August 04, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT

With Nicole Kidman on board as its seductively evil star, the $150 million film adaptation of The Golden Compass — the first book of Philip Pullman’s acclaimed fantasy series His Dark Materials — will finally begin shooting in early September.

It’s the first piece of good news in years for New Line’s next potential trilogy, which the company hopes will be as lucrative as that hobbit franchise. Marvels producer Deborah Forte: ”This has been a 10-year odyssey.” Compass was first published in the U.S. in 1996, but it took a studio six years to bite. New Line’s writer-director was an odd choice: Chris Weitz (Oscar nominated for About a Boy), who had never worked with substantial special effects or a budget above $30 million. Overwhelmed by the scope of the production, he dropped out in 2004. In his place, the studio tapped Shopgirl‘s Anand Tucker, only to lose him because of creative differences.

Now, four years after New Line got involved, Weitz is back on board and ready to deliver a PG-13 version of one of the darkest works of children’s fiction out there — one that sees horrific experiments performed on young victims in the name of the Church. (Needless to say, the book has raised the ire of many Catholics.) Pullman fans want to know: Will it all make it into the film? ”[Weitz has] done a very faithful retelling of Philip’s vision,” says exec producer Andrew Miano, adding, ”Everything is filmable if you put your mind to it.”

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