His Dark Materials Film: Opportunity lost?

Much gripping has been heard across the blogosphere regarding the film version of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Trilogy. People are upset because the films are apparently being stripped of their anti-religion content for fear of offending the masses. Pullman is reportedly not concerned as he is set to make big bucks regardless. Comically, his agent blames it on President Bush:

You have to recognize that it is a challenge in the climate of Bush’s America.

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Gregg Easterbrook thinks this is a shame. While finding Pullman’s anti-God invective unpersuasive, Easterbrook thinks the movies should be made to reflect the book:

The film is being made under the auspices of New Line Cinema, the company that struck gold with the Lord of the Rings trilogy; speculation is that New Line feared religious groups would boycott His Dark Materials if it were anti-God. But His Dark Materials must be anti-God–abhorrence of religion is the whole point of Pullman’s books! I disliked the anti-religion element of His Dark Materials because the thinking struck me as shallow, university-sophomore arguments: everything negative about faith trumped up, no positives mentioned. But Pullman deserves to have his books filmed the way he wrote them. (Ursula Le Guin deserved to have her books filmed the way she wrote them too, but that’s now water under the bridge.) New Line should make His Dark Materials as an anti-God polemic, or not make the flick at all.

I agree. In fact, I think New Line is missing a great opportunity. It seems obvious to me that this is the perfect chance for a little red state backlash. Blue America is pissed about the last election, relentlessly secular, and suspicious of a new “Theocracy” under President Bush (see the comment above by Pullman’s agent). Add to this mood the fact that nothing spikes interest in a movie more than protest and controversy and you have the potential for a big splash.

I think New Line should courageously make the movie as anti-religion as the books and let the well intentioned but not market savy red state fundamentalists attack it as blasphemous and dangerous for kids. This will only increase the interest in the movies as the controversy itself becomes news and creates millions in free publicity. Every secularist, libertarian, and iconoclast in the country – and a large amount of the merely curious – will want to see the film. Some will see it as an act of courage in Ashcroft’s Gonzales’s America while others just want to see what all the fuss is about. Kids will sneak in by the droves. After all what is more interesting than something your parents think is bad for you. Like every other movie that becomes an object of protest, His Dark Materials could become a blockbuster based on the issues surrounding it rather than on its merits alone.

I have my own opinions about Pullman and his work (see here and here), but it seems to me that changing the film to play it safe is both artistically and financially cowardly. My advice would be to ride controversy to the bank. It has a long history of success.

About the author

Kevin Holtsberry

I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season – oh, and watching golf too).

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4 Comments

  • It is rather absurd to denature Pullman’s story since the whole point of the plot revolves around the Father Almighty being a terrible meany.

    But I don’t think this series will be popular even it it did gin up some controversy from Christians. Such controversy didn’t really help The Last Temptation of Christ, which people stayed away from in droves.

  • The film should be as true to the books as possible. If anyone is offended then do not go to the cinema to see it, it really is that simple.

  • and I can assure you that this series will be very popular, as is made obvious by the popularity of the books.

  • The “Authority” in pullmans books, being a villian, is therefore very different from the God many Christians in our world pray to. For the film why not strip him of all Godly Connotations?, call him something else, and portray him as more of a menace, and Evil power- perhaps much Like Sauron In the LOTR trilogy (readers of the book will know he’s a lurking power, not just a flaming eye) – The Church who worships him becomes more of a duplicitous Cult, and is never called a church, The Angels who oppose him perhaps come from another benevolant force, not really mentioned. thereby all that is recognisable as simillar to religion in our world is altered, but the story remains basically the same! …simple, surely!?