Having seen the midnight showing of The Fellowship of the Ring last night, I'm running on about three hours sleep and I haven't had much time to collect my thoughts, so bear with me.
First off, it was fantastic. I'm thinking about listing the things that impressed me most, but that would be every element that went into this film, so I'll just name a few.
First: the pacing. Not counting the amazing prologue--with its holy-shit-inducing shots of mass hand-to-hand battling--the story starts out like a little pebble, bouncing down a gentle snowy slope. Hobbiton, the Shire, Bilbo's party, the approach of the Black Riders. The pebble starts gathering snow, the slope gets a bit steeper, this thing's rolling now. Bree, Weathertop, Rivendell. Gathering speed, getting bigger still. At Rivendell, we slow down a bit. Fellowship formed. They're on their way. Then the mountains. Then the mines. Holy shit, the mines. Ho-ly-mutha-fuckin-shit. This thing is now truckin'. Then Galadriel's forest. Slows down a little again. And then it's balls out to the climax.
Two: The acting. Not a bad performance out of anyone. Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Bean--all outstanding. Ian McKellen? I saw no Ian McKellen. Only Gandalf. He is tremendous.
Three: Middle-Earth. I've read it in other reviews, so I'm gonna steal it and write it here as well: It's like Peter Jackson found the real Middle-Earth, with its Shire, its Elven hideaways, its quaint villages, and just put a camera down and filmed it. You can see thousands of years of history in everything--buildings, caves, costumes, weapons. The movie both met and managed to exceed my imagination, the way I pictured it when I read the books.
Fourth: The heart. Sure, this is a fairy tale special effects extravaganza. But it's got depth, soul and heart. Something that is so lacking in the cookie-cutter, pre-fab blockbusters being churned out like clockwork. This film takes the time to show you not only the adventures and monsters and battles, but also the small moments between the characters. Frodo and Bilbo. Aragorn and Arwen. Even a brief but wonderfully human moment with Boromir teaching the Hobbits some basic swordplay. That's it--it has humanity. So by the end, you really give a shit what has happened and what will happen to these characters.
Is it a pure adaptation of Tolkien's book? Of course not. Scenes and characters are omitted. Some characters are given a little less or-like Arwen-a little more to do, strictly for economical purposes. But where the adaptation hits the mark with flawless precision is in nailing the soul of the book. The core themes and vibe. They're there. It's definitely Middle-Earth. That's definitely Gandalf and Frodo and Aragorn, without question.
Is it the OhmyGodit'sthebestmovieI'veeverseeninmyentirelife? I can't tell you. I don't have a best movie. I love so many of them. But it's up there among my favorites, yes. I need to see it again. At a decent hour. In a theater that is slightly cooler than the 115 degree temperature at which last night's theater was kept. I was extremely uncomfortable and shifty because of the heat. But the last thing I was going to do was to get up during the movie and complain. I didn't want to miss anything.
Other reactions: a girl I saw it with had never read the books, and was completely unfamiliar with the story. As the film faded out, she turned and said, "Oh my God, does Frodo make it?!" This one guy sitting next to me (not with me), turned to his group and said: "*Scoff* (really, you could hear him actually scoff) Well, that was a three-hour train wreck." Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but his was wrong. Jaded, no-magic-left-in-his-heart motherfucker.
The Fellowship of the Ring is the shit, and without qualification, the best movie I've seen in this year--perhaps the last few years.