Jackson's primary triumph lies in his physical re-creation of Tolkien's imaginary world in all its detail, terror, and splendor. From moonlit Black Riders to Moria's harrowing halls to the thoughtful beauty of Wood's face, nearly every image resonates with perfection and vibrancy, and Jackson pulls no punches: This is a wonderfully well-realized, lived-in universe, by turns grimy, ravishing, and raw. Casting choices also prove spot-on; Ian McKellen, particularly, wears the wise old soul of the wizard Gandalf like a second skin, while Wood, with decency and sensitivity, holds his own admirably as the story's emotional center.
But "Fellowship" is not without flaws. Jackson and his co-writers have taken enough liberties with the text to give Tolkien purists pause, if not outright pain--and, given a narrative already bursting with character and incident, the decision to beef up Elf princess Arwen's role, even briefly, seems unwise at best. Considering the three-hour length, certain passages feel, oddly enough, rushed and emotionally truncated, while others bog down the pace. Special effects occasionally intrude on scenes in which simple good acting would suffice--ironic for a story about the virtues of resisting temptation.
Nevertheless, Jackson's film strides with dignity toward its cliffhanger ending and, by then, the enchantment it casts is just about complete. Despite certain stumbles and fumbles, Jackson has captured something of the depth, breadth, and melancholy grandeur of Tolkien's vision. And that is magic, indeed. Starring Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen and Sean Astin. Directed by Peter Jackson. Written by Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson. Produced by Barrie M. Osborne, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Tim Sanders. A New Line release. Fantasy/Adventure. Rated PG-13 for epic battle sequences and some scary images. Running time: 178 min