''The Golden Compass' Sparked Major Controversy — So, What Does This Mean for 'His Dark Materials?'

The 2007 film 'The Golden Compass' sparked major controversy -- will HBO's 'His Dark Materials' meet the same fate?

Gabrielle Bernardini - Author

May 24 2019, Updated 7:59 p.m. ET

his dark materials hbo
Source: HBO

Following the series finale of Game of Thrones, HBO showed a trailer for their next big fantasy series, His Dark Materials. Based on Philip Pullman’s book trilogy, the TV show follows a young girl named Lyra (played by Dafne Keen) as she searches for her friend Roger who has been kidnapped.  

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Her adventures span multiple worlds and she soon becomes entangled in a war. With polar bears, mystical creatures, and more, many may see a familiarity between this storyline and the 2007 film The Golden Compass, which unfortunately flopped at the box office. Now, HBO and BBC are hoping that relaunching Pullman’s trilogy into a mini series will resonate more with audiences.

While The Golden Compass had all all-star supporting cast (Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig), the film famously bombed at the box office. Not only was the movie not a blockbuster success, but there was much controversy surrounding the storyline of The Golden Compass.

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lyra his dark materials
Source: HBO

What was the controversy surrounding The Golden Compass?

In Pullman’s story, children are kidnapped and tortured at the hand of the Church, which is also the central power in the novel. The author, who has claimed he is an atheist, previously told CBS News, “Religion is at its best when it is furthest away from power. As soon as it gets its hands on power, it's no good."

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Though the Hollywood flick danced around the central Church theme and the religious undertones, the Catholic Church still called for a boycott on the film. The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Right previously called Pullman’s material an “assault on the Catholic Church, and religious faith in general,” in a 2007 article.  

the golden compass
Source: New Line
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President of the Catholic League, Bill Donohue, spoke with the Early Show regarding the Church's concerns, saying, "It's stealth campaign, a dishonest way to produce anything. They want to make money." 

Adding, "This teaches atheism to kids. Phillip Pullman is very open about this. The movie is basically innocuous, but parents may want to say to their kids, 'You know what? A great Christmas present would be to buy his 'Dark Trilogy,' the name of the three books.' Now you've introduced your kids to atheism. I don't think most parents want to do that." 

"The movie is basically innocuous, but parents may want to say to their kids, 'You know what? A great Christmas present would be to buy his 'Dark Trilogy,' the name of the three books.' Now you've introduced your kids to atheism," he continued. "I don't think most parents want to do that."  

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dark materials
Source: HBO

At the time, Ellen Johnson — president of American Atheists — spoke with the Early Show, claiming the film was more about questioning authority. “There's nothing fundamentally wrong with that," she said. “But even if you would succeed in getting people not to buy the books or see the movie, you can't censor the internet.” 

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The Golden Compass vs. His Dark Materials:

Not a network to typically shy away from dark or controversial topics, HBO along with BBC are co-producing His Dark Materials. The eight-part series will seemingly focus on the first book of Pullman’s trilogy, which based on the trailer, already looks like a much darker version of the big-budget 2007 film.

Starring alongside Logan actress Dafne, the cast of His Dark Materials will feature James McAvoy, Ruth Wilson, and Lin-Manuel Miranda. 

Though the network has not officially announced a release date, fans are patiently waiting for the next fantasy series they can become super invested in. Hopefully this time, we’re not let down...

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