After Seeing The Golden Compass I decided it was such a monumental failure that I needed to split it into three parts.
Part 1: Comparing the Movie to the book.
In this area, the movie deserves even less than two points. Phillip Pullman's book is an amazing achievement, a modern classic, and it balances action with extreme depth. In order to fit the entire book into one movie, writer/director/butcher Chris Weitz strips the book of all intermediate dialogue and along with it, all of the depth. In a sense, the movie is missing the most interesting part of the book, by throwing away dialogue that uses the story and the setting to explain human nature. Weitz throws away the characters and relationships of Serafina Pekkala and Farder Coram, who cover the exposition of the witches story much better than the lame, halfhearted section of dialogue that barely explains who the characters are. However, the worst part of the adaptation is the exposition. In Pullman's novel, every plot point and every bit of the exposition are used to facilitate the storyline, and also help to build to a climactic ending. However, the air of mystery that his plotting creates is lost in the film, because Weitz treats the exposition as a chore that is needed to get out of the way in order to get to the action. Therefore, he seems not to care how or where characters and plot points are introduced, throwing them out in a meaningless slapdash fashion that by no means leads to a climactic battle. Plot points especially are revealed to early or too late, when revealed early, ruining the surprise of later action scenes. Finally, the films worst point comes in its adaption of the book's three key action scenes: Iorek Brnerson's (I think I misspelled that) battle with the bear king, Lyra's flight from Bolvangar, and Lord Asriel at the gate to another world. Of the three, the latter is completely cut from the movie, and as it is the final scene, the film ends abruptly. The other two are presented in switched order, with the confrontation with the bear king coming before Bolvangar, completely destroying the build of the plot. The production design also seems to hold low regard for the book. Again, where in the book, things were designed purposefully to show the condition of a place, the design of the film seems flashy, especially with the design of the bear's armor. The only sets that seem to capture the spirit are Bolvangar and Mrs. Coulter's house. All in all, while the book was deliberate, deep, and exiting, the film is dull, slapdash, and confusing.
Part 2: Just as a film
As a film, The Golden Compass is awful. It is extremely slow paced until the end, and everything that is supposed to be exciting is dull. Although some scenes occasionally manage to be slightly threatening, the film fails to evoke any feeling in the viewer. As far as the actors go, most of them are horribly underused. Despite his top billing, Daniel Craig only appears in a few brief scenes as Lord Asriel, and when he does appear, he lacks presence. All the secondary characters' parts are so small it seems impossible for the actors and actresses who play them to do anything with them. Even Ian McKellan, who is usually an excellent actor, delivers a very typecast performance as Iorek. The films only saving grace is the excellent special effects, and the performances of Dakota Blue Richards as Lyra, and Nicole Kidman as Mrs. Coulter.
Part 3: A rant about what this movie says about the situation of film in general.
Hollywood never learns. Even as fantasy films based on popular novels like Eragon and The Seeker failed miserably and made fans of the respective novels cringe, they were already planning a new slew of films continuing to butcher well known children's fantasy novels. The Golden Compass failed to turn a profit, and like Eragon before it, seemed bent on being a shallow setup for the next film in the franchise, and, due to their financial failure, those sequels were thankfully never made. However, by that time, a string of crappy future franchise-starters were already in production, helmed by inexperienced directors who had probably not even read the books they were adapting until they were brought onboard for the project. What is happening is that each major Hollywood studio wants a hit like The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter however, what they seem to fail to recognize is that those movies were actually good. Until Hollywood is able to make a movie based on a popular book that is not only watchable, but entertaining and a solid example of filmmaking, there will be no success.