NEW YORK — As ice-skaters took to the rink at Rockefeller Center for the first time this season, they were given a special treat — a sneak peek at the expanded trailer for "The Golden Compass" on the big screen.
Though it was a private party, crowds gathered by the railings to check out the first installment of the "His Dark Materials" trilogy. Once the clip premiered at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, it ran on a loop, filling the rink with images of ferocious polar bears, snowy landscapes and flying witches. "In the U.K., this is well-known stuff," said Ryan Den Rooijen, webmaster for HisDarkMaterials.org. "But in the U.S., it's a little less so. That's why the trailer is so important."
New Line is banking on "The Golden Compass" to be a hit — but it hasn't yet greenlit the next part of the series, "The Subtle Knife." So while the studio shot the three movies that made up its signature "Lord of the Rings" fantasy franchise back-to-back, "His Dark Materials" is getting more of a "let's-see-how-this-does" approach. But from fan reaction on Tuesday, the studio needn't worry.
"Incredible is an understatement," 15-year-old Eliza Harkins said when she first saw the three-minute-plus clip. "I was engrossed from the very first second."
Our not-very-scientific sampling of a group of young fans uncovered that the casting of Daniel Craig as Lord Asriel, father (figure) of the main character, Lyra, was a major selling point — even though his character won't have as much to do in "Compass" as he will in the third installment, "The Amber Spyglass" (see "Armored Polar Bears, Stolen Souls: A Guide To 'His Dark Materials' ").
"Daniel is amazing," 15-year-old Zoe Maltby said with a sigh. "And I'm not just saying that because I like Daniel Craig. I mean, who doesn't? His eyes! But I wouldn't like to have him as my father, for a number of reasons. He would scare me if he was my dad."
"Couldn't that be a good thing?" Harkins teased.
Sex appeal isn't the reason that most people are looking forward to seeing the adaptation of Philip Pullman's book series, explained 15-year-old Joseph Pomp. "To take my adolescent approach is a little inappropriate," he said. "It feels a little unclean to look at it that way."
That's mostly because the book series is thought to be directed toward children, but even so, "His Dark Materials" is darker (no pun intended) than most material for underage readers and has just as many fans in adults as kids. After all, the love scene between 12-year-olds Lyra and Will isn't exactly kid stuff, however muted it might be in "Spyglass." "What can I say? Philip Pullman is a sick man," Pomp joked. "But it's subtle. By the time you read it, you're supposed to be older."
"It's pretty thematically rich and dark," said 22-year-old Christin Liberty. "It's aimed at children, but if I had kids, I wouldn't let them read it. It's too intense."
Like the "Harry Potter" series, though, "His Dark Materials" grows up with its readers, so "Compass" is tamer and easier to get into than "Spyglass," especially with all the "dæmons" (see " 'Golden Compass' Trailer Teases 'Lord Of The Rings' Parallels — And Non-Cuddly Animal Friends"). "I loved Mrs. Coulter's monkey dæmon," Pomp said. "That was so cool."
"I took a step back when I saw the monkey," said 16-year-old Morgan Levinson. "I was like, 'Whoa! Evil monkey!' "
"That's my favorite part of the series," said 15-year-old Jacob Goldberg, "how your dæmon changes as you grow up, as your whole outlook on life changes."
"It's like, if I were looking at someone but I didn't like them, my dæmon would show that dislike," Harkins said. "It shows how so few things are secret in this world. You really have to dig deep to find out things, and the golden compass is the ultimate mystery."
Still, some mysteries were revealed in the trailer sooner than people expected, thanks to the narration, although the changes to the story are understandable. "If you're nitpicking," Rooijen said, "there's the shortcut of how the alethiometer tells Lyra that Mrs. Coulter is running the Magisterium, instead of the General Oblation Board, or the Gobblers." But for the most part — thanks to the quick pace — only hard-core fans are going to pick up on those details. "If you haven't read all the books, you wouldn't follow that," Rooijen said.
The polar bears — or panserbjørne — were also a big hit ("I got chills with the bear fight," Liberty said), especially once fans noticed that the voice of Iorek Byrnison had been replaced from the voice actor heard in the teaser trailer with that of Ian McKellen. "That was so cool!" Pomp said. "He even looks like a bear, the way his nose is modeled. Good fit." Also, for "Lord of the Rings" aficionados, the cameo shot of Christopher Lee in the Magisterium — a bit of unannounced casting — scored points. "I hit my friend when I saw that, I was so excited," Pomp said. "That was awesome," Goldberg said.
"The whole thing was sort of a mix between 'Harry Potter'-like characters you can relate to and worlds you know, but not really," Pomp said, "and epic adventures and landscapes like 'Lord of the Rings.' That appealed to more adults, though, and this will get the under-18 demographic. I think it'll make a lot of money, definitely over $100 million."
"I personally like 'Golden Compass' more than 'Harry Potter.' I know that's sacrilege!" Maltby laughed. "But I was worried this would be some cheesy, CGI-laden thing, but this definitely has the potential to inspire a fanatical fan following. They nailed it. I'm going to be there at midnight on the first night!"
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