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Finally, we get to partake of the Fellowship of the Ring,
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Given the major competition that is out there for "The Lord of the Rings," I think it is helpful to point out those who have not read the Trilogy will fare much better watching "The Fellowship of the Ring" than those who are uninitiated watching "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." In fact, this may well be one of those movies where the novices will enjoy it more than those soaked in hobbit lore and the history of the Rings.
Elijah Wood is a credible Frodo, although there are almost as many shots of him looking worried about what is happening as there are close ups of the ring (I might be able to recognize the skin patterns on Wood's hand in my sleep). Ian McKellen, as would be expected, makes the most of playing Gandalf the Grey, bringing a most human dimension to the role while avoiding chewing the scenery except for those moments when the wizard unleashes the full force of his power. Cate Blanchett is a rather cold Galadriel, missing the spark that should take our breath away just looking at her. But ultimately the performances are almost incidental to the rest of what is happening in this film.
While much is to be said for the stunning set designs, of which the mines of Moria stand out even above the Elven havens of Rivendell and Lothlorien, equal measure must be given to the enchanted New Zealand landscapes. The visual spectacles hinted at in the trailers are revealed in all their glory throughout the entire film. The fight sequences hold up well against the current contemporary standard, albeit without any wire work. Surprisingly with all the swordplay involved it is Legolas with his bow and arrows that stands out during every single battle. The orcs are suitable horrendous (and numerous) and the balrog certainly exceeded my expectations. But what really makes this film work is that the hobbits seem hobbit size and after the first time you see Frodo and Gandalf together you never give it a second thought.
In terms of the controversies that exist, I think omitting Tom Bombadil was a wise editing move (the film is almost three hours long as it stands and there are plenty of other characters in the tale who refuse to take up the ring and the burden from Frodo), and buffing up Arwen's role does not bother me a bit. Tolkien's world is clearly male dominated, the Lady Galadriel and Eowyn being relatively minor figures in the tale despite their respective powers, and I can appreciate the idea that Arwen should be more than the elf babe who shows up and marries the King at the end. Now she will be a worthy consort who offers the hero encouragement and support along his journey. I have more second thoughts about Merry and Pippin being more so the comic relief than Sam than I would either of those. Overall, the movie is extremely faithful to Tolkien's vision: the door to Moria is just as it appears in the book, down to the proportions. The maps, the elvish runes, the lettering on the letter, are all precisely and perfectly rendered. Even more importantly, the key lines are all preserved from "I will take the Ring, though I do not know the way" to "Fly, you fool!"