Since its publication, there have been numerous adaptations of Northern Lights. The 2007 movie is the one everyone is probably most familiar with, but there have also been audiobooks, a video game, and even a play.
Movie: The Golden Compass (2007)
The first discussion about turning Northern Lights into a film came in 2002 following the success of other fantasy epics, but due to significant delays it wasn’t until 2007 that a film was finally made. There are many interesting things about this movie’s production, including Director Chris Weitz being unhappiness about being controlled by the studio and having many scenes cut from the film. Overall the film was popular in some countries, a failure in others, and on average it gets 5/10 stars by reviewers and rating websites.
The film takes the American title of The Golden Compass, and starred Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, and Dakota Blue Richards as Mrs Coulter, Lord Asriel, and Lyra respectively. During production and before its release there were criticisms by fans and secularist organisations about the dilution of the anti-religious elements. I have to agree there, not because it was bashing the Church exactly, but because of what the books are meant to be telling us, the themes and entire message that Pullman created is based on the anti-Church sentiments. Weitz said the studio ordered changes to the film late in post-production which was a terrible experience.
Anti-religious elements aside, and knowing that film adaptations are not going to be the same as the books, I really did not like this movie. There were some bits that were good, but others, especially that ending, that ruin it. It had such potential to be something wonderful, but it failed and now, just like Tomorrow, When the War Began, we are left with a film adaptation of a first book in a series, ending on a cliff hanger that is never going to be continued. Not only that, but a cliff hanger that cuts out a major event and three chapters of the book. Pullman did state that he supported the cut off ending, saying that “every film has to make changes to the story that the original book tells — not to change the outcome, but to make it fit the dimensions and the medium of film.” Which I understand, but I still say it changed the outcome in a big way. Interestingly enough, there was a script that had a running time of three hours, but this was scrapped in favour of the failed length of less than two hours in order to maximise revenue.
There were some good points, the film won a BAFTA for Special Visual Effects as well as an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, and rightly so; bringing daemons to life on screen was wonderfully done. It was also nominated for numerous other awards. Talks of any sequels have been put on hold with many speculating the Catholic Church for putting pressure on the studio.
Play: His Dark Materials (2003)
In 2003-2004 a play entitled His Dark Materials premiered at the Olivier Theatre in London. The play was written by playwright Nicholas Wright and was adapted from the entire trilogy. Because of complications in staging something based on the narrative of three books, the play was performed in two parts in alternative performances. The plot is the same as the books – a coming of age story of the two key characters Lyra and Will, but there are clear differences, the absence of Dr Mary Malone (from The Amber Spyglass) being a major one, her role being reallocated to the witch Serafina Pekkala. The amber spyglass that is typically associated with her is largely absent as well. The play was extremely popular and it sold out its entire four-month run before reviews were even published.
The play won two Laurence Olivier Awards in 2005 for Best Set Design as well as best Lighting Design.
Audiobook: Northern Lights (1996) and His Dark Materials (2003)
There have been two audiobooks made based on Pullman’s trilogy. The first in 1996, was an audiobook of Northern Lights narrated by Natasha Richardson. The second was in 2003 and was an abridged dramatisation of the trilogy by BBC Worldwide. An unabridged version was released by BBC Audiobooks and was narrated by Philip Pullman himself. Cast voices included Joanna Wyatt as Lyra, Alison Dowling as Mrs Coulter, Sean Barret as Lord Asriel and Iorek Byrnison, and Stephen Thorne as the Master and Farder Coram.
Video Game: The Golden Compass (2007)
Based from The Golden Compass film, this game of the same name was released in 2007. The game is an action-adventure/puzzle game, told from a third person point of view and you take the role of Lyra and must travel through the North trying to find her kidnapped friend from the Gobblers.
As you play you solve puzzles as well as do some fighting, as well as use the alethiometer to help progress the story. Pan and the armoured bear Iorek Byrnison travel with you as you explore the land and fight. Pan’s changing ability is a main feature and he helps you explore levels with different abilities from different animal forms, and with alethiometer symbol meanings to uncover, you can use it to work out clues and ask questions.
The game was released on multiple playing platforms by Sega, and is classed as the official videogame of the movie. Having been released before the film, the sequence of events is slightly different, and there are additional scenes and footage not seen in the movie. The music is also entirely original, composer Jamie Christopherson saying that he wrote the entire game’s score in a month, before the movie score had been completed.
Unfortunately the game got predominantly negative reviews, the main criticisms being the confusing plot if you were unfamiliar with the movie or the books. Poor graphics and glitches, as well as poor gameplay and level designs also hindered reviews, and yet funnily enough, it sold rather well.