Re-posts from a message board by me I thought were worth sharing.
Saw it last night! It was awesome!!!!! Oh my god I loved it. First of all, it was really beautiful visually. Oh man, breathaking. And it was just so cool. The movie DOES feel a bit rushed and really I wish it was just a tad bit longer because the beginning of it feels a little overwhelming information-wise. You can tell they really just want to jump in but they can't because there's all the information to lay out. The problem is, instead of letting the information play for you they let the characters dialogue it for you very very quickly. And it's obvious why: the want to get to the action of the North. But still they had plenty of time to let it unwind a bit more at the beginning: the movie is shorter than harry potter and also narnia. I went with my husband and two other couples. I was the only one who had read the books but all six of us loved the movie and all six of us can't wait for parts two and three. A lot of the deeper currents of the movie may go over the heads of the youngest ones, but there is also a lot of really "cool" stuff that they won't get bored at all. The daemons are amazing, the ice bears are insane, and there are other lots of really fun characters. I am trying to figure out the PG 13 rating and I guess it's the battle scenes. I will say this, blood is minimal. A lot of people die but it's usually by arrow, gunshot, or a bear running through and the way you know they die is they crumple to the ground and their daemon bursts into a beautiful cloud of golden dust. There is no blood spurting or anything grotesque. The most violent kill was thrilling enough for the adults to freak out about (the theater burst into applause) but it's tame enough that kids weren't horrified (it's filmed from a distance).
Regarding the controversy surrounding the book being anti-religious:
Look, here is the bottom line. I think you are going to see in the movie whatever you choose to see. Christian and Catholic groups have jumped all over it with the expectation of it being anti-Christian because Pullman has declared himself an Atheist.
Like I said, I read the books and I think the anti-religion aspect is completely overblown. In the books, the evil organization IS referred to as the church and of course there are lots of parallels to Churches like restriction for your own good but of course this is easily broadened. How many times has our government hidden things for our own good? How many times do we as parents deny our children things for their own good? It is more anti-authoritarian than anything. The so-called "religious" characters are never once portrayed in any church setting or with any religious artifacts around them. They dress slightly more ornately than the scholars at the colleges. And the true villainess of the story, while somewhat associated with the evil organization, is also not.
To me, the film's main villain is authority. All of us are anti-authority in one way or another. If you choose to view "the authority" as symbolic of your church then of COURSE you're going to be offended as all hell. But if it's just against authority for authority's sake, there's a difference. And before jumping the gun and saying I am promoting anarchy, that's not right either. The film teaches a lot of excellent morals like true friendship, loyalty, sacrifice, etc. As the story progresses in the books, yes the telling of heaven and god and everything else plays important roles. But there is a lot of stuff in there that I highly doubt will be put into a movie. I do not agree with the books being for children. I think they are for high schoolers and mostly the older grades. Excellent for college. Amazing for adults. Can they turn it into something for children? The first book, yes. I don't know about the other two but I want to see what they do. By the way, things that are in the other books that make them inappropriate for children under the age of 15 let's say include:
Homosexual angels: Not that I have anything against homosexuality but this is a topic not easily handled by young children.
Death of God: The death of the god in the story is actually a gorgeous moment and it's not like god actually dies and rots. The angels have indeed taken over heaven and imprisoned god. They are incredibly jealous of humans and have shut them out of heaven in a limbo. Not only do the children liberate the souls but they also liberate god who dies upon his release.
Mom and Dad are SCARY: Lyra's parents are the stuff children's nightmares are made of. I almost gave something away there. The story completely screws with archetypes which, for me, is really fun. Shady characters like gypsies are heroes, witches are more motherly than the mother could dream of, grown-ups do a lot of stupid things, etc.
Again, this is stuff in the books. I wouldn't read the His Dark Materials trilogy to my kids at bedtime, but I am dying to go and read them again and I highly recommend the series to anyone. I cried my ass off with those books and the ending left me absolutely breathless.
As for the movie, you're going to have to make the call. I think the kids will love it for what a movie's worth. Especially the younger ones and if you don't introduce the idea of anti-church to them. They're just going to have a good time. It may start some great conversations with the older kids. It will definitely get the adults talking although with us it was more about the fantasy aspects: "Those witches were amazing" "I totally need a polar bear in my life" "I want a freaking snow leopard daemon dammit" were comments actually issued by us. One of them was mine. 😛
DEFINITELY read the books.