Waiting for (More) Lyra: ‘Compass’ spins foreign frenzy

Seems as if my wishful dreaming for film adaptations of The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass is not totally hopeless. Here are some heartening excerpts from ‘Compass’ spins foreign frenzy” in yesterday’s Variety.

After its strong start in Japan last week, “The Golden Compass” is on course to make box office history as the first film to gross $300 million in foreign while failing to reach $100 million in North America.

As producer Deborah Forte points out, with a global gross heading for $375 million-$400 million and an Oscar to its name, “Golden Compass” counts as a success by most yardsticks — just not necessarily for New Line.

With a downsized New Line set to become Warner label, the intriguing question is now whether Warner toppers will see past the domestic flop and greenlight the second and third installments of Philip Pullman‘s “His Dark Materials” trilogy — “The Subtle Knife” and “The Amber Spyglass” — based on those boffo foreign grosses.

Indeed, Warner, the studio behind “Harry Potter,” may turn out to be a better home for the Pullman franchise than New Line ever was.

Clearly, “Golden Compass” was not as unmarketable as the U.S. figures would suggest. “If the movie really wasn’t up to snuff, it wouldn’t have done $300 million,” Forte says.

Excuses that fantasy pics often do better in foreign, or that the film’s perceived anti-God message was a more powerful negative in the U.S., have a certain truth, but can’t fully explain the unprecedented gulf.

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the foreign indies such as Entertainment in the U.K., Metropolitan in France, Tripictures in Spain, 01 in Italy and Gaga in Japan, not to mention Warner in Germany, simply did a better job of understanding and positioning “Golden Compass” as a family film, and heading off the potential problems in advance, than New Line’s domestic team did.

Forte notes, “We probably underperformed in the U.S., and we performed according to expectations outside the U.S. Why? It’s so hard to tell. People say fantasy does much better overseas, and that the book was much better known, but I’m not sure either is true. The book was really only known in the U.K. and Australia. Most of the foreign distributors built awareness from scratch.”

It’s hard to imagine the folks at Warner Intl. rubbing their hands at the prospect of more of the same from a downsized New Line. But they might welcome “The Subtle Knife,” the second book in Pullman’s trilogy, for which Hossein Amini has already written a script, and the final installment “The Amber Spyglass.”

New Line’s foreign distribs would certainly snap up the sequels, if offered. If Warner gives the greenlight, the overseas indies won’t get a look-in, but should Warner put the rest of the trilogy into turnaround, there’s a ready-made independent market for the pics.

One way or another, Forte won’t give up the fight. “I will make ‘The Subtle Knife’ and ‘The Amber Spyglass,'” she vows. “I believe there are enough people who see what a viable and successful franchise we have.”

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1 Comment

Filed under His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman, The Golden Compass

One response to “Waiting for (More) Lyra: ‘Compass’ spins foreign frenzy

  1. My flame of hope is also fanned now!

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