The Pantalaimon Perplex – How will Hollywood handle His Dark Materials?


Author's note - now that the film of The Golden Compass has finally been released a lot of what is written here is of historical value only. Even so, it's fun to see what I got right and what I got wrong back in 2003.


Ceres Wunderkind takes the form of a fly on the wall of the office of Howard B. Zimmerframe, head of Megalopolis Pictures, Hollywood. Howard is sitting behind his enormous mahogany desk, smoking a Cuban cigar and surfing his competitor’s web sites on a brand-new Mac. The Stars and Stripes stands behind his desk to the left; on the right there is a potted palm. Enter Jim Klieglight, who is responsible for product development. He carries a folder under his left arm.

Howard: Jim! Come in! Sit down!

Jim takes a chair opposite Howard.

Howard: What you got for me today, Jim?

Jim: (puts the folder on Howard’s desk) It’s that new property I told you about, Howie.

H: Which one’s that? I see properties every morning, noon and night.

J: It’s His Dark Materials. That fantasy thing.

H: Go on then. Tell me about it.

J: Well, starting with the important part…

H: Merchandising…

J: This one’s a lulu.

H: You got breakfast cereal? Soft drinks?

J: Check. Chocolatl flavour Weetos. Non-alcoholic Tokay-cola.

H: Games? Playstation? Xbox? Nintendo?

J: EA are ready to go.

H: Action figures?

J: You’re going to love this, Howie. We got cute kids, we got an all-American hero…

H: That Texan guy?

J: Yeah. We got polar bears, we got witches on broomsticks…

H: Like Harry Potter? That’s old!

J: No – these are cute witches. Babe witches! Wait, Howie. Here’s the best bit. There’s this character who can take any shape.

H: Like a Transformer? Robots in disguise? My wife’s - you've met Merlot, haven't you? - kid brother just loves that Optimus Prime and that Megatron!

J: He’s called Metatron. But listen – we got transforming Pans, we got Pan card sets, we got cuddly talking Pans…

H: Pan? Like saucepan?

J: Like Pantalaimon.

H: (pauses) Let’s stick with Pan. Like Teflon.

J: Non-stick Pan! (He laughs obsequiously)

H: Ok. I like what I’m hearing. What’s your schedule? When can you deliver this picture?

J: Three pictures. Like Lord of the Rings.

H: Shee-it! What budget we lookin’ at?

J: Three, four hundred. There’s a shedload of CGI. Big sets. I want Willis for Lord Asriel, Kidman for Mrs Coulter, James Earl Jones for the bear. Reeves, Depp and Dias too, if we can get them.

H: (sits back, appalled) We seem to have a slight misunderstanding here, Jim. How much did you pay for this property?

J: Ten. We had Lucas, Spielberg and Disney snapping at our heels on this one.

H: What’s this Limey guy, what’s his name – Limited? Special?

J: Pullman.

H: Knew he was some kinda train. What’s he gonna do with ten million dollars?

J: Build a new shed, he said.

H: (sighs): OK. New shed. Guess he’s gotta pool already. (Pause) Gimme the pitch again.

J: There’s this kid Lyra. She’s a wild child. She’s got this daemon…

H: Whoa! Demon? We don’t do Satan pictures. Not after Lost Souls tanked.

J: No – daemon. With an A. It’s like a talking pet. Like… Mister Ed. C3P0. That sort of thing. It’s great comedy relief.

H: OK. I dig. Go on.

J: And they’re engaged in this life-and-death struggle with the Church. It’s really exciting. There’s Zeppelins and warrior hordes and those hot witches I told you about and…

H: Struggle? Against the Church?

J: Yes. They’re evil. In the end the kid’s mom and dad kill the angel who’s taken over from God. Oh yes, God dies too.

H: (Holds his right hand up) Jim. Watch me. I’m counting off the states where we’re not going to be able to open this sucka. You know what I’m sayin’?

J: No, listen. This Lyra chick, she meets this boy. They fight a lot to begin with, but they have these amazing adventures and they…

H: Fall in love in Act Three. Ok, that’s better. That’s got the teen market sewn up. They make out?

J: Yes, but they have to separate for ever at the end. It’s very tragic.

H: We’ll reserve on that one. Shoot a happy ending too. Previews’ll tell us what works.

J: Teens like angst. Think Titanic. I think sad will play.

H: Shoot two endings anyway. Save ’em for the DVDs.

J: Yes, Howie.

H: Who d’you want for this Lara chick? Neve Campbell?

J: No, no – she’s too old. She’s got to look like eleven, twelve. Emma Watson; she’ll do if we strap her up.

H: Eleven, Twelve. How old’s the boy?

J: He’s twelve too.

H: (sighs) Who’s writing the script?

J: (puffs up with pride) We’ve got Sir Tom Stoppard. He’s a big English playwright. He scripted Shakespeare in Love.

H: I don’t care if he scripted The Alamo! Jim, do you know what you’ve done! You’ve spent ten million dollars of my money on a picture that’s going to cost four hundred million dollars to make. In this picture you propose to make with my four hundred million dollars you attack the Church, and you kill off God. What do you think Christian Spotlight on the Movies is goin’ to say about that?

J: But…

H: Shuddup! Then you’ve got these twelve year old kids makin’ out! What MPAA rating you after here?

J: PG-13…

H: PG-13? PG-13!!! Have you any idea about what they do to you when they catch you selling kiddieporn in this state?

J: It’s not like that… It’s not porn! It’s a love story!

H: You stand up in front of Judge Judy and tell her that! Convince Oprah! On second thoughts, don’t. Look Jim. You get on the horn to your Lord Topper or whatever the Brit pervert’s name is and tell him to sort this mutha out. By tomorrow morning. Or he’s fired, you’re fired and Megalopolis Pictures goes down the pan!

J: Pantalaimon…

H: Geddout!


Ceres Wunderkind jumps from the wall to Jim’s shoulder. Jim returns to his office and places a transatlantic call:

J: Tom? You there?

Sir Tom Stoppard: (blearily – it’s the wrong time of the day. Or night). Jim?

J: How’s the HDM script?

T: Golden Compass – first draft. Halfway through Subtle Knife. Why?

J: I saw Howie today. We’ve got to make a few changes.

T: Oh no. (yawns) what sort of changes?

J: For a start there’s that religious stuff. The Magisterium, Church, whatever they are. Can you make them Muslims? Something like that? Buddhists? Anything that isn’t Christian?

T: What?

J: And the kids. Can you make them older? Like sixteen? We got age of consent problems.

T: Age of consent? Why? They don’t have sex! They just kiss a lot! What’s to consent to?

J: The book didn’t read that way, Tom. I was under the distinct impression that they did get it on. All that stuff about "soft lips". They definitely slept together. It’s dangerous, Tom. Do you want to end up in jail?

T: You’ve got a dirty mind.

M: They’ve got dirty-minded lawyers.

T: (sighs) All right. What do you suggest? What about the daemons? They settle at puberty, around twelve or thirteen. It’s the whole point of the story that Pan and Kirjava settle when they do!

J: Tom. Listen to me. Fix it. It’s my ass on the line, and that means your ass too…

T: (faintly) Arse.

J: Whatever. Look. Take my advice. Make the kids sixteen. Make it so the daemons don’t settle until… until they fall in love. Or lose their virginity or something like that. You’re a writer. You’ll think of something!

T: Phil isn’t going to like this.

J: He’s getting paid ten million dollars. He doesn’t have to like it. I’m relying on you, Tom. I need a new treatment by first thing tomorrow. Good afternoon!


Jim waves a fly-swatter at Ceres Wunderkind, who ducks successfully and makes a hasty exit through a heating vent.