The Golden Compass is officially joining the golden age of television.
BBC One has announced that it's commissioning a new series based on Philip Pullman's wildly popular His Dark Materials trilogy. The books follow Lyra, a clever orphan, as she navigates fraught and mysterious parallel universes. Ever since The Golden Compass was published in 1995 (with the title of Northern Lights in the UK), it has inspired a fervent, devoted fan base that loves to parse the series' many layers. His Dark Materials is ostensibly young adult fiction, but only because it centers on a young adult. Pullman drew from theology, Paradise Lost, and world war history to create an ever-complicating universe that engulfs the reader in just a few pages.
The BBC's move to adapt the series for television is an exciting one for fans, if only because the only serious attempt to bring His Dark Materials to the screen was, by all accounts, kind of a disaster.
Despite a $180 million budget and an all-star cast (including Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, and Eva Green), The Golden Compass didn't make much of an impression. It was cheesy, and far too beholden to the idea of being kid-friendly. The world of the source books, by contrast, is full of shadows and philosophy, grime and dust. So while New Line Cinema undoubtedly hoped it had a new smash trilogy on its hands, The Golden Compass's disappointing performance instead led the studio to quietly shut down any further attempts to build a franchise.
With the BBC's announcement, though, comes renewed hope for New Line and His Dark Materials fans — and possibly even higher expectations. As Pullman points out in the press release, the trilogy has "been a radio play, a stage play, a film, an audiobook, a graphic novel," but never a television series.
To be fair, television might not have been ready to produce a show on the epic scale that His Dark Materials requires until recently, now that Game of Thrones has proved that high-octane fantasy can translate well to a smaller screen. It's no surprise, then, that Pullman goes on to reference Game of Thrones as the prime example of what this new series will try to do. His Dark Materials doesn't have the sheer volume of material that Game of Thrones does, but its world is similarly complex and incredibly dense. Having the time to explore it in depth could do more justice to the books than a two-hour movie ever could.