By all accounts the first film installment of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy is a cinematic success. While I have not read the novel, and I can only assume prior knowledge of the story would have increased my appreciation of the film, it is still an exhilarating ride through some of the greatest and most authentic looking special effects in cinematic history, with characters that are so intricately detailed (physically and emotionally), and a story that starts with a bang, and never slows beyond a boom.
To try and go into detail over all of the amazingly breathtaking aspects of the film would cause this review to go into an essay format. However, the cinematography is something that must be mentioned first and foremost. The beautiful environment of Middle Earth looks as though the delicate hands of a thousand artists handcrafted it. Even if the story was pure, unadulterated crap, the look of this film could possibly carry the rest of it. However, the film is far more than capable of carrying itself, and thus does not have to rely on the cinematography as a crutch - its extravagance can be viewed as a wonderful bonus feature of authenticity.
Elijah Wood plays Frodo, a hobbit and nephew of THE hobbit, Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm). Frodo is sent on a journey by Bilbo's wizardly acquaintance Gandalf (Ian McKellan) in order to destroy a mystically powered ring that can make its wearer turn invisible. However, if it falls into the wrong (evil) hands, the power that it brings could bring about apocalyptic consequences. The catch is that the ring can only be destroyed within the evil mountain where it was created, and he is being chased by various creatures of the dark that wish to kill whoever is in their way in order to keep Frodo from reaching the mountain and to get the ring. Fortunately for Frodo, he has some faithful accomplices to help him break through death's door and ultimately save all of civilization.
If you are unfamiliar with the story, I must caution you to closely pay attention at all times. There are portions in which somewhat complex story-development is a rather long focus in lieu of action. This development, of course, is nothing against the film itself. Rather, just make sure you pay attention so you can get the full experience of the film.
With the exception of the recent Halloween film 13 Ghosts, the "monsters" in The Fellowship of the Ring are some of the scariest S.O.B.'s to hit the silver screen in some time. The creatures that Frodo & Co. face would send Freddy Krueger crying to his mommy and make Chucky piddle in his pants: a seemingly never-ending army of "Orcs", which can best be described as horribly ugly and mean "things", and a huge monster with a huge club that resembles a Bam Bam whose experiments with steroids went horribly wrong.
The fight scenes, while brutal, are cut extremely fast. While this editing choice does make the fighting seems fast-paced, some of the effect is lost. The fight scenes here are more similar to the opening of Gladiator than the gore of Braveheart. I do not wish to argue that one type of editing is more effective. I will just say that for my taste, I prefer to see my fights in a manner that I can tell exactly who is getting their head chopped off or impaled.
Finally, the acting in this film is as good as you will see anywhere. Taking the various roles of characters whose looks and personalities have been mentally ingrained in people's minds for years, and putting them on the screen is certainly a daunting task. As I mentioned, I have not read the novel, but from all those I know that have, and have seen the film, I have heard nothing but praise for the level of character believability. The mere fact that the hobbits are noticeably shorter than the rest of the characters is a clear demonstration of Peter Jackson's dedication to bring this literary work to life every bit as authentically as possible.
One more thing I feel I must mention - the music score by composer Howard Shore is powerful enough to make John Williams sit up and take notice. Accompanying peaceful encounters between long separated friends and brutal fight scenes with equivalent efficacy, the score takes the emotions within the film and propels them just enough to allow the audience that much further into the film.
To summarize, this film can and will be appreciated by fans of any film genre. While it may not be as magical to a person unfamiliar with and emotionally unattached to Tolkien's novel, at the very least it will be a visual and auditory spectacle the likes of which you could never imagine. Close your eyes (metaphorically of course), open your mind, and prepare for a wild ride with equal parts terror, humor, epic, and drama. This mix works my friends, and it looks damn good while it's working.