What a happy thing, especially after all the Harry Potter fuss, to have such a revival in interest in the great Lord of the Rings trilogy because of this new movie (if Harry Potter leads people to Tolkien, I couldn't say much against him). I really believe (and I have noticed this with children of neighbors and friends) that in the end Lord of the Rings tends to be more beloved than Harry Potter. Although Harry Potter can be a little more accessible to younger and/or less experienced readers, the Lord of the Rings is a real adventure story, whereas Harry Potter is more of a fantasy/mystery with a much smaller scope. The Lord of the Rings movies are also making the books more accessible to a new generation of fans.
Overall, Tolkien fans (who are considered rather "fussy") seem to be rather pleased with the movie, and with good reason. Although it's very difficult to turn such a complex and imaginative story into a movie, and the movie will certainly never replace the book, overall I think the movie-makers did a fantastic job. First, and most importantly, I think they captured the overall themes (the temptation of power, the reality of evil, etc.) very well. The characters are very well-cast and quite believable. As might be expected in a movie version, the plot is simplified, several characters are compressed into one, etc. The neat thing is that significant portions of dialogue are taken directly from the book and the essentials of the plot are really quite faithful to the original story. My husband and I (who have both read the books) enjoyed the movie very much. Since we were expecting the birth of a child at the time and she decided to arrive significantly past her due date, we were able to see the movie twice in the theater, which is a real rarity for us.
For those unfamiliar with the books, this first part of three books introduces us to the main characters in the story - Hobbits - and the other races of Middle Earth - dwarves, elves, men and wizards. We see the beauty of the hobbits' homeland - the Shire - and their simplicity and love of nature. We are introduced to Bilbo who discovered "the Ring" and prepares to leave it to his nephew Frodo. When Gandalf discovers the true identity of the ring - the One Ring that was forged by the evil Lord Sauron to control all living things - Frodo sets out to bring the ring to a safer place and thus begins his quest.
This movie is not intended for young children. The story is very complex and focuses on major conflicts between good and evil. Turning it into a movie without making it silly and laughable creates rather intense cinema. Happily the moviemakers sought a PG-13 rather than an R rating and thus there is almost no blood and gore and no bad language or other objectionable content. The movie does, of course, portray battle and action scenes and a number of rather frightening creatures that some young children find too scary even when reading the book. It is sometimes easier to allow younger children to watch this sort of movie when it is released to video/DVD where the entire effect is less intense and scenes may be edited at will.
Although I think that watching the movie will lead many people to pick up the book, I think it best to read the book before seeing the movie so that one's first impressions in the imagination come directly from the book rather than another's re-creation of it. Parents, in particular, might do well to read the book before seeing the movie because, particularly if they aren't regular movie-goers, I think the violence and intensity wouldn't make much sense without being familiar with the plot and themes.
The extended version of the movie, which was released to video and DVD in November 2002, is really worth seeing. It incorporates 30 minutes of additional footage into the movie which helps make the story more understandable and enjoyable, but made the movie too long for the theatrical release.