We’re Finally Getting a Filmed Version of ‘The Subtle Knife’

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A character played by Lin-Manuel Miranda looks down from a pink sky
HBO has already filmed a second season of His Dark Materials. Photograph: Alex Bailey/HBO

The HBO series His Dark Materials, based on the novels by Philip Pullman, recently wrapped up a strong first season. Fantasy author Erin Lindsey was particularly taken with Ruth Wilson’s performance as the sinister Mrs. Coulter.

“One of the real highlights for me of this adaptation is this version of Mrs. Coulter, how she’s written and how she’s performed,” Lindsey says in Episode 394 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “It’s not necessarily a different portrayal, but it’s just such a 3D portrayal of that character, which I really appreciated and which I don’t quite remember from the books.”

HBO has already filmed Season 2, which means fans will definitely be seeing more of Will and Lyra, the show’s young protagonists. Science fiction author Sam J. Miller loves the second book in the series, The Subtle Knife, and is definitely looking forward to seeing more of Will’s story.

“Lyra’s storyline is so amazingly fraught with perils and monsters and weirdness, so cutting back and forth [to Will] is a good modulator of tension between something fast-paced and serious and something more mysterious,” he says.

A previous attempt at adapting the series, the 2007 film The Golden Compass, fell victim to a religiously-inspired boycott. Writer Sara Lynn Michener notes that no such controversy has surrounded His Dark Materials, which shows how much the world has changed. “We live in a much more friendly world for atheists than we did even 10 years ago,” she says. “The world is much more likely to say, ‘You know what? It’s OK to question these things.”

Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy host David Barr Kirtley has been waiting patiently for a film version of The Subtle Knife, and is excited that it’s finally happening.

“I was very put out when we never got a follow-up to the 2007 movie, and now nothing can go wrong,” he says. “We’re definitely getting it, and I’m really looking forward to seeing where the story goes from here.”

Listen to the complete interview with Erin Lindsey, Sam J. Miller, and Sara Lynn Michener in Episode 394 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.

Sara Lynn Michener on demons:

“I’ve seen a couple of articles go by that are like ‘His Dark Materials has a demon problem’ and ‘His Dark Materials needs to fix this major problem moving forward.’ It’s people who are complaining that there aren’t as many demons as there should be, or that the importance of the demons hasn’t been explained enough. … People just sort of assume that it’s always about the CGI budget, but I think it’s pretty clear that it was a conscious creative choice, because the biggest conflict in telling this story is not, ‘How do you have the money to have animals running around all the time?’ It’s, ‘How do you make it not look like pets?’ When you have too many animals running around, it just looks a little ridiculous.”

David Barr Kirtley on compromises:

“I listened to an interview with Jack Thorne, who wrote all the episodes, and he was saying how challenging it is as a writer where you want to write a scene with Iorek Byrnison, but it’s costing like $10,000 per second or something to do Iorek, so you can only use Iorek very sparingly. There’s another character who lives on Earth in this story, named Will, who doesn’t show up until the second book, but his story is intermixed here. And the producers said one reason they did that is just because of child labor laws. They couldn’t have it be all about Lyra for the whole first season, because they just can’t film that actress that much. So you start to get a sense of how maddening it is doing television as opposed to writing a novel, where anything you can imagine can happen. With television there are so many compromises that you have to make.”

Sam J. Miller on the season finale:

“It was great, it worked really well, but I also thought it came away without that Game of Thrones feeling of, ‘Oof, I’ve just been through this grueling, brilliant, exciting experience.’ … I don’t know if they were editing errors or budget concerns, but things like the polar bears fighting the airships, I thought the editing of that scene was really strange, and so I didn’t really get that the polar bears were able to launch artillery assaults on the airships and bring them down. My husband rewound the clip like three times to point out, ‘Oh, there’s something on its back. Oh, it’s going up onto a hill.’ So you can reconstruct it, but yeah, there were things that didn’t feel as well done as I wanted them to be done.”

Erin Lindsey on Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter:

“Although Asriel and especially Mrs. Coulter are ostensibly working toward these great philosophical aims, in fact it’s all about them. It’s just extreme narcissism from the beginning. I didn’t buy Mrs. Coulter’s ideology in particular. I got the impression that it’s more like, ‘Whatever Asriel is doing, I’m going to do the opposite.’ … A lot of people who achieve great things do so for fundamentally selfish reasons. So I didn’t buy that it was ideological per se. That was certainly the gloss that they gave it to justify their actions—the ends justify the means—but really when it comes right down to it, it’s just two ruthless people with unbridled ambition doing whatever it takes to be great.”

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