NEW YORK – In Middle Earth, there's only one ring to bind them all.
On modern Earth, however, the long-awaited Lord of the Rings movie — which opens in theaters Wednesday morning — is doing anything but unifying the fantasy epic's army of fans.
For the last 50 or so years, followers of the grand adventures of Frodo Baggins, noble Aragorn and the wizard Gandalf have been waiting for a film version of the ultimate fantasy trilogy, one that would be as faithful to J.R.R. Tolkien's words as Samwise Gamgee is to Frodo.
The monumental book had been deemed unfilmable, a critically and publicly panned attempt by animator Ralph Bakshi notwithstanding. Any filmmaker foolish enough would have a task nearly as daunting as a jaunt to Mount Doom.
But director Peter Jackson had just three hours to cram thousands of pages of action, dialogue, character development, and special effects into the film, and to weave in a detailed history and painstakingly recreate Elvish, Dwarven, Hobbitish, and Orcish cultures.
"Once you get past the first 200 or 300 pages, it really takes off," Jackson said in a Fox News Channel interview, in all seriousness.
Any reasonable fan might understand some things will simply have to be left out. But when you're dealing with a film that two generations of Tolkien readers have been waiting their entire lives to see, close enough isn't good enough.
"I believe Tolkien's text is as good a story as has ever been told," Vancouver, B.C., library worker Gordon Watson told The Associated Press. "I agree that it's necessary to remove sections from it, but I don't think it's necessary to change some of the underlying themes."
Exactly what Jackson should have jettisoned, and what he should have held sacred, is up for heated debate.
The two biggest controversies center around the characters of Tom Bombadil and Lady Arwen. In the books, Bombadil played an amusing but small role as an enigmatic provider of shelter. Fans read into his character everything from an important bridge between the childish world of Hobbits and the dangerous world of Men to the possibility the friendly Bombadil was actually the powerful Witch King of Angband in disguise.
Jackson wrote Bombadil out of the movie entirely. And on the official Lord of the Rings movie message board, fans bemoaned the loss of the seemingly minor character.
"I can't believe they left him out for a more developed Arwen," one poster wrote. "Jackson must have only skimmed the books."
As for Arwen, she went from being the novels' seen-but-not-heard love interest of Middle Earth stud Aragorn to a Xena-like warrior princess who, played by Liv Tyler, fights off evil Sauron's most formidable minions.
"I knew they would screw it up somehow," one fan wrote on the message board. "And the Witch King Ringwraith says, 'Give up the halfling, she-elf!' Oh puh-leez! Give me a break!"
Jackson couldn't have asked for a more finicky audience. But while they seem as fierce as an Uruk-Hai war scream, many among the Lord legions are willing to be flexible to see Tolkien's vision translated to the silver screen.
"I'm going to try not to judge it against the books, and have it exist on its own as Jackson's interpretation, which hopefully won't be too different from mine," programmer and longtime Rings fan Nathan Crocker said.
Although Crocker comes from a family of Tolkien fans — his father is refusing to see the movies — the 25-year-old said he's optimistic they won't ruin the experience's sense of wonder.
"They have to have a strong female character in every movie," he said of the beefed-up Arwen. "I just really hope it doesn't descend into a romance movie. The Lord of the Rings is by no means a romance."
In fact, Crocker is among the large minority of fans who say they won't miss Tom Bombadil.
As for the other fans, and those who are unfamiliar with the series but who want the full Rings experience, Jackson had a friendly suggestion:
"If you want to get even more information, you can always go out and buy the books," he said. "It's a great story."