If you only know author Philip Pullman’s award-winning work from the 2007 movie The Golden Compass, I’m about to encourage you to give his stories another look. Drawing from Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy, the New Line Cinema feature adaptation attempted to bring the first book to life but failed to capture a sizable domestic box office or impress critics. However, the studio is giving it another go, this time on the small screen.
“His Dark Materials” is coming to television in an eight-part series commissioned by BBC One, and will be produced by both New Line and Bad Wolf. The project is New Line’s first move into British television and is the first production for Bad Wolf, a U.S./U.K. company formed by former BBC executives Jane Tranter and Julie Gardner that’s co-sited in South Wales and Los Angeles. “His Dark Materials” will be produced in Wales.
Though released as “The Golden Compass” in North America, the first book in Pullman’s trilogy was titled “Northern Lights” elsewhere. This first third of the tale will form the initial TV series which follows an orphan named Lyra on her search for a kidnapped friend in a parallel universe that combines science, religion, and magic. Lyra’s quest gets more complicated as she uncovers a plot to steal children and comes ever closer to solving the mystery of a substance known as Dust.
The second part of the trilogy, “The Subtle Knife,” sees Lyra joined by Will, who possesses the title knife that can cut doorways between worlds. The two become embroiled in an all-out war, the resolution of which concludes in “The Amber Spyglass.”
Here’s what Pullman had to say about this latest adaptation of his work:
“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. And the sheer talent now working in the world of long-form television is formidable.
“For all those reasons I’m delighted at the prospect of a television version of ‘His Dark Materials.’ I’m especially pleased at the involvement of Jane Tranter, whose experience, imagination, and drive are second to none. As for the BBC, it has no stronger supporter than me. I couldn’t be more pleased with this news.”
Speaking as someone who enjoyed Pullman’s books and was somewhat disappointed by the film (and decision not to continue with the entire trilogy), I think that TV is the perfect place to bring a proper adaptation to life. Echoing Pullman’s own comments, the current era of television has proven welcoming to in-depth character exploration through a drawn-out series rather than a one-shot feature film. There’s simply more time, opportunity, and intimacy available to do the story justice. Of course, the budget is probably the biggest difference in this new adaptation, but if they plan their production right, fans will still get to see armies of armored polar bears battling for dominance. That alone should be worth the price of admission.