I think I'm getting bored with movies packed with magic and mystery. I've seen too many bits where one character looks at another and asks in awe "You mean that this might be the chosen one?" And later someone says "..but no one must ever know..". And then we get a "..and took away my rightful throne...".
Well, The Golden Compass is all that and more, you even get a "..Luke, I am your father" moment towards the end. And you end up thinking "Meh. So what?".
Everyone plays their part quite proficiently. There are good goodies and bad baddies and baddies who might be goodies and I'm sure if they ever get to make the other two in the series we'll find goodies who are turned to the bad side by something or other. The special effects are pretty good, apart from a few "video game" moments in the fight scenes. Nicole Kidman, who must have been sponsored by a detergent company judging by the amount of white she wears, plays her part very well and even the child with awesome powers carries off her role with a certain amount of verve, even if her accent slides around a bit from scene to scene.
It is based on a book that I've not read, but it stands up well enough on its own if you like that sort of thing. And the problem for me is that there has been a lot of that sort of thing over the last few years.