There may be spoilers ahead...
I was going to post links to PR type images but frankly since those MPAA goons would probably consider that stealing their IP even though I would be doing it to advertise their damn film I can't be bothered trying to figure out how to extract a decent picture of the film from the script silliness that is preventing me from directly embedding a link to their site from here. So instead here's the first five minutes courtesy of YouTube.
Seriously if you haven't read the books yet and are intending to go see the film then you may want to skip this until you have seen it.
Anyway for those of you who have read the books or who really don't care about spoilers, read on.
I'm conflicted. I have to say that I absolutely love Pullmans's "His Dark Materials" trilogy and I have been very worried that this attempt to make a film of it would just get it all wrong and ruin them for me. I'm happy to say that that hasn't happened at all. In fact the development of "Lyra's World" is stunning, the design of it is incredible, the set designs are awesome, the costumes are exquisite and above all the utterly seamless effects used to create the Steampunk Victorian environment demonstrate a level of technical sophistication that is better than anything I've ever seen.
The casting is excellent and (most of) the acting is top notch. I don't think anyone is going to be handing out Oscars but Dakota Blue Richards is incredible and captures Lyra far better than I would ever have thought any child actor ever could, Nicole Kidman definitely finds Mrs Coulter's exceptionally disturbed soul and the remainder of the cast are exceptionally well chosen. Once or twice the supporting kids are a little wooden but the general level of this film is very high.
The animation of the Daemons is virtually perfect, particularly when it is not over done. At one or two points the animation wizards just had to start showboating but the interleaving of animation and live action only ever stumbles if you are very fussy, know what you are looking for and are looking very hard.
The storyline is reasonably loyally rendered and in particular the spirit of the book is more or less maintained, at least from my perspective with the memory loss of a three year gap since I read it. The main protagonists in the overarching story of the trilogy have been introduced and some have begun to show that they have depth.
The director also doesn't pull too much of the grit out of the story. It's not quite as brutal as the book but there's lots of dead bodies and mutilated bears before it ends and it more than deserves its Irish 12A rating. I fair jumped on more than one occassion but I am a bit of a wimp. Anyway I suspect that as the more adult themes (ie those related to sex) of the books get developed in the later films that may rise as film rating authorities see sex as a much more dangerous thing for children to be exposed to than child kidnapping, murder and mutilation.
But all is not perfect. For some reason the technical wizards who can make a convincingly realistic creature that morphs from being a pine marten into a small bird then into a cat and a seagull without missing a beat found it impossible to create a convincing flying witch. It may just be me being a bit fussy but I kept looking for the wires when they were taking off. I found the animation of Iorek Byrnison, the armoured bear, to be less convincing than the daemons but again that might just be me being picky.
I could easily forgive those minor problems but there is one huge problem. The person responsible for the final edit of the cut that I saw was a complete and utter idiot. I don't think the end result is that someone who hasn't read the books can't follow the story but there were four or five points when I was sitting scratching my head asking myself how a particular character knew what they did. I suspect that the director and writers were building a 150 minute film that the suits got hold of and decided had to be no longer than 115.
The DVD release of this will probably be awesome but the net effect of the hack editing job is that I am somewhat disappointed. Overall I'd give it a solid 7/10 with the potential to be an 8+ if they let the director do the DVD release properly.