(New Line Cinema)

The next "Game of Thrones" is coming: Philip Pullman's epic fantasy series "His Dark Materials" is a natural fit for TV

BBC One has commissioned an 8-part miniseries based on the trilogy


Anna Silman
November 3, 2015 9:23PM (UTC)

Like many diehard fans of Philip Pullman’s epic fantasy trilogy “His Dark Materials," I was disappointed with New Line's 2007 film adaptation of the first book, "The Golden Compass," which turned Pullman’s rich source material into such a forgettable Hollywood mess that the sequels never got made.

While generations to come will know the names Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen and Frodo Baggins, for many, Lyra Silvertongue is a forgotten heroine, condemned to live only in dusty library pages and in the vivid memories of ‘90s babies like myself (such a diehard that I once forced my poor parents to sit through a six-hour stage play adaptation of the series at London's National Theater).

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I was so upset about Hollywood's mishandling of the material that even wrote an essay about it a while back, arguing that the books needed another shot at adaptation -- perhaps (!) in the form of a TV miniseries.

The reasons for this are legion, but mainly, I felt that Pullman’s books — about two children from parallel universes battling a great metaphysical evil, complete with daemons (essentially spirit animals), witches and armored polar bears — offered such a rich fantasy world, both visually and conceptually, that they deserved the time and attention a miniseries could provide.

It could, I argued, be the next "Game of Thrones," introducing a new generation of viewers to a world as rich and unique as Westeros. What's more, the film's complex anti-religious themes (which the Catholic Church dubbed "Atheism for kids" and Bill O'Reilly called "a war on Christmas") seem like a perfect fit for the dark and controversial world of premium cable.

As I suggested, "Pullman's trilogy, set in a series of overlapping universes — some fantastical, some resembling our own — is a tour de force of world building. It includes traces of science fiction, with ideas culled from cosmology, theology and particle physics, alongside fantastical elements such as witches and armored polar bears. Much like GoT, it anchors these otherworldly elements in a set of strong, diverse human characters, from a Texan hot-air-balloon pilot to a Gypsy lord, as well as two of the most dastardly and complex villains to ever appear in young adult literature. Taken together, these elements form a landscape easily as immersive and engrossing as Westeros or Middle Earth."

And today my wish was granted: BBC One announced that they have commissioned an eight-part miniseries produced by New Line and the Bad Wolf production company. Bad Wolf is a UK/US-based production company that recent partnered with HBO, and is helmed by BBC alums Jane Tranter and Julie Gardner. Pullman has been attached as an executive producer.

Pullman, who has in the past expressed his dissatisfaction with the film version and the desire to see "His Dark Materials" adapted for TV, expressed his delight at the news.

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"It’s been a constant source of pleasure to me to see this story adapted to different forms and presented in different media,” said Pullman in a statement. "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.”

"The sheer talent now working in the world of long-form television is formidable,” he continued. "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.”

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Added Tranter:  "The broad horizons of television suggests itself as the best of vehicles to capture the expansiveness of the story and worlds of Lyra and Will, and I am looking forward to seeing how ‘Northern Lights,’ ‘The Subtle Knife’ and ‘The Amber Spyglass’ will occupy their place in an audience’s imagination across many episodes and seasons."

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Anna Silman

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Aol_on His Dark Materials Philip Pullman The Golden Compass

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