When co-producers BBC and HBO released the first teaser trailer for their upcoming adaptation of the His Dark Materials book trilogy this past weekend, author Philip Pullman shared it with a simple message on Twitter: "Let me try again."
This statement is an acknowledgment of how the last attempt at a major cinematic adaptation of the His Dark Materials trilogy, Chris Weitz's 2007 film based on the first book, The Golden Compass, did not succeed as hoped. His Dark Materials is one of if not the most thematically ambitious young adult fantasy series ever written, and New Line Cinema thought the series could be its next Lord of the Rings-level cinematic phenomenon. Instead, the film landed with a thud and adaptations of the second and third books, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, were never completed.
The new TV series should at the very least get through The Subtle Knife. The Golden Compass is being adapted into the first eight-episode season, and the show is already renewed for a second season. Unless something goes terribly wrong, we're almost certainly going to see a complete adaptation of the trilogy. We might even get the prequel book, La Belle Sauvage, adapted at some point if the show is a big enough hit. Without the length and content limitations imposed by the blockbuster movie format, the odds are good this will not only be a complete adaptation, but a far superior one to New Line's attempt.
The failure of the Golden Compass movie was frustrating because so many elements were in place for a great movie. In fact, there's fair reason to speculate that, until the last minute, it was a great movie, or at least a solidly good one. This was a case of a movie being ruined in the editing room by a studio scared to take risks. Forget about begging Warner Bros. for the non-existent "Snyder cut" of Justice League. Someone should ask them for the "Chris Weitz cut" of The Golden Compass.
Weitz is a true fan of the books, and set out to make the best adaptation possible. The first draft of his screenplay is online and it's worth the read. Clocking in at 185 pages, it's an impressively faithful adaptation (with the exception of one major issue, which we'll discuss later) that importantly establishes character relationships and world-building without the need to rush through bland exposition dumps. This first draft would naturally go through rewrites, slimming it down to a more manageable 156 pages, but the intention for most of production was to keep to this general sense of the story.