I actually have three words for you, but I didn't want to be wordy in a title. The three words are armored ice bears. The Golden Compass is worth seeing for the armored ice bears, alone, especially the outcast prince, Iorek Byrnison, played by Ian McKellen. Really, you will believe that bear is being played by Ian McKellan and be really impressed by how well McKellen can fight.
I have said that all I was looking for in The Golden Compass was thrills. I didn't care about spirituality, depth, or anything else, mainly because I didn't get that much spirituality and depth when I was reading the book years ago. One of my two complaints about the movie is that it was almost too thrilling. One bizarre thrill came right after another. Mrs. Coulter's monkey turns on Lyra and Pan, the gyptians show up, then a boat, then witches. Slam, bam, no thank you ma'am. More slam, bam.
Now, that was exactly what I liked about the book. Seeing it on the screen made it seem a little jumpy and overwhelming, though. Until the armored ice bear showed up, of course. I couldn't have too much excitement and commotion after that.
I also found the golden compass, itself, a little too mysterious. How does it work? How does Lyra manage to figure out what the heck it's saying?
But I felt the same way when I was reading the book. It was just easier to skim over those parts in the book than it was when it was staring me in the face in the movie theater.
I've read more than one review that said the movie wouldn't make sense to anyone who hadn't read the book. I didn't feel that was the case. The guy who was with me hadn't read the book and thought it was great (except for the ending). Dakota Blue Richards was amazing as Lyra. I thought Nicole Kidman was just fine in a Cruella Deville role.
And, of course, the armored ice bear should be considered the male lead in this picture.
The Golden Compass was a fantasy/action film, which was pretty much what I was hoping for.
About that ending: Kelly at Big A, little a said that people were going What? over the movie's ending when she saw it. I had been forewarned, but, yeah, the guy with me pretty much went What? Though I don't remember the book's ending, my recollection is that it was a more satisfying, closed ending than the one in the movie.
But here's the thing--we're accepting all kinds of open, nonendings in serial books now. I don't think we should be that surprised when movie adaptations of series and serial books start using the same device.