Could "His Dark Materials" be the next "Harry Potter," or even the next "Lord of the Rings"? Fantasy fans are still trying to figure out where to place the first "Materials" installment in that pantheon, but one thing is clear: "Potter" and "Rings" helped pave the way for "The Golden Compass," another story in which the fate of the world (or in this case, worlds) is in the hands of a little person."There's a vast cosmic scale to the story we're telling, which is bigger than Middle-earth or Narnia," said director Chris Weitz. "It's actually saving our Earth and every parallel world and universe."
To help get a grip on this story, Weitz went to New Zealand to check out Peter Jackson's facilities for "Lord of the Rings." "I met his prop master and all the effects people and did some motion-capture stuff," Weitz said. But the visit actually scared him off the project.
"A little knowledge is a dangerous thing," Weitz said. "I learned just enough to know how little I knew. I think the thing that surprised me most is that directors like myself, who are used to directing actors walking around and talking, can become very scornful about effects, like, it's just a bunch of things blowing up and giant robots and that sort of stuff. But there's a tremendous amount of arts and artifice brought to these details."
A few months later, Weitz reconsidered and came back onboard, but he also wanted his young star, Dakota Blue Richards, to have a realistic sense of what was to come, so he sent her to visit the set of "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix."
"This was before we started shooting, when we were halfway through rehearsals," said Richards, who plays 11-year-old Lyra in "Compass." "And some of the things Daniel Radcliffe told me were really helpful, like, 'Always keep the people around you that you know will tell you the truth.' "
Ironic advice, considering Lyra is a major liar — a skill that turns out to be her saving grace. "One of the great things about the hero of this story is that she lies, she's selfish, and she's a bit bossy," Weitz said.
"She's just rebellious," Richards reasoned. "And you would be too if you were stuck at a college where people were trying to teach you all the time and it's not where you want to be."
As with any adaptation, not every element of the original story could be kept in the movie, but author Philip Pullman didn't mind, as long as the film centered on Lyra's journey. "She's the most important part of all of this," he said. "If there's no Lyra, there's no film. Remember, she's the one who initiates things. She's the center of all the action, the center of everything."
Don't tell the other stars that. Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig signed on as Mrs. Coulter and Lord Asriel because, while they don't appear so much in the first film, by the third (if there is one), their characters would become far more important. "That was the thing that intrigued me," Kidman said.
"Don't give the game away!" Craig teased.
"Who knows whether we'll get to make the third movie or not?" Craig added. "There's a lot that needs to happen between now and then."
Of course, that will largely be determined by how "Compass" performs at the box office. "It would be conceited to do the second before telling how people respond to the first one," Weitz said. The filmmakers are hoping for a good response, and if so, the next installments, "The Subtle Knife" and "The Amber Spyglass," would shoot back-to-back in September, per another lesson from Jackson's "Rings."
"It's still a gigantic task to do that," Weitz said, "but that would be the best way to do it. And I'm sure '2' and '3' would be spaced closer together in terms of when they would come out, but these things are always planned like, 'Omigod, is there another "Harry Potter" coming out to block us?' Or some other franchise. The world of movie-release times — that's a little above my head."
But a world of parallel universes? He's got that one covered.
Check out everything we've got on "The Golden Compass."
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