Late in 2001 many Americans were off to see the wizards in two competing fantasy features, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, directed by Chris Columbus and adapted by Steve Moves from the popular novel by J.K. Rowling, followed by The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, directed by Peter Jackson, and adapted by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson from the R.R. Tolkien fantasy. Although Harry Potter was pleasant enough, it was utterly eclipsed by the first part of the Tolkien trilogy (reviewed by Tolkien scholar Jane Chance in the pages that follow).
As Todd McCarthy wrote in Variety (10-16 December 2001), "With the world newly obsessed with the clash of good and evil, the time would seem to be ideal for The Lord of the Rings." Just as the stage for World War II was being set in 1939 when The Wizard of Oz was released, the two wizard films of 2001 were in production before the terrorist attacks on the twin towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., shocked America into accepting what the younger Bush called a "war against terrorism." Harry Potter, like The Wizard of Oz. was pure escapism, but The Lord of the Rings had far more resonance for our times, as Todd McCarthy noted. It was also the better film, far more likely to become for the 21st Century what The Wizard of Oz had been for the 20th Century. Jackson's film garnered an impressive 13 Academy Award nominations, including Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Picture. It won five BAFTA awards in Britain, including Best Director and Best Picture. Jackson was nominated Best Director by the Director's Guild of America. Ian McKellen was nominated as Best Supporting Actor by the Screen Actor's Guild, and Lord of the Rings was proclaimed "Movie of the Year" by the American Film Institute.
So, Harry Potter was left behind, though the film was released early enough to capture a share of the Thanksgiving box office. Harry Potter also had its share of acting talent, most notably Richard Harris as Albus Dumbledore, Alan Rickman as Professor Snape, Robie Coltrane as Hagrid, Julie Walters as Mrs. …