Golden Compass Finds New Director

British filmmaker Anand Tucker (Hilary and Jackie) has taken over for Chris Weitz (Antz) as director of the vfx-laden fantasy pic, The Golden Compass, according to Daily Variety. The New Line film is the eagerly awaited first installment in a planned trilogy based on author Philip Pullman’s young adult series, His Dark Materials.

Featuring exotic settings and shapeshifting creatures, Compass is reportedly New Line’s most ambitious project since Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings saga. When the technical challenges proved too much for Weitz, such veteran helmers such as Ridley Scott and David Cronenberg were considered, but a surprise move put the lesser known Tucker in the driver’s seat.

Though his 1998 indie biopic, Hillary and Jackie, was a critical success, Tucker’s followup has been a long time coming. He directed Steve Martin, Claire Danes and Jason Schwartzman in an upcoming comedy titled Shopgirl, based on a novella by Martin. Tucker tells the trade he is a big fan of Pullman’s award-winning books and has been aggressively lobbying for the Compass job since New Line acquired the rights.

It’s becoming a trend for studios to put tent-pole action and fantasy films in the hands of indie directors, who are collectively establishing a solid track record. Peter Jackson (Heavenly Creatures) and Christopher Nolan (Memento) hit it out of the park with The Lord of the Rings and Batman Begins, respectively, and Barbershop director Tim Story gave 20th Century Fox a big summer hit with Fantastic Four. Meanwhile, spectacle go-to guys have been stumbling with big-budget efforts such as Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven and Michael Bay’s The Island.

The Golden Compass is being overseen by New Line’s Toby Emmerich, exec VP Mark Ordesky and senior VP of European production Ileen Maisel.