When I watched this back in 2007/8, I remember being mostly distracted, but vaguely disappointed. After watching and critiquing the BBC’s His Dark Materials series, we went back to this one on Saturday just to check what we thought.
Watching this really makes you thankful for Jack Thorne and box set television.
It’s unfair to call it badly written. Considering the constraints of adapting this novel to film, it manages to keep the plot moving, and the reordering of elements makes some sense. It is also very well cast, Craig in particular a perfect choice, and there are some good shots.
The main problem is, of course, the studio. By downplaying the Magisterium due to pressure from religious groups, the threat is incoherent. The film has three credited editors, and it bears the scars of a film assembled for the benefit of someone texting on the back row of the cinema, not really paying attention. The dialogue is full of simplistic plot declarations, and no dramatic moment has room to breathe. And removing the book’s ending and giving Lyra an irritating speech instead is reprehensible.
Ultimately it’s a mess, and not an enjoyable one. It’d be interested to see a director’s cut, if only to see if a better film can be salvaged from the footage (they shot the ending!) but what we have is Hollywood chasing the success of Harry Potter by buying up any children’s fantasy, and assuming they can pulverise thebstory into one that appeals to the religious right. I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed.