-- Set design. I love steampunk and the Gernsbackian aesthetic so the entire look works for me. The purist in me would say that Lyra's world is a bit too clean but the anbaric stuff makes up for it.
-- Sam Elliot played Scoresby as someone who is not a stock character. Which is ironic since he seems the most cliched in the books.
-- Dakota Blue Richards is a revelation. The Washington Post critic was looking for Dakota Fanning, but I'll take a true fan of the books over a creepy wunderkind. (See Amy Poehler's impression of her on SNL) There's something about people who truly want to play a character that shines through. (See Evanna Lynch playing Luna Lovegood or David Tennant as Doctor Who.)
-- The adaptation is just a little bit better than Harry Potter 2. Too many characters, too much to do. It turned into a straight-up quest story instead of the meandering journey guided by the dust through the alethiometer (kaya nga compass eh). What's worse is that it's a bad quest story.
-- The daemons' importance to the humans wasn't developed enough. The distress felt at intercission seems contrived to me, what more to someone who hasn't read / doesn't like the books?
-- Where the hell was Stanislaus Grumman? How will they figure Will in the second installment?
-- It's a watered-down version of the books. And while I realize that they need to make money to ensure the next installment (which will surely rock, imagine beginning the film with Roger and Asriel), it doesn't really make for good art.