't it all about cultural awareness? Hmm, I think the movie'll do okay - not LOTR okay, but okay. It's the talking animals, people like 'em ... Anyone know who is on tap for the score, yet?

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 11:31 a.m. CST

    CS Lewis is a Calvinist?

    by purplemonkeydw

    Really Moriarty, really?

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 11:50 a.m. CST

    NOT anti-religious. Anti-totalitarian. (SPOILER)

    by lauawill

    Hey gang. First time I've posted, so bear with me. I don't think the books are anti-religious so much as they are anti-totalitarian. Pullman seems to be saying that any institution that wants to take away your free will and impose its institutional will on you is inherently evil. (See his brilliant essay called "The war on words", achived on The Guardian's website.) That institution can be religious in nature, but it could also be political, educational, whatever. Fundamentalism of all stripes is bad. While The Magistereum seems to be overtly religious, it's also political, isn't it? If you think about it? Isn't he saying that anyone who takes away your ability to make choices, whether a priest or a President, is someone to fight against? That anyone who decides for us is taking away a little bit of our precious Humanity? That's what I've always thought, anyway. Finally, and here's a big SPOILER for The Amber Spyglass (which, I agree, is about 100 pages too long): The Authority isn't murdered or killed. I'm not sure he even dies, exactly. The way I remember it, he is released. Freed from the dogmatic cage in which The Magistereum has placed him. And he is overjoyed to be finally free again, returned to the earth and the air he came from. If that is not a profoundly spiritual message, I don't know what is.

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 12:14 p.m. CST

    ok I've done some research

    by Bloo

    thank you wikipedia *laugh* I think the main reason people read an antireligous mesage into HDM, from what' I've gathered, is that it's because Pullman is an atheist. lauawill may be right again I've not read HDM, but am going to, it may be about freedom from anything totalitarian. Reading an anti-Christian message into these books may be just as bad as reading a strictly christian message into Narnia or a strictly Mormon message in Card's Alvin Maker boks because we know and the author has been very open about their beliefs

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 1:15 p.m. CST

    God forbid...

    by Knugen

    a film should question authority. They might upset fascists everywhere!

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 1:04 p.m. CST


    by psycha

    See but unlike Harry Potter, His Dark Materials is the kind of movie series that would not benefit from staying faithful to the source material. To work as a film that story needs ruthless adaptation. It CAN work as a great movie as long as they streamline and stick to providing intrigue with the main plot of children being secretly kidnapped and taken to away and the little girl going to the North to save them. As long as they shorten and simplify everything else centered around that mission, it should be capable of capturing audiences. The only real difficult thing to me seems to be when Lyra constantly uses the alethiometer. It gets really boring on paper. Hopefully they limit the amount of times she uses it and make it different everytime. Ultimately when I read this book I realised that this was the kind of thing that would work excellently as a Miyazaki animated feature, but oh well.

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 1:22 p.m. CST

    Will outgross the Fountain! (five people will see it)

    by Spandau Belly

    that should be what they aim for with a movie like this.

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 2:16 p.m. CST

    $150 million? Uh oh.

    by DarthCorleone

    This does not have the brand name value that Lord of the Rings or Narnia have. I predict it's going to need excellent word-of-mouth, a brilliant marketing campaign, or both to make that money back.

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 2:17 p.m. CST

    Moriarty, did you see any polar bears?

    by DarthCorleone

    Iorek rules.

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 2:09 p.m. CST

    "On the record that Eva Green is hot..."

    by Abin Sur

    Really out on a limb there, aren't ya, Mori?

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 2:26 p.m. CST


    by Thomas Cromwell

    I'm suprised Pullman is an aethist, considering that his two biggest inspiratinos are John Milton and William Blake, one a Puritan and the other possibly the most spiritual man who ever lived. Pullman shares Blake's anti-clericalism and obsession with free will and used a lot of the imagery of 'Paradise Lost' in HDM. P.S: I second Mori's view of Eva Green...what a goddess she is.

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 3:04 p.m. CST

    Re: the nature of material keeping audiences away...

    by DarthCorleone

    Book 1 is fairly lacking in controversy, and I'm sure the marketing campaign is going to focus on armored polar bears, daemons, villainous Nicole, etc. There will be a few cautionary essays warning people away, but the marketing blitz should overwhelm that. If they get around to the second and third movies, though, it could be a different story.

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 3:08 p.m. CST

    Thomas Cromwell

    by Bloo

    really i didn't know that about Pullman (re: his influences being Milton and Blake) but everything I read about him, through many interviews etc but espicailly agian wikipedia (take it for what it's worth) that Pullman is an athesist. I don't think Pullman set out to create an "anti-narnia" if you will but, again without reading the books, i think that people are reading that message into his books just like many people read a STRICTLY christian message into Lewis, ignoring the inclusion of many pagan influences (i.e. Bacchus, etc). Do i think their respetevie views colored their works, yes, but I don't think it was the driving factor. But i could be wrong, it's just my opinion

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 3:45 p.m. CST

    Re: Everett

    by vaterite

    Having read the books, the reason that many religious people will/do not like the book has nothing to do with the personal politics of Mr Pullman. It has to do with the fact that the church is in charge. They run the world, do all sorts of sweet totalitarian things, like killing gypsies and torturing children in Spitsbergen. And I disagree with Moriarty that Unfortunate events struck the right tone. Jim Carey was too over the top to really be scary, and though the sets were nice, the film didn't seem to have an identity, or a coherent mood; it reminded me more of a Columbus Potter film.

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 4:03 p.m. CST


    by drew mcweeny

    ... yeah, they showed us some of the rough animation of Iorek. Again... very nicely done, but I think it's hard to sell the movie based on that when you live in a culture where computer animated polar bears = Coca Cola commercial for many people.

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 4:35 p.m. CST

    If all the marketing execs have is prayer...

    by judderman

    then they're really not ready for this one. Prayer doesn't exactly figure in this movie's philosophy. I'm told they're going to tone down the series' snarky antitheism, but I'm not sure what they would replace it with. As much as I dislike the destruction of the artist's original vision, they're going to have to change the story big time if they want to a appeal to a wider audience than readers of "The Selfish Gene".

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 4:38 p.m. CST


    by Quin the Eskimo

    Polar Bears are the most vicious predator known to man

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 4:48 p.m. CST


    by stvnhthr

    Hopefully the story is heavily adapted and changed from the book to make it more tolerant of other world views. It is sad that they miss the point that Christianity frees people to have free will not restricts them. That is the whole point God wants people to be free to choose Him rather than be robotic atomotons forced to serve him.

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 4:40 p.m. CST


    by emeraldboy

    "ice cold" kidman

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 5:11 p.m. CST

    my partner has read His Dark Materials..

    by Amy Chasing

    and says it's a nice childrens story and the film would only be a good adaptation if the film-makers remember that. I don't know, I haven't read it - but sounds to me this is more in the Narnia vein than LOTR (I always considered Narnia more kiddy than LOTR).

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 5:12 p.m. CST


    by TAF

    as a delighted reader of LOTR, Chronicles, Unfortunate and the Charles Wallace books, I found this series boring, simplistic, and very disappointing.

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 5:21 p.m. CST

    Re: boring

    by psycha

    It's true, TAF. I read the first one and while I eventually managed to get through it, it's not a very well written novel and and in parts seems even amateur dare I say. However, regardless of its poor simple and boring prose, it has an intriguing plot and imaginary elements that can make for a great thrilling movie about a girl who sets journey to save abducted children taken to the North and learns how to control and trust her instincts along the way. That and BADASSMUTHERFUCKING Polar Bears fighting to the death!

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 5:24 p.m. CST


    by psycha

    ...still, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix will probably beat the shit out of this. Speaking of these types of movies, what's happening with Where The Wild Things Are? When's that supposed to come out? Will it be competing with Golden Compass or will it be out later?

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 5:46 p.m. CST

    Armoured Polar Bears. spoilers within.

    by Cameron1

    That's how you sell the fucking movie. Armoured fucking Polar bears. That and the daemons, especially the shape shifting ones. It's fucking brilliant material for adaptation if done correctly. The Hot Air Ballon rescue scenes and the escape from the lab are incredibly rich sources to make an adventure film with. That's how it will be sold.

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 6:42 p.m. CST


    by Amy Chasing

    [shot of earth from outer space, zoom into the north pole - a sheet of ice breaks away into the ocean] Mr Voiceover: Imagine a world in peril. [shot of a stampede of polar bears] Mr Voiceover: Imagine a world unlike anything you've seen before. [shot of Daniel Craig speeding his Aston Martin over the polar surface. cut to Nicole Kidman fighting someone Matrix-style] Mr Voiceover: And imagine that world was here (cue the Hans Zimmer music). [Daniel Craig "according to your calculations, this world will drown!", Al Gore "yes"] Mr Voiceover: One world. [Nicole Kidman "what can we do?" / cut into shot of more roaring polar bears with laser beams on their heads] Mr Voiceover: One mission. [Daniel Craig "there's only one who can use the compass" / shot of a battle scene or something with flashing lights] Mr Voiceover: One compass. [shot of little girl walking alone through the snow holding.. wait for it.. a compass]. Mr Voiceover "JRR Rowling's, His Dark Compass" - rated R. [shot of a dark cave.. "my preciousss"]

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 7:51 p.m. CST

    First Book Should Work

    by AidanJames's the second and third (If they make them) that will be raping the source material. There's no way a major studio will drop bank on a Church bashing. No matter how brilliant it is.

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 8:33 p.m. CST

    A gift for you mori

    by dtpena

    ,,,,,,,,,,,, ;;;;;;;; some commas an semicolons, OR get an editor.

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 8:48 p.m. CST

    No, I take them back

    by dtpena

    I kept reading and now you have too many commas.

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 8:46 p.m. CST

    Here's how New Line makes its money back:

    by Christopher3

    "Ioryk Byrnson says drink Coke!"

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 9:04 p.m. CST

    I see what you did there, Moriarty

    by Frisco

    I was beginning to get a bit fidgety while reading your article, and I wasn't entirely sure that I was comfortable with what I was reading about this production. But then you slammed Ann Coulter. That gave me a warm feeling inside and made me remember that you are one of the good guys after all, so I should trust your judgement. Great article, keep it up!

  • Feb. 7, 2007, 10:43 p.m. CST

    Lord Asriel?

    by scratcher

    Love the books, despite the flaws, but it's been a couple of years. (Spoiler?) Did I forget something? Does Lyra think that Asriel is her uncle in the first book? I guess it's time to go back and read. Oh yeah, and I think this series would be better off as novels, not as films. Some things are more believable when left to the imagination.

  • Feb. 8, 2007, 12:40 a.m. CST

    For the Brits

    by Broilinn

    When you think about the name of the trilogy and the name of the other books in this series, the Golden Compass is actually a better fit. Using a natural phenomenon as a "Dark Material" really doesn't make much sense.

  • Feb. 8, 2007, 2:42 a.m. CST

    mmm that HDM website is definately not Dutch..

    by Windowlicker74

    It's Scandinavian ( not sure whether it's Danish, Swedish or Norwegian)

  • Feb. 8, 2007, 3:01 a.m. CST

    LOL, great point, Monkeybutt

    by Frisco

    When choosing ideological opponents Pullman didn't exactly go for broke, did he? "Hmmm, dead C.S. Lewis... Mohammedans... dead C.S. Lewis... Mohammedans. Lewis it is!"

  • Feb. 8, 2007, 3:04 a.m. CST

    HDM is the greatest story I've ever read

    by LittleDudes

    So I'm really looking forward to seeing this film. It may turn out to be awful, but I'm still keen to see how they visualize Lyra's world. Seeing Iorek protect Lyra is going to make weep with joy if done right.

  • Feb. 8, 2007, 3:05 a.m. CST

    Oh, and Mori

    by LittleDudes

    Thank you so much for such an excellent write-up. It was intensely reassuring and great to see that you understood the material, and it's implications of garnering a stable audience.

  • Feb. 8, 2007, 3:50 a.m. CST

    Mori's right to be skeptical:

    by newc0253

    the first book of the trilogy is great, the second book flawed but still interesting, but the third is dogshit from start to finish: filled with the worst ideas, the clumsiest metaphors, the most didactic prose you ever read. as endings to trilogies goes, it makes matrix revolutions seems like return of the king.

  • Feb. 8, 2007, 9:14 a.m. CST

    I thought 'The Amber Spyglass" to be a work of genius..

    by workshed what if it tears up the ideas of organised religion in the minds of children but that's a great thing in my book. Having been an ardent fan of the trilogy generally i cannot wait to see if they can pull it off. I hope so.

  • Feb. 8, 2007, 10:45 a.m. CST

    As an Anglican...

    by Thomas Cromwell

    ...I personally didn't mind HDM as firstly it is fiction and Pullman didn't try to convince us otherwise (i'm looking at YOU Dan Brown) I just hope that all the loony End-Timers/Bush Worshippers will see this movie as ENTERTAINMENT not an attack on Christianity (although when referring to End Timers i use the term 'Christian' in its broadest possible sense).

  • Feb. 8, 2007, 10:47 a.m. CST

    RE: Workshed

    by Kizeesh

    If you think its genius you need to read more good literature. It has some nice allusions to the classics and the biblical Eden redux concept at the end is an interesting idea, but its sluggishly executed with little or no real continuation of the world as a whole. Instead of continuing the narrative threads of the first 2 novels he ditched the majority of the story in favour of some trite moralising, attacks on the church and utterly out of character theatrics all round.

  • Feb. 8, 2007, 11:08 a.m. CST

    There are two gay angels in the last book

    by performingmonkey

    Do you think that storyline will be included in the third movie? I'm betting that it's stuff like that which really got people's backs up. I think Pullman DID set out to rile everyone up with the third book and IMO that was a mistake because that's ALL he seemed to do and forget about story. He only had Lyra and Will's story planned and everything else was his spouting of BS that makes him sound like an a1 nutjob who over the course of the book makes up his own 'creation' story that involves the Authority (or God) being the first angel to come into being, when other angels were born out of Dust (look at Dust as sort of midichlorians) the Authority told them that HE was the one that had created them and the world. When the other angels found out the truth they rebelled against him but the Authority kicked their ass. Now Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig) wants to kick the Authority's ass back with the aid of the 'good' angels, so YES they are setting out to destroy 'God'. What they end up doing (Craig and Kidman's characters) is killing Metatron, who is an evil guy who is NOW ruling heaven and keeping 'God' locked up somehow (if you're still reading this please kill yourself...)

  • Feb. 8, 2007, 11:19 a.m. CST

    Gay angels

    by Kizeesh

    which make no sense at all seeing as the angels in question are ethereal, made of random smokey stuff and dont properly exist on our plane. Can't reproduce and are gradually dying over the course of millenia and yet, somehow manage to have human genders. Which leads to the most farcical moment in the books where Mrs Coulter manages to seduce one. One of the oldest and most powerful and who hates humans. And yet Mrs Coulter is sooooo sexy that despite himself the angel fancies her and falls for her duplicities. I think I actually threw the book at a wall at that point out of complete and utter frustration.

  • Feb. 8, 2007, 11:54 a.m. CST

    i have no problem with attacks on organised religion:

    by newc0253

    my problem with pullman's 3rd book is that it is truly terrible literature, crapping on everything that was interesting about the trilogy in the first place. anyone who's ever read paradise lost would recognise the potential for a good novel about declaring war on heaven, free will, etc. but 'the amber spyglass' isn't that novel. instead, it's a shrill attack on a caricature. it's funny that pullman had such a problem with CS lewis's heavy-handed christian moralizing in the later narnia books, because his painfully obvious allegory in the 3rd book makes lewis look like a master of subtlety. lewis's christian moralizing was bad but pullman's anti-christian moralising is ten times worse - at least lewis never spent two books building up your interest with some vivid characters, only to reduce them to stock figures in a lazy sermon at the end. and that whole attempt at science-fiction with the wheel-people? probably the most embarrassingly bad thing i've read in the last decade.

  • Feb. 8, 2007, 1:15 p.m. CST

    you suck moriarity....

    by wolvenom

    you probably just started reading the book because the movies are comming out.... when some of us have been fans since the beginning, where the hell is our chance to visit the sets? This is bunk!!! BUNK!!! I cant believe no one from AICN had fucking heard of the his dark materials before the buzz about the movies being made. That is fucking sad. It shows how little you guys actually read or know about fantasy/sci fi. This site is full of poseurs who post shit about nerd fantasy/sci fi hype on here that have absolutely no knowledge or nostalgic ties to those nerd fantasies/sci fi hype until actually hearing about it being made into a movie. POSEURS!!! POSEURS!!!

  • Feb. 8, 2007, 3:13 p.m. CST


    by drew mcweeny

    ... you are a sad, strange little man. <P>I read HIS DARK MATERIALS not long after release, then re-read them last year. I'm glad you are a fan, but your bizarre little rant seems to be fuelled by jealousy rather than anything in the real world. <P>I'm perfectly willing to say when I'm not a fan of something or am unfamiliar with it. But I read voraciously, and I'm probably forgotten more fantasy than you've read.

  • Feb. 8, 2007, 5:12 p.m. CST

    So workshed and I are the only ones who liked the third

    by LittleDudes

    That's unfortunate, as much as I enjoyed what little of the war was written I was more interested in Lyra's journey and how she grows and how the prophecy unfolds. I actually thought it was an absolutely beautiful scene when she and Will kiss, that'll be the highlight of the movie for me should they pull it off correctly.

  • Feb. 8, 2007, 10 p.m. CST

    Toy Story 3 For 2009!!

    by kuguy3000

    Hey guys!! Toy Story 3 Confirmed for 2009!! Fully-fianced PIXAR film!! It's being written by the "Little Miss Sunshine" guy!! Can you believe it? Pixar won!<br> <br> Check it out!!

  • Feb. 9, 2007, 12:36 a.m. CST

    I'm never this earnest, but...

    by battery

    HDM brings it out in me. Moriarty -- good points but you're missing the most important point of all by referencing Unfortunate Events and its failure to connect -- people love the irreverence and wit of Snicket and his style - but no one "loves" the characters with the heart - they love them with the mind. It's all very cold. There's not a lot of human connection going on, but that's fine. HDM is DEEP and connects right to the heart in so many ways. (which does make it harder to adapt) While reading HDM series I felt I would kill for Lyra. I was a weeping sally at the end of the third book. I recommended it to like-minded friends and know one guy who didn't leave his room for 2 weeks after the third book from sheer despair. Lyra's character and relationships remind me of Nausicaa in that way and that manga and film have me rooting so hardcore for the protagonists that it's tough not to love the thing as a whole. There are some complexities and literate explanations that may bamboozle many - but it's got such HEART and even the dumbest fucks have one of those (well, most). And don't forget the FLAT-OUT-COMMERCIAL concept of kids having their own connecting pet to talk to and hang out with. That concept alone could rake in every movie-going kid alive. Kids love fantasy done right. Many kids and dummies did not understand LOTR but they liked the world and HDM's world is fantastic if just for the Daemons alone. Polar bears are another huge plus and so's a great villain. Kidman is cold as hell so she'll probably be perfectly despicable as Coulter. I recommend this book to people looking for something to like, and like my other recommend since the late 80's, the Ender's Game series, I've never heard a negative reaction. It's because, like Ender, the protagonist is someone you root for in the biggest way and the writing is detailed and intelligent. Problem comes when the filmmakers have to literally create magic and get those character connections right. Lets hope Iorek is who he needs to be. I like the sound of the talent in Lyra. She's the key. Thanks for the update - and stop being so negative!!! New Line - I personally hope you kill with this one. Fingers fucking crossed.

  • Feb. 9, 2007, 12:48 a.m. CST

    pay no attention to wolvenom behind the curtain, mori..

    by Amy Chasing

    Doubt the post is serious. Usually the !!!s give them away, but in particular the "where the hell is our chance to visit the sets?" got me laughing - but wouldn't worry Moriarty, I think your job is safe. ;)

  • Feb. 9, 2007, 2:27 a.m. CST

    Bible Thumpers are GO!!!

    by VoxMillennium

    So that's what we have to worry about, some crazy American bible belt fundamentalists getting all worked up about this movie? Well, only in America, I'm sure the rest of the world will be laughing their collective asses off as usual when hearing that particular voice of retarded America over the airwaves. The reason the movie will make a loss is that indeed New Line is making the grave mistake that the fanbase of these books is similar to that of Lord of the Rings. They will find out they're in error and very likely either subsequently not adapt book 2 and 3, seriously cut down on the repsective budgets for these movies or worse put in even more money and lose even more money. I believe the movie will be reasonably succesfull if not way not as much as New Line is hoping for.

  • Feb. 9, 2007, 10:42 a.m. CST

    Bible thumping fundementalists

    by Kizeesh

    are the glue that holds the US together don't you know? Without their concerted efforts and constant vigilance against the hordes of evil athiests, unbelievers, and homosexuals, the country would surely go into some sort of anarchic maelstrom from which something like, I dunno, ....paradise might arise?

  • Feb. 10, 2007, 9:29 p.m. CST

    Well, with a titled like Golden Compass...

    by Lobanhaki

    The spine of the story is direction, and where she's heading. What does she have to go through to get where she's going? What does she have to leave behind? Latch onto that, and you've got both movie and trailer.

  • Feb. 11, 2007, 5:34 p.m. CST

    This isn't fair!

    by Hamish

    This now has me salivating, and I've never read the books! Intelligent fantasy on film? Dare we hope for so much? And how many tickets will I need to buy to get the sequels made?

  • Feb. 14, 2007, 4:08 a.m. CST

    For Frodo

    by Flame of the West

    Given the appalling treatment of PJ by New Line, I hope this project flops. Pullman is in any event the anti-christ to Tolkien fans given his perverse views on the Professor. I hope this New Line extravaganza busts both them and New Line.

  • Feb. 16, 2007, 5:55 a.m. CST

    Looks REALLY interesting...

    by JimmyLoneWolf

    Who cares whether there's an audience...this seems like a ballsy project, and thats a good thing. Lets support this movie, the anti-Narnia aspect alone sounds fascinating. I'm there (and now I want to read the books)!