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Tolkien epic in glitzy debut

Sean Astin, left, and Elijah Wood
The film based on Lord of the Rings is set to challenge Harry Potter's box office appeal  

LONDON, England -- The Lord of the Rings film epic has been launched at a glitzy world premiere in London with critics already hailing the mammoth fantasy as a masterpiece.

Hundreds of fans gathered in London's Leicester Square to glimpse the stars of the film as they entered the theater for the movie's world debut.

The film is now set to go head-to-head at the box office with the another children's magical tale, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" ("Philosopher's Stone" in Great Britain), during the holiday season.

General audiences in the U.S. and Europe will be able to see the film in nine days' time.

"The Fellowship of the Ring," is the first in a three-part adaptation of the Tolkien books.

It follows the fortunes of Frodo the hobbit, who joins an intrepid quest against evil.

The film's stars, including Sir Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, Liv Tyler, Elijah Wood, Sean Bean and Ian Holm, all attended the launch of the much-hyped film.

The books have sold more than 100 million copies worldwide, and the film is predicted to attract many fans.

The total budget for the three films, which were all shot in New Zealand, was $270 million, according to producer Barrie Osborne -- making it one of the biggest-ever projects in movie history.

The project was backed by New Line Cinema, which agreed to take on all three films before the first one hit the screens and could be judged by audiences. New Line is a division of AOL Time Warner, as is

The other two films, "The Two Towers" and "The Return of the King," are expected to be released at the end of 2002 and 2003.

Early critical raves

Those who have seen it tip it as a sure-fire blockbuster, which will catapult the previously little-known New Zealand director Peter Jackson into the highest echelons of the film fraternity.

"It has real passion, real emotion, real terror and a tactile sense of evil," said Newsweek critic David Ansen in one of the first published reviews.

The cast say they are well aware of the huge expectations for the film but are confident it will please fans of J.R.R. Tolkien's epic tales of hobbits, dwarves, elves and orcs plunged into a magical struggle between good and evil.

"When I finally saw the film, I was floored because it was more than I even expected it would be, and I already had very high expectations," Tyler told Reuters ahead of the premiere.

Inspired by tales to children

Tolkien was born in 1892 in South Africa and brought up in Birmingham, central England, by his mother and then by a Catholic priest.

He became a linguist, mastering Latin and Greek as well as other languages both modern and ancient, notably Gothic, and later Finnish -- a skill that was to feature later in his books.

Tolkien wrote the books alongside an academic career at Leeds University, northern England, and Oxford.

Some of his books were inspired by the tales he would tell his own children, full of myths and magic, of strange creatures, of dwarves, elves, goblins and wizards.

These all used languages invented by the author, including Quenya and Sindarin, both spoken by elves. They had up to 2,000 words and their own rules of grammar.



• 'Lord of the Rings' official site

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