It is only when you have the answer that you can understand the changes in the movie. The movie is clearly devoid of controversial material but it still challenges old mind-sets and fixed ideas about faith. Instead of targeting relgion as an organized insitutue, it seels to address the very nature of faith without specifically targeting Christianity.
In some ways then, the movie version is more suitable for children. It helps them ask some questions whil enjoys the magnificent beauty of the fantasy world. On the other hand, it lacks strength of the book. The book is however not suitable for children, especially pre-teens. For one, it is too heavy for them to fully comprehend or even digest and hence leaves a lot of room for explanation. But it doesnt raise some questions and many give some teens a chance to ask some difficult questions and then seek answers.
For me, it was very much like the book, The Gullivers Travels, which was a massive work of imagination but still contained a deep political meaning which I never could possibly understand till I reached college. To this day, I am quite certain that many children read Gullivers Travels as a fantasy where giants and little people collide.
However anyone who has read it as an adult knows very well what the books core message was.
The same is true for the Golden Compass. However while the book carries the message across subtly, the book makes a very clumsy attempt at being subtle. Instead it is opposite of subtle. For example in the book, we dont read much about Magisterium, an organization trying to control peoples lives. In the movie however, Magisterium is all out there and its in the spotlight all the time. What makes the movie even more clumsy are some very radical lines spoken almost too transparently such as “[We] keep things working by telling people what to do. In a kindly way, to keep them out of danger.” And “We will produce a generation at peace with themselves. One that will never question our authority again.”
On the whole, the book is a much better attempt at radical rebellion than the movie could ever hope to be. It can be admired for its beauty and some chilling performances but is definitely not as fascinating.