The two hours spent watching the first installment of His Dark Materials, on screen as The Golden Compass, weren't a complete waste of time. The movie was not unpleasant: fluffy bears, snowy scenes, and a world where everyone has pets; and, like every action adventure filmed in the last few years, features Ian McKellen and Christopher Lee. The Sunday Times gave it four stars. The Economist's Intelligent Life placed Pullman in a succession with the Bible and Milton, and wrote that the author expected just a handful of people to 'get' the story, but found it a pleasant surprise when it achieved the cult status that it did.
I think I am one of those few, we unhappy few, we band of heathens, who don't get it. I have to admit to not having read the books, though not for want of trying; if it is as representative of the novels as Disney's The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe was, then perhaps I am doing Pullman a great disservice. I both agree and disagree with Pullman when he says that literature should be a 'theatre of morality'; I think that some literature is, and has great value as such; and then some literature isn't, and that's okay too. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, which he disparages, isn't; but it is firmly rooted in another tradition, that of the epic, with clearly defined forces of good and evil; and there is tremendous popular appeal in this because you don't have to think about what makes them good or bad.
What makes The Golden Compass confusing is its resemblance to Lord of the Rings (not just in casting Ian McKellen and Christopher Lee) but in the trilogy format, and the strange resemblance to a Bond film in having a secret laboratory with white curvy walls in the middle of nowhere. Now in a Bond film this would be inhabited by an arch-villain with clearly evil intentions (e.g., blowing up the world), but here the great revelation is a machine that separates kids from their pets; okay, daimons. Which doesn't really seem like enough provocation for the 'war that is coming'. Without the ramifications of allegory, The Golden Compass, as a film, fails to satisfy.
This doesn't mean I'm giving up on Pullman, though; I just might spend the winter holidays curled up with the trilogy. And there was a brief moment of nostalgia for Oxford, and the airship 'ferry' that took Lyra away to the great city is certainly an improvement on the Oxford Tube or the First Great Western service to London.