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THE GOLDEN COMPASS

Chris Weitz's Quest to Adapt The Golden Compass
The Golden Compass tells an epic tale centered around precocious 12 year-old Lyra Belacqua, whose curiosity and willful nature open the door to mysteries upon which the fate of her world comes to rest. A ward of Jordan College in Oxford, Lyra is being raised among the mostly paternal company of the Master, where her best and most trusted friend is a kitchen boy named Roger. "When the story opens, Lyra is going through her life doing her daily activities with no knowledge that the decisions she makes affect anything else in this world, or any of the parallel worlds that exist,” says writer/director Chris Weitz. "Essentially, she is still forming, and she is wild, willful and precocious.”

Weitz encountered the first book in Philip Pullman's widely read and award-winning trilogy while making his acclaimed film, About A Boy, for which he was nominated for an Oscar® for Best Original Screenplay. "I had heard from friends of mine about a fantastic British fantasy series,'” Weitz recalls. "I was absolutely stunned by the imagination and intelligence of the books. As far as ambition and philosophical depth, they left everything I had read previously in the dust.”

Pullman's celebrated trilogy, His Dark Materials, made its debut in 1995 with The Golden Compass (Northern Lights in the UK), followed by The Subtle Knife in 1997 and The Amber Spyglass in 2000. These books won many awards – including the Whitbread Book of the Year for The Amber Spyglass, the first time the award has gone to a children's book. To date the trilogy has sold 14 million copies around the world. He is currently writing a sequel to His Dark Materials, entitled The Book of Dust.

To gain the opportunity to adapt Pullman's immersive tale for the screen, Weitz presented New Line Cinema with a manifesto describing how he saw the film, and then dedicated the ensuing three years to bringing his vision of the film to life. "It offers everything a filmmaker would be interested in – a compelling story, fascinating characters, psychological and philosophical depth, wonder and the chance to make a beautiful film,” Weitz explains. "It's a fantastic story, about things that matter, like the human spirit, loyalty and kindness. When you are directing a movie, you have to have utter commitment to every aspect of it, and there was nothing about this project that I didn't feel absolutely passionate about.”

For producer Deborah Forte, the journey to bring Pullman's novels to the screen had begun nearly 11 years ago when she first read The Golden Compass in manuscript form and immediately pursued the rights on behalf of Scholastic Media. "I thought at the time, ‘this is an extraordinary writer, and wherever he's going, I want to go with him,'” Forte recalls. 

Executive producer Ileen Maisel of New Line Cinema discovered the books and found that a number of her colleagues had also taken the plunge into Lyra's world. "It's a story of a young girl's journey to self awareness and understanding the power of her own free will, set against an extraordinary worldl,” Maisel comments. "Lyra does things that all of us wish we had the ability and the courage to do, and that's why I think we all relate to her and believe in her.”

"Everyone was fully prepared – each department and every individual working on this movie understood the material from inception,” says Forte. "They appreciated it. They had a vision for it that dovetailed with Chris's vision for the movie, and so it was off and running the moment Chris walked into this project.” 

Weitz, Forte and the entire filmmaking team found a powerful ally and steadfast resource in Pullman himself. "I've done my part,” says Pullman. "I handed it over to Chris and his team to make the film. I couldn't have found a more trustworthy group, and I know my story is in good hands.”

In addition to meeting with Pullman, Weitz also set s

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