Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Christian protests may leave Philip Pullman's trilogy as one of a kind

Perhaps it has disappeared through a window into another universe, like its characters. It looked increasingly unlikely yesterday that cinema audiences in this world will get to see the planned film sequels in Philip Pullman's children's fantasy trilogy, His Dark Materials.

Sources in the film industry said that plans for a sequel to The Golden Compass appeared to have been put on ice following the fervent Christian protests surrounding the first film, which led to boycotts and box office disappointment in the United States.



Pullman told The Independent that he had not yet been contacted by Shepperton Studios and was not aware of any imminent plans to film the sequel, The Subtle Knife. When the first film was in production last year, he was regularly contacted by Chris Weitz, its writer and director.



"I know everyone would like to see a sequel and I know I'd like to see it. When the first film was in production, I was talking to the studio and to Chris Weitz and producers quite frequently. I'm sure I would be now if the sequel was in production," he said.



Weitz said yesterday he did not want talk about the project while the studio responsible for the first film was refusing to discuss the future of the trilogy.



When The Golden Compass was released last year, New Line Cinema had high hopes for the trilogy as the new The Lord of the Rings, and the sequel was due to be released by the end of 2009.



But then the Christian boycotts started and the film sunk in the US, making a meagre $70m (£35m), although it took a hefty $300m internationally. New Line has since been merged with Warner Brothers.





Watch the trailer of The Golden Compass here.





Pullman said he would be dismayed if the original cast, which included Nicole Kidman and the then 12-year-old lead child star, Dakota Blue Richards, were not able to reprise their roles. "The problem with having a child in the cast is that time goes by very quickly, [and they change]... I would love to see her [Dakota] carry on the story and I'd love to see Nicole Kidman fulfil the full development of her character," he said.



If the sequel to his trilogy, His Dark Materials, was not made with the original cast, Pullman said he would harbour hopes for a sequel in the future with a fresh cast that may not meet the same level of religious protest.



The plot of the three books revolves around a fantasy world where the Reformation has never happened. This parallel universe of talking animals and witches is ruled by an oppressive Catholic institution known as the Magisterium. The challenges to religious institutions become more confrontational with every book in the trilogy, culminating with a war on heaven. Weitz, an American-born Cambridge graduate, has been vociferous in his passion for Pullman's original text, insisting on staying "true" to the trilogy if or when sequels are made. This outspokenness may have added to the studio's wariness.



Pullman said protests in America had done little to help its release, with parents protesting against the allegorical challenges to the Catholic faith. "There was a lot of fuss over that," he said.



Dan Jolin, the features editor of Empire magazine, who accompanied Weitz in the cutting room last October, said at the time that Weitz was determined to make a sequel, having saved material from the first film. Weitz told Jolin that Pullman's trilogy was influenced by Milton, and that Northern Lights, the book on which The Golden Compass is based, "is this rather beautiful idea that God kind of left all these spare bits lying around and that, for all we know, there are other universes".



Michael Gubbins, the editor of Screen International, said it was unlikely that the film could be brought out by next year, especially in a tough box office environment with "trilogy congestion" in following months, but that the franchise was likely to be revisited in the future.



Other cinematic 'blasphemers'



The Life of Brian (1979)



The tale of an innocent Jewish man mistaken for Christ when the three wise men go to the wrong manger was damned as blasphemous on its release. The Monty Python team maintained it spoofed Biblical films, rather than Christianity.



The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)



Scenes in which Jesus fantasises on the cross about living as a married man and having children with Mary Magdalene sparked the fury of the US church and religious right.



Dogma (1999)



The satire about two fallen angels seeking to get back into heaven via an obscure loophole sparked protests in Britain, the United States and France.



The Da Vinci Code (2006)



The Vatican appointed an archbishop to rebut "shameful and unfounded errors".



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