Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy is one of the strangest, smartest, most magical, and — appropriately — darkest fantasy book series ever to terrify and enlighten children in equal measure. As SNL‘s Stefan might put it, these books have everything; talking polar bears, knives that can slice into other dimensions, animals with wheels for feet, atheistic undertones, and a smart, competent female protagonist (imagine!).
Unfortunately, the 2007 movie adaptation of the first novel in the trilogy, The Golden Compass, utterly failed its source material. Where the book was complex, expansive, and thoughtfully critical of classic theology, the film was reductive, rushed, and muted, carefully tiptoeing across anything that might be construed as anti-religious in order to avoid pissing off the churchgoing-public and melting the edges off the book’s singularly sharp and iconoclastic message. As such, The Golden Compass was a critical and commercial failure, alienating Pullman’s massive, devoted audience — who were once clamoring for its release — and pulling in only $70 million on a $180 million budget. Planned sequels were never made, polar bears were never kings, and Lyra and Will never got down in the de facto Garden of Eden.
For those of us who have spent the past eight years or so crying every single time they think about the end of the trilogy and/or ranting at parties about the enormous lost opportunity to adapt Pullman’s work to the screen (… me), here’s some really f*cking great news: Bad Wolf, a UK/U.S. production company founded by some former BBC execs, is partnering with HBO for an eight-part series based on His Dark Materials.
This is f*cking great for multiple reasons: First of all, the trilogy is too massive in scope, too lengthy and complicated to condense into three 120-minute films. This is a story that needs to be savored and stretched and pored over. Secondly, Pullman himself seems to be heavily involved in the process already, meaning this time around, it’s much less likely that his tale of science, religion, love, and otherworldy adventure will be turned into a paper-thin Nicole Kidman vehicle. And lastly, if anybody can do justice to Pullman’s brilliance, it’s the BBC and HBO, both of which know a thing or two about good, meaty, uncensored storytelling. It’s not yet clear whether the eight episodes will span the length of the entire trilogy, or just the first book, but I’m hoping for the latter; three seasons worth of His Dark Materials sounds just about right.
As Pullman told Variety, “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.” (Translation: “I’m pissed about that whole movie thing, too. Let’s put this in the hands of some people who are not idiots.”)