In the beginning of The Lord of the Rings, background information is presented in an ingenious way. Scenes from battles and wars fill the screen, while a narrator tells the story of a ring forged by the evil lord Sauron. The ring has the power to enslave the world.
The people of Middle Earth--the fantasy world inhabited by elves, dwarves, hobbits and humans--try to stop Sauron from enslaving the world by gathering vast armies to combat Sauron's armies. In a climactic battle in which the forces of evil are about to win, Sauron's hand is cut off, and the ring comes into the possession of man.
But the ring is soon lost. Eventually, it's found by the hobbit Bilbo Baggins. A hobbit is a creature similar to a human, only shorter, and with hairy feet. Bilbo, who has kept the ring hidden for 60 years, is 111 years old now. He wants to have one last adventure, and he leaves all of his possessions, including the ring, to his nephew Frodo. The ring, however, has a will of its own. It calls the evil Black Riders--terrifyingly hooded, faceless figures riding black horses, from across the evil realm of Mordor--to come and get the ring so it can be returned to its master, Sauron.
The only way to destroy the ring, and Sauron's power, is by throwing it into the lava of Mt. Doom, which is deep in the heart of Mordor. The task falls to Frodo, but others step forward to join in Frodo's quest to destroy the ring and save Middle Earth. They form a fellowship of humans, dwarves, elves, hobbits, and the great wizard Gandalf the Grey.
You really get to know the characters and their personalities as the movie progresses. Unlike in Harry Potter, where the characters are basically props used to highlight the special effects, the characters here drive the story forward. They struggle with their own fears and desires and temptations. You care about them, and feel compassion for them.
At first, Frodo is like a little kid, happy and innocent. The ring of power comes into his possession, and he thinks only of getting rid of it. By the end of the movie, Frodo learns to accept responsibility for the burden to destroy the ring and save the world. As Gandalf tells him, "You can't choose the times you're born into, but you can choose what you do with that time."
Unlike in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, the special effects in The Lord of the Rings aren't just there for cheap thrills. In the battle scenes, you experience the same horror that characters in the movie do. Vivid images of hordes of green, slimy goblins wielding swords, sticks and spears make you feel terror. The small masses of courageous elves, humans and dwarves charging into battle holding swords, battle axes, bows and arrows, and clad in silver armor, put desperate hope into your mind.
The battle scenes are amazing, but other scenes will make an impact as well. Gandalf jumping off of a building is a real cliffhanger. The demon in the mines of Moria, a dragonlike mass of fire and shadow, is so terrifying it might give viewers nightmares.
The horrifying evil creatures, the scenes of battles, and the knuckle-whitening suspense may be too terrifying for young children. The intense emotional impact of watching members of the fellowship get injured or killed may also be too upsetting for them.
For fantasy lovers 12 and older, The Lord of the Rings is an amazing movie. At the end of this first film in a series of three, you feel like you can't wait until the second movie comes out--in December 2002.