Monday night I went to see this movie with several friends. It looked for a while like we'd have the theatre to ourselves but eventually we were joined by folks we didn't know. Before the movie started we saw the preview for Prince Caspian. It looks very interesting and even less like the book than The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. We also saw a preview for Inkheart, which looks interesting. Anyway, back to The Golden Compass. It's hard to know how to evaluate it. It's got Iorek Byrnison (a panserbjorn and a great literary creation fairly well realized). I think most of the cast worked out pretty well. I was impressed with Dakota Blue Richards' Lyra. I don't remember being too impressed with the music, except for some of the stuff after the dreadful (yet "lyracal") credits song. There was definitely a "Gee whiz! Look at that!" feel to a lot of the film in that it felt eager for you to impressed with difference between Lyra's world and ours. The experience of discovery felt less real to me than in LWW, but not offensively so. As an adaptation I was neither particularly pleased or disappointed. Some stuff they got right, some stuff they didn't. They altered the sequence of events significantly and a little disorientingly in the last third of the story. One thing I missed was that the complexity of some characters, especially the Master of Jordan College, was lost by the typical simplification that adaptations go through. Thematically the conflict in the movie is between The Magisterium that is willing to go to great lengths of evil to ensure that people will be docile, pliant, and obedient to its commands and between "freethinkers" who wish to blaze their own paths according to their own best lights. More specifically it is the quest of the girl Lyra to rescue her friend, kidnapped and taken to the north by the Magisterium for apparently nefarious purposes. Religiously there's not a whole lot going on in the movie. There are few to no direct references to God or the church--unless you happen to know that the teaching authority of the Roman Catholic Church is the Magisterium. On the whole it's as implicitly materialist as any other contemporary film exhorting you to do what seems right ("In those days there was no king in the land....) regardless of what societal authorities may be telling you. As a book it's a good story well told with interesting characters and dramatic action. As a movie it is those things as well though less so.
For an interesting interview with the author of the book, look here. I came across the interview as a link in a post by one of my favorite bloggers, the internet monk.