The BBC’s flagship channel, BBC One, has commissioned an initial eight-part series based on Philip Pullman’s epic fantasy novel in three parts, “His Dark Materials,” from Bad Wolf andNew Line Cinema, which will be produced in Wales.
“His Dark Materials” has been published in more than 40 languages, and has sold worldwide close to 17.5 million copies.
Well, I sure as hell didn’t see this coming.
As I documented in my marathon-length His Dark Materials post, the last time someone tried to give this franchise a whirl in live action the results were akin to a small meteor strike. If ever there was a property marked for permanent death, it would seem to be this one.
But maybe I was jumping the gun a bit. The enduring popularity of the books (which are still getting new editions and reprints) obviously indicates there’s a payday here waiting for someone to find the right way to unearth it. And in a post-Game of Thrones world there’s now a recognized way to adapt big fantasy epics without spending Hollywood levels of money.
More baffling is the fact that New Line (aka the company whose film subsidiary the Golden Compass adaptation torpedoed) is one of the production partners. I frankly expected them to ditch the rights to the franchise in a similar manner to how people traditionally dispose of vampires, but I guess not. A small part of me hopes that someone at the company (which surely does not include anyone involved in the film debacle) realized that their last attempt at an adaptation failed mostly due to their own stupidity.
Usually I’d apply the same disclaimer as my Kvothe post that these projects are announced far more often than they actually come to fruition, but in actual fact this seems to be on pretty firm ground, mostly because “we’ve greenlit a single TV adaptation with multiple production partners” is a lot more sensible than “we’re bankrolling a giant assload of cross-media projects”. Also the His Dark Materials books include things that people might actually want to watch, like talking armoured polar bears tearing people’s throats out. Good, wholesome family entertainment.
Now, is it going to be any good? The announcement makes me hopeful for a few reasons:
- The BBC recently did an adaptation of Johnathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, and while I haven’t seen it I’ve heard it had top-notch production quality and good special effects (amusingly, New Line Cinema was going to do a film version before The Golden Compass caused their collapse, so it seems as if the BBC is now rescuing their failed projects)
- Phillip Pullman is one of the producers, whereas he took a completely hands-off approach with the movie. This could frankly go either way– the man has apparently become even more cranky and up his own ass in recent years– but at the very least he might stop them softening the story or chopping the first book’s ending off
- The fact that it’s being produced in Britain instead of ‘Murica makes me hopeful that they’re not going to be as jittery about tackling the religious themes
- You could actually do a lot of the book’s material justice with a good TV budget. The movie went with a heavily-CG steampunk-ish version of Lyra’s Oxford, whereas the version described in the book could be achieved with little more than the effort required to make most period dramas. The second book takes place half in modern London and half in a location that any number of real world cities could stand in for with little alteration. The big expense would presumably come from things like the Panserbjorn and the wheel elephants, and as much as it pains me to suggest it of the former, both could be written out of books two and three without too much difficulty if they proved prohibitively expensive
The only really troubling question is how in the holy hell they’re going to handle The Amber Spyglass, assuming the first season is successful and they get that far.