Just came back from the movie "Golden Compass", and it was a disappointment. I took kids out to see it because of generally positive New York Times review, but the reviewer was too kind. My wife was smarter: she refused to go.
I must preface this that my wife and I read the trilogy by Pullman earlier this year, and were a little underwhelmed. The first book I thought was OK to good, but it sort of went down from there. The plot was good (up until the point where it hit the nun turned physicist), but the characters were a little overblown (Lyra in particular was so rebellious, and cunning, and manipulative that she felt like a caricature of a normal person), and the narrative turned tedious in a number of places.
I actually felt that the book was a very good candidate for a film. The plot was good, there is plenty of opportunities for grand vistas, and the movie could easily dispense with tedios part and present the plot more dynamically.
Unfortunately, this was not to be. I cannot say that it was a total bust - it may even be better than average. Definitely not like "In her shoes" which I caught a glimpse in an airplane - after 10 minutes of these, I felt that my IQ has dropped 20 points, and on the 15s minute I turned it off and went to bed. "Golden Compass" is definitely not bad in this sense. I thought it was definitely much better than Narnia, and my dauther thought that it was better than Eragon.
The movie suffered on 3 major points. First, it was definitely not great photography. There was a lot of opportunity to make it so, as the plot was very conducive to it, but the team did not deliver. In one case (where Lyra runs away from Mrs. Coutler) it looked like the background was superimposed on her running figure - like an old movie shot from inside the moving car where the background does not look real. The northern vistas were very subdued. The bear was just not very impressive - a step back in time towards the Jurassic park, and away from the standards set by Lord of the Rings. The battle scene... let's not even get into that.
Second, the characters lost a lot of their dimensions. In the book, nobody was entirely good, or entirely evil. It was the Master of the Jordan College who tried to poison Lord Asriel, and Lord Asriel sacrificed a child to his experiment of opening a pathway to a parallel universe. The movie was sterilized of any attempts subplot of how pursuing the "greater good" can lead to lots of local evil. This turns out to be the major if not the biggest component of the book, and omitting it from the movie made the movie really shallow.
Finally, the movie was way too short relative to what it was trying to byte off. The problem with the book is that there aren't that many plot lines that could be cut off, especially if you plan the sequels, and 2 hours is just not enough time to present them all in any details. What that lead to was lots of people who were present in the movie, but it was entirely unclear why. For example, Lyra runs into Lee Scoresby and the next thing you see was she is flying in the balloon with him. The witches start fighting on Lyra's side after barely a 2 minute conversation. Who the witches are (or for that matter, gyptians, or armoured bears) was not really explained.
Resume - this is the movie I will not be buying on DVD. If you have not seen it, wait a while and then get it on Netflix if you must.