Chris is an interesting choice because he's probably one of the few people alive who has experienced first hand what its like to adapt a major book series into film as he did with The Golden Compass. Ironically, he had to adapt one of the hardest series ever onto film while battling with a major studio, the church and legions of tough fans. I'll explain why - but I think CW's experiences have likely forged in him a real desire to set things right with New Moon and do something special.
For those unfamiliar (I happen to love both the His Dark Materials and Twilight sagas), The Golden Compass is a fascinating case. While the His Dark Materials is often compared to Harry Potter, those trix are not for kids - the series is thematically complex and controversial ("the bad guys" in the series are an autocratic organized religion that fool humanity (and all manner of species actually) about the nature of life) and unlike Potter (and Twilight), The Golden Compass is much bigger abroad than in the US. So when facing The Golden Compass, Weitz was truly in a pickle, he was presented with the chance to make the next LOTR/HP, but unlike those films would have to do so with:
- the Catholic Church asking followers not to see it
- fervent fans of the book pissed at him for taking criticism of the church out of the film (he replaced it with a benign autocratic organization called "the Magisterium")
- a REALLY complicated book to adapt where he'd have to introduce the concepts of multiple dimensions, the concept that in each of these dimensions evolution and history has occurred differently (so you have talking bears, flying witches, and peoples souls live outside of them in the form of animals, and that these external souls called daemons transform into different animals until settling on one permanent form when an individual reaches adulthood) - see how complicated that is!
Weitz famously realized that the film was heading for trouble and stepped down from the project because he didn't want to let down fans with the changes that were having to be made to the film. Another director came on and quit too, before the series author Philip Pullmann personally appealed that Weitz return and...he did.
When you watch Golden Compass (which my wife and I did last night after hearing CW was official), its clearly a movie made with a lot of love by CW - its absolutely gorgeous (won an oscar for the visuals), its perfectly cast, and well acted. It is however, also just chock full of really complicated stuff that happens pretty fast -> so if you had read the books or could watch it a couple of times, it flowed, but I think was likely hard to keep up with for newbies. But there is just so much stuff in the book, it feels to me as someone whose read it twice as condensed as much and well as possible. People forget that the Sorcerer's Stone is actually much shorter than the rest of the Potter series and thematically much simpler - it sets the ground work and introduces the incredible, magical world to you but not that much happens - in the Golden Compass a lot is happening...all the time.
My only beef is the decision to cut the surprising ending of the book and keep it for use as the opening scene in the sequel Weitz never got to make. I'm not sure if that was CW's decision or New Line's, but Weitz communicated that the change was coming to fans beforehand and the studio had Pullmann's support in the move. I do know that Weitz probably intended to include the original ending when he set out to make the film, because he shot it, filmed it, and even included it in the trailers for the film.
The biggest irony with the Golden Compass is that its considered a flop as a film, when it was truly just poorly managed by New Line. The film did over $300MM world wide, but I think under 1/3 of that came from the US (where New Line tried to market it as a kids movie while every news story was about possible church protests!) - New Line, strapped for cash, had sold the international rights to the film (again, totally misunderstanding where the bulk of their business would come from given the books are bigger outside the US) for next to nothing, and so they never recouped their money. Twilight is a huge success, but I'm not sure it will do $300MM and if it did I think we'd all be really proud - so it's ironic Weitz has been labeled as a flop for it.
Either way, I think from reading his note to the fans that he's internalized the experience on Golden Compass, and will look to set it right. I think its likely why he speaks directly and clearly about not going away from the book, and this will probably be his best chance to vindicate himself. I hope he does!