Stoppard to pen ‘Dark Materials’

Series would be adapted into multimovie franchise

New Line Cinema is negotiating with Tom Stoppard to pen the adaptation of “His Dark Materials,” the award-winning fantasy book series by Philip Pullman. Project is the crown jewel in New Line Intl.’s current development slate being discussed with buyers at the Cannes Film Festival.

The “Dark Materials” series, which New Line intends to adapt into a multimovie franchise, revolves around two kids in parallel universes who contend with shape-shifting creatures, witches, armored polar bears and myriad other visually spectacular creatures as they try to save other endangered children.

New Line is planning at least two pictures, which will be CGI-heavy, much like New Line’s “The Lord of the Rings” franchise.

Negotiations haven’t yet concluded, but Stoppard, who shared the best screenplay Oscar with Marc Norman for “Shakespeare in Love,” is expected to sign to write the first installment. He will organize the material and won’t necessarily follow the order of the books as Pullman has written them.

The book series consists thus far of a trilogy, “The Golden Compass,” “The Subtle Knife” and “The Amber Spyglass,” the latter of which became the first children’s book to capture Britain’s prestigious Whitbread Prize.

New Line made a deal for the book series rights earlier this year with U.K.-based publisher Scholastic, a deal helped by the critical and financial success of the first Peter Jackson-directed “Rings” installment, “The Fellowship of the Ring.” The project is being shepherded by New Line’s Toby Emmerich, Lynn Harris and Ileen Maisel. Scholastic’s Deborah Forte is producing.

Stoppard has been in high demand. He will reteam with “Shakespeare in Love” director John Madden on an adaptation of the Deborah Moggach novel “Tulip Fever,” a love triangle set in 17th century Amsterdam. That project is set up at DreamWorks.

Stoppard, who’s repped by CAA and London-based Anthony Jones of Peters Fraser Dunlop, will start work on “His Dark Materials” in late summer. New Line won’t know whether the project will be done as two films or three until Stoppard begins writing.