Although comparisons to “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer”s Stone” are inevitable, a more apt parallel to Peter Jackson’s triumphant epic “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” is “Star Wars,” for both films are about the ultimate struggle between good and evil. Although no movie can perfectly adapt a book, especially one as painstakingly elaborate as J.R.R. Tolkien’s three-volume opus, “Fellowship” comes close, and stands out as one of the best films of the year and one of the best adaptations of all time.

Todd Weiser
Courtesy of New Line

Thousands of years ago, in the realm of Middle Earth, the dark lord Sauron forged many rings of power for the peoples of the world, but he also made one for himself that controlled all the other rings and gave him the power to rule the world. The ring, which holds all the strength and evil of Sauron, has an intoxicating power over anyone who tries to use it. But the ring has been lost for roughly 3,000 years, until a Hobbit named Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) finds it in a cave in the Misty Mountains.

Years later, when Sauron discovers that the ring is being kept in the Shire (the home of the three-foot-tall hobbits), Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellan), a powerful wizard and friend of Bilbo, decides action must be taken, entrusting the ring to Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood), Bilbo’s nephew. Along with fellow hobbits Sam (Sean Astin), Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd), Frodo begins a long journey to destroy the ring in the fires of Mount Doom, where the ring was forged. Frodo and his hobbit companions are joined by Gandalf, the Elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Gimli the Dwarf (John Rhys-Davies), the ranger Strider (Viggo Mortensen) and Boromir (Sean Bean), son of the Steward of Gondor. They have much help along the way, from all manner of creatures, such as the elves, including Arwen (Liv Tyler) and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), a powerful witch who resides in the woods.

This film has the rare quality of being able to completely draw you in from start to finish. Despite its near three-hour length, it is a riveting narrative that will make you crave a second viewing. Part of the reason for this is the intense reality that is given to the various landscapes, from the peaceful and hidden Shire to the dark and foul realm Mordor, the home of Sauron. Every craggy tree, misty river and winding mountain road has a vitality to it that sucks you into this fantasy world and wraps you up in every sight, sound and smell.

The action sequences with raging battles between elves, men and the slimy and evil Orcs are breathtaking, and the computer graphics used to simulate both the battle scenes and the fantastic battlefields are almost flawless.

The acting is top notch, with no weak link. Ian McKellan is perfect as Gandalf, a kind and wild-haired wizard who has a dangerous and powerful side that is always close to the surface but hidden. His face holds years of distress and hardship as well as wisdom. He has the ability to laugh with his eyes, and he is able to show fear without losing his Merlin-esque air of mystery and strength.

Another high point is Christopher Lee, who plays Saruman the White, a powerful wizard who was once Gandalf’s superior but has joined forces with Sauron in the hopes of increasing his own power. Lee, who is most famous for his Dracula movies of the 1970s, is unbelievably creepy with his gaunt face and severe dark eyes contrasting with his bright white hair and cloak.

The hobbits provide comic relief that is blended flawlessly with the action. Merry’s and Pippin’s antics, many of which are not in the original text, are a welcome addition, and Sean Astin”s fiercely loyal Sam is his best role since the inhaler-toting Mikey of “The Goonies.”

One of the most difficult undertakings in the movie is making all the actors look like the characters that they are supposed to be, for Dwarves are short and stout and Hobbits are even shorter, yet non-little people play all of these roles. A combination of camera tricks and stand-ins are used to provide this effect, and only occasionally is it noticeable. However, you will most likely miss these flaws, as the film is fast paced and has no moments that lack momentum and allow you to notice imperfections.

One thing that people unfamiliar with the “Lord of the Rings” books should know is that the quest to destroy the ring does not end with this film. Instead, “The Fellowship of the Ring” has more of a “The Empire Strikes Back” type ending, leaving questions unanswered and fates uncertain. The story will continue with “The Two Towers” and “The Return of the King,” which will be released in December of 2002 and 2003.

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