Daily Archives: March 8, 2008

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

Keeping the Kids In the Picture

I’ve always felt that there is a unique peculiarity to the whole idea of children’s books. While adult books are created, published, reviewed, and marketed by and for the intended audience, children’s books are created, published, reviewed, and marketed by adults for an audience they no longer are — children. And so, when I was reading for Newbery, I had to keep that child audience in mind even as I brought to the books all my well-honed adult reading abilities, knowledge, and experience.

I used to have a hard time believing authors who told me that they didn’t think about that intended child audience as they wrote. I’m no longer skeptical, having now written for that audience myself. When I’m in the story, taking it where it wants to go, the only reader that matters is me. Still, while I may not be thinking about them consciously, the kids are still in the picture —floating just at the edge of my peripheral vision, causing me to intuitively make certain vocabulary choices or provide information for a younger, less informed, audience that is not me.

This all came to mind as I read the responses to Roger Sutton’s post, “Yet another G-word.” Roger was provoked by someone who wrote to complain that the Horn Book reviews gave away book endings. Roger’s response was, “The reviews are for grownups; the books are for kids. Sometimes the grownup wants to know if the dog dies.” He then went on to weigh in on adults whose reading preferences are children’s books, some of whom may read the Horn Book reviews to help them find books for themselves to read. While this made many angry, it just made me feel guilty.

Guilty because I realized that while I take only adult books on vacation and listen almost exclusively to adult books, I have gotten into the habit of mostly reading children’s books otherwise. I can’t recall when the balance shifted toward children’s books, but I do know it was accelerated during the last four years as I served on the NCTE Notables and Newbery Committees. When I had hundreds of books a year that I had to read, adult books became a guilty pleasure. So how ironic to feel guilty now that I have gotten so out of the habit of reading them. While I know that because of my passionate interest, I’ll continue to read many more children’s books than adult books, I do feel a need to get my reading more in balance. And so I’m off to the library today to get a few. (I loved Gaudy Night and always intended to try more Dorothy L. Sayers — today’s the day to get started I think.)

I know many feel differently, but I agree with Roger that adults need to remember that we aren’t the audience for children’s books. We can and do read them just as children can and do read our books. But I think it is important to keep the distinction in mind. They may have been written by us, reviewed by us, given awards by us, enjoyed by us, but they are not meant for us. So keep those kids in the picture. These are first and foremost their books.

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Filed under Children's Literature