Where fans can see a new adaptation of 'His Dark Materials'

Philip Pullman's fantasy novels are often called some of the best books in the genre, but a movie adaptation wasn't well received when it was released several years ago. Can a new adaptation bring the books' complex world successfully to life?

New Line Cinema/AP
'The Golden Compass' stars Dakota Blue Richards.

Fans of Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” series are getting a second chance to see the book series brought to life.

The BBC has reportedly ordered an eight-part TV series based on the popular fantasy trilogy. The first book, "Northern Lights" (titled “The Golden Compass” in North America), was adapted as a film in 2007 and had a star-studded cast that included Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, and Ian McKellan. But the film disappointed at the box office and received negative reviews from critics. 

It’s not surprising that another adaptation would happen, however. Pullman’s books are often called some of the best fantasy novels of all time. The series follows Lyra, a young girl living in a world in which each person is accompanied by an animal companion, and Will, a boy from our own world. Together the two become involved in a conflict that is occurring across many civilizations. 

Perhaps the BBC is hoping a more recognizable fantasy property will score this time, as well – the BBC aired a miniseries adaptation of the classic fantasy novel “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell” by Susanna Clarke this past summer, which got poor ratings despite good reviews.

The “Dark Materials” series was published around the same time as the first books in the “Harry Potter” series. Both were marketed to young readers but attracted an audience of all ages because of their resonant themes, with The Christian Science Monitor's reviewer Jenny Sawyer writing of the "Dark Materials" trilogy, "All three novels provide an excellent adventure story that manages to be compelling even as it deals with complex, nuanced themes." In fact, some didn't want children reading the "Dark" books at all – the books have been criticized for portraying Christianity and religion in a negative light.

But both "Potter" and "Dark" became popular pop-culture mainstays, and when the “Potter” movies arrived, they weren't completely kid-centric events – for the opening weekend of the movie adaptation of the first book, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," around two-thirds of the audience was in their late teens or older.

The two series could be said to have paved the way for the current popularity of young-adult book series with readers of all ages, with such book series as Stephenie Meyers’ “Twilight” books and Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” novels finding a wide audience. “Hunger” in particular was praised for its examination of reality TV and the power of propaganda.

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