For one Hollywood studio there is a lot riding on The Golden Compass, the $180 million adaptation of Philip Pullman's novel Northern Lights.

The film, based on the first part of Pullman's acclaimed His Dark Materials trilogy, premieres in London on Tuesday and stars Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig and young newcomer Dakota Blue Richards in the central role of Lyra.

Laden with computerized special effects including talking polar bears, warring witches and animal daemons that represent each human's soul, the film aims to go where the Lord of the Rings, Narnia and Harry Potter series have gone before.

Director and screenplay writer Chris Weitz said the fate of films two and three in the Pullman series depends on how The Golden Compass performs, with more money riding on the movie for New Line than even on Lord of the Rings.

Industry estimates show that each Rings film cost around half the amount of money to make as The Golden Compass.

It's bigger than 'Lord of the Rings' in terms of its outlay, Weitz said in an interview. And so 'The Golden Compass' becomes central to the future of the company.

Compared with Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and Narnia, Pullman is relatively unknown, particularly in North America, making it a commercially more risky project.

With the 'Lord of the Rings' they were so well known around the world that you could depend upon just the fandom to be this huge core demographic, Weitz told Reuters.

So we knew that we needed to have a film that would appeal to families and children as well as to grown-ups and that meant handling some of the dark material carefully.


Even before the film's release on December 7, some conservative Christians in the United States have urged movie goers not to see it, basing their objections on Pullman's unflattering portrayal of the church, and specifically the Catholic faith.

In a storyline seen by many as an attack on religion, the church is linked with cruel experiments on children aimed at discovering the nature of sin and with attempts to suppress truths that would undermine its legitimacy and power.

Weitz rejects such criticism, although he did consciously tone down religious elements of the original story.

Yes, it (the trilogy) deals with theology and it deals with religion, but I think it deals with it in a much more subtle way than the people who want to boycott the film are regarding it.

Kidman, who is Catholic, said she did not want to be involved in a movie that was anti-religious or anti-Catholic.

I come from a Catholic family so that's not something that my grandmother would be very happy about, and I really don't think that that's what I'm involved in, she told a news conference.

Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings film trilogy is a tough act for Weitz to follow, earning around $2.9 billion at the box office, according to movie tracking site