12/19/2001 AT 08:36 AM EST
"Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," the first of three highly anticipated films based on J.R.R. Tolkien's books, is coming to theaters globally Wednesday. Executives at New Line Studio shelled out a whopping $300 million to shoot all three films consecutively, a gamble since each film in the series will be released every Christmas for the next three years. If the first one doesn't perform at the box office, there's no going back. The gamble looks like it may pay off, however. So far, critics have mostly showered praise on the saga directed by Peter Jackson. "Entertainment Weekly" called it "a joyfully conceived work of cinema...that rewards both adepts and novices with the highest compliment of all: an intelligence and artistry as a movie independent of blind fidelity to the page." The almost three-hour fantasy will be shown in 10,000 theaters worldwide. The film version stars Elijah Wood, Ian McKellan, Cate Blanchett and Liv Tyler, among 2,400 other actors in the cast, and took more than 18 months to make, according to Reuters. The tale of hobbits will go head to head at the box office with the unstoppable wizard phenomenon "Harry Potter," but there may be room for both at the top. As with "Harry Potter," "Rings" fans will probably return to the theater for multiple viewings.