So: In Middle Earth, the basis for all D&D, thousands of years ago the Dark Lord Sauron forges magical rings that apparently grant some kind of magical rulership power, included the One Ring that rules all the other rings. Sauron takes over, the humans and elves rise up against him, the One Ring gets cut from his finger, Isildur (Harry Sinclair) slices it of his hand but doesn't destroy it, even though Elrond the Elf (Weaving) is right there and totally could have stabbed him and thrown him into the lava. Now it's thousands of years later, the One Ring is in the Shire after being brought home by Bilbo Baggins (Holm), a humble hobbit, and his nephew Frodo (Wood) and his buddies Sam (Astin), Pippin (Boyd) and Merry (Monaghan) get tapped by Gandalf (McKellan) to bring it to Elrond. That, of course, is a stopgap; really it needs to go to Mount Doom and be destroyed.
The races of Middle Earth have a little powwow and Frodo volunteers to take the ring to Mount Doom, accompanied by his hobbit posse, Gandalf, Aragorn the true king of Gondor (Mortensen), Boromir, son of the steward of Gondor (Bean), Legolas the elf (Bloom) and Gimli the dwarf (Rhys-Davies). They go traipsing off through the mines of Moria, Gandalf seemingly dies fighting a demon, they make to the elf-woods, then the monstrous orc servants of the evil wizard Saruman (Lee) attack, kill Boromir (spoilers!) and the Fellowship splits, with Merry and Pippin captured, Frodo and Sam going on to Mount Doom by themselves, and Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli going after the captured hobbits.
Good. Gravy. That is a cursory summary of the plot and doesn't touch on a half-dozen other significant events, and that is a drop in the bucket compared to what's in the goddamn novels. (I am about to commit nerd heresy here: I think Tolkien's writing is boring as shit. I couldn't make it past Tom Bombadil when I tried to read this novel. It's like swimming through treacle.)
So, good stuff: The movie is beautiful. The CGI is there, but sparing (as opposed to the more recent Hobbit trilogy, which kinda broke my heart a little), the battles are epic and gorgeously choreographed, and the scenery is fantastic. The Shire, in particular, is so amazingly well-realized that you want to move it.
The performances are good. The actors bring gravitas that subject matter that sounds overwrought and silly if you don't treat it with respect. One of the things that always bugged me about Gandalf, for instance, is that his magic as described in the books is pretty low-key, but the movie makes him (and Saruman) look badass and impressive. The rest of the Fellowship are presented as competent warriors in their own right; the hobbits really shouldn't be, but they manage to come off as equal parts lucky and skilled without leaving the audience wondering who made them overnight badasses.
I like that the movies take their time; yes, it makes for looooong movies, but you feel like they earned it (again, contrast with the Hobbit movies, which unnecessarily spread the story out over three overlong movies and then added a bunch of shit in).
And the bad, not that this is Jackson's fault: Almost no women. We have two worth discussing, Arwen (Tyler) who at least gets to save Frodo and be kind of badass for a minute, and Galadriel the elf-queen (Blanchett), who gets to look impressively mystical and intimidating in her brief screen time. They both turn in good performances, but the story in general is a sausage fest, and it's somewhat tiresome.
For all that, though, it's awesome in the literal definition of the word. Shame it's the best of the three, but they're none of them bad, just the next two don't hold together as well as this one, as I recall (but it's been a while).
My Grade: A-
Next up: Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (unless I buy Civil War first)