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Lord of the Rings’ meets lofty expectations

Possibly the most anticipated trilogy of movies ever made, the Lord of the Rings series has finally arrived on the big screen. The first film did not disappoint.

“Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring” will hit screens nationwide Wednesday and will almost assuredly make a gigantic impact on the box office.

Lasting a full three hours without ever reaching a firm ending is not the normal recipe for movie success, but director Peter Jackson managed to work around that problem. He spent enough time working on this project for the film to fully live up to its lofty expectations.

Jackson is not the only one to be commended. First off, J.R.R. Tolkien deserves credit for writing the books nearly 50 years ago and creating a world where Hobbits, Elves, Dwarfs and creatures of all sorts roam “Middle Earth.” The plot is engrossing, as anyone who read the books can attest to. But just because the books were good, that does not mean the movies would be.

Set design, costume production, good scriptwriting, a quality cast and a good score all contribute to make this movie enjoyable.

The screen comes to life in vivid color as the audience gets to travel with the main character, Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood), through snowy mountaintops, lush green forests, dark swamps and even darker mines. That doesn’t even mention the gorgeous cities Frodo and his friends encounter along their journey.

Frodo is a hobbit (a species that in the books was said to be about 3 feet 6 inches on average) who must destroy an extremely powerful ring before it falls into the hands of evil. Sounds like a basic enough plot: Good versus evil with several subplots thrown in along the way. But it is through this vivid scenery that the story really flourishes.

The costumes help add to that powerful scenery. All the hobbits wear large, hairy feet to match the description of the creatures in the books. To make sure the hobbits appear shorter in the movie, there were plenty of camera tricks involved. The end results were very effective. There are also plenty of Dwarves, Elves and other species that took a great deal of time and effort to make look as good as they do.

The acting is nearly as good as the scenery. Ian McKellen (“X-Men,” “Apt Pupil”) delivers one of the best performances of 2001 as Gandalf the Wizard. Whenever on screen, he demands attention.

The rest of the cast is adequate, especially Orlando Bloom as Legolas, an Elf who joins the nine-man fellowship that travels with Frodo on his quest to destroy the ring.

Wood (“North,” “The Faculty”) in the lead was a little disappointing, but the lead role in a film of this magnitude is nearly impossible for any 20-year-old to undertake. Wood manages give a decent performance.

Liv Tyler and Cate Blanchett are under-used in their roles. Tyler receives a lot of hype for being in the movie given her small amount of screen-time. But both ladies do provide a strong female presence in the film when called upon.

One major complaint some may have about the movie is the length. While those die-hard fans that read the book would be furious if anything was left out, making the movie a full three hours may turn some new fans away. The main plot takes an extremely long time to get going.

In addition, the ending does a better job leading into the second movie than resolving the first one, meaning many viewers may not be able to wait the full year until next December when “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” will hit the theaters.

The three films, which were all shot at the same time over a 15-month period in a remote New Zealand location, are scheduled to be released each Christmas until 2003.

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