My Son and I went to see The Golden Compass today. I have read Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, so I understand the story, know what is going to happen next, and can identify the characters.
My reaction: it's as good a film as could be made of those books. The Dark Materials books are very heavy on philosophy and thought and analysis, a long way away from 'We must destroy this Ring' and off we go for three movies. Taking a cerebral book and making a movie from it means that, over and over, an entire chapter of exposition and development must be crammed into a witch dropping down on to the deck of a boat and telling Lyra something she needs to know for the next scene to make sense. A movie version of Boethius would suffer from the same issues. Selah. I think they did a reasonable job of translating a philosophical treatise into interpretive dance.
And I can see why people who won't ever bother to read the novels think that it's all about bashing the Catholic Church. If you can't read and won't watch, and refuse to think, then by all means believe what someone in Authority tells you to think. After all, that's what the movie is about.