Many Philip Pullman fans were scarred by the light fare of the His Dark Materials film adaptation starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig— which only made it through the first book, The Golden Compass. It’d seemed that Hollywood had taken — and squandered — their chance to adapt the series into something akin to the then-increasingly good Harry Potter film franchise. But we must remember that in this ever-repeating film and TV climate, there seems to be no such thing as last chances. The Hollywood Reporter has announced that another onscreen interpretation of Philip Pullman’s Paradise Lost-based series about polar bears that can talk, Dust that cannot be mopped, knives that are “subtle,” and the death of God is coming by way of the BBC.
The novels are immense and hard to summarize, but they begin by following a protagonist named Lyra in a parallel world where everyone’s soul comes in the form of a shape-shifting (until adolescence) animal, which scientists are experimenting with detaching — ultimately opening onto a universe-traversing war over God.
The new iteration comes in the form of a drama series, which will air on BBC 1, and is being produced by New Line (in their first TV series production) and Bad Wolf. Interestingly, it was New Line who produced the original film. Though the film was arguably very mediocre, it was speculated — pretty ridiculously — by actor Sam Elliot that it didn’t get sequels because of pressure from the Catholic Church who’d deemed it “atheism for kids” and the likes of Bill O’Reilly, who’d hilariously called it a “war on Christmas.”
The truth, however, was that the first film completely watered down the book’s more trenchant commentary on religion. More likely, as The Guardian explains, there were no sequels due to consistently bad reviews and the fact that its box office numbers weren’t amazing. So we can only hope that, though the series is coming in part in the hands of the same studio, they’ll realize what went wrong with their first attempt.
One bit of good news is that Pullman is among the executive producers, and he provided a very encouraging, GoT referencing statement:
It’s been a constant source of pleasure to me to see this story adapted to different forms and presented in different media. It’s been a radio play, a stage play, a film, an audiobook, a graphic novel — and now comes this version for television. In recent years we’ve seen how long stories on television, whether adaptations (Game of Thrones) or original (The Sopranos, The Wire), can reach depths of characterization and heights of suspense by taking the time for events to make their proper impact and for consequences to unravel.
Since the film was critiqued for packing too much into a feature film length, perhaps this is exactly what Pullman’s series needs.