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The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Believe the hype. The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring doesn't just live up to expectations, it exceeds them, delivering the sort of mind-boggling, heart-stopping visual spectacle that comes along once every generation. In 1977, George Lucas redefined the cinematic landscape with Star Wars; almost 25 years later, director Peter Jackson creates the same sense of awe and wonder with the first instalment of JRR Tolkien's Middle-Earth trilogy. Harry Potter might as well hang up his wand and robes now, because there's no way he can compete with the magic and majesty of this blockbuster. For the uninitiated, The Fellowship Of The Ring follows hobbit Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) on a perilous quest to destroy the One Ring, the source of evil Lord Sauron's power. The unlikely hero is accompanied on his mission by the great wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen), diminutive pals Sam Gamgee (Sean Astin), Merry Brandybuck (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin Took (Billy Boyd), and representatives of Middle-Earth's other tribes: the emotionally scarred warrior Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), ambitious swordsman Boromir (Sean Bean), elf prince Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and stout-hearted dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies). The breadth and richness of Peter Jackson's directorial vision is awe-inspiring. He has created a wondrous mini-universe populated by a myriad of fantastical cultures. From the furry-footed hobbits who embrace the pleasures of good food and song, to the noble elves who defy both age and disease, every race of creatures has a distinctive way of life, personality and customs. Locations and sets are equally breath-taking. Production designer Grant Major and his huge crew have worked miracles imagining the realms of Middle-Earth, such as the picturesque elvish kingdom of Rivendell with its arching walkways, babbling streams and wooden gazebos; or the Escher-like labyrinths beneath the grassy knolls of Hobbiton. Special effects are an intrinsic element of the story-telling process, bringing to life some of the fellowship's most fearsome adversaries: a club-wielding cave troll in the Mines of Moria, legions of blood-thirsty orcs and goblins, and the fiery-tongued Balrog which proves a stern test to Gandalf's magical might. Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Jackson craft a beautifully succinct screenplay which captures the essence of Tolkien's source novel. Inevitably, some elements of the book have fallen by the wayside - the characters of Tom Bombadill and Goldberry, and The Old Forest segment, are completely excised - and the writers have invested the drama with a feminine touch. Hence, the elf princess Arwen (Liv Tyler) now has a much larger role to play, supplanting Glorfindel as the lone rider who races against the ringwraiths to bring Frodo to Rivendell. Also, her romance with the brave and rugged Aragorn moves from the periphery to centre stage. Performances are uniformly superb, with Wood as the lynchpin, playing the shy but forthright adventurer whose innocence is forever tainted by the horrors that await him on his epic quest. Astin is terrific as jovial and loyal Sam, who turns out to be the most extraordinary of friends to Frodo, and Monaghan and Boyd offer comic relief. McKellen has a nobility and stature which makes you believe immediately in Gandalf, and Lee is wonderfully chilling as Saruman, the head of the Council of the Wise who has since succumbed to the dark temptations of Sauron's power. Parents should be warned that the intense violence and gore, and the film's dark undertones, far exceed the boundaries of the PG certificate given by British censors. The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring succeeds on every single level, wooing the heart, mind and soul. Quite possibly, the best film of the year.