Return of the King
Although I don't think it will revolutionize the way movies are made, win any non-technical awards, or convert any confirmed genre-haters to a new way of thinking, the third Peter Jackson take on Tolkien seems to be well worth the years spent waiting for it to come together.
I went to the Route 4 theater here yesterday for the 11AM matinee and to see whether there would be any bizarre first-showing fans in the crowd. It turned out that there was really no crowd, just a couple of dozen mostly aging boomer-types like me in the audience, though most definitely fans as evidenced by the applause which greeted the opening and closing titles. I sat behind a rotund geeky looking type who helpfully (to his way of thinking) turned to his silent companion and said "Sméagol" as the opening scene came up. He did pipe down later as the action and the dramatic bits upped the intensity level.
It was better than the second movie, and it might even have edged out the first one in theatrical release (though the extended Lothlorien scenes in the extended edition of Fellowship were not equalled here, perhaps an extended version of Return will turn up some extra footage of that elaborate wedding cake of Minas Tirith). As for the acting, the more farcical elements which occasionally turned off the Truly Orthodox element in me did not stand out as much as in Two Towers, largely because of the gravity of the plotline, and even the repartée between Gimli and Legolas at the big battle was actually tolerable. Because of all the intercutting between plots, no one actor really had an extended time to stretch out his part, unless it was Sean Astin as Sam, who did a very good job in that difficult role I think, deepening the character in just the way Tolkien had intended it. Of course the CGI and miniatures were unparalleled in the way they evoked reality with solid heft to them, and the Chevy Suburban-sized Shelob halfway through the film left little disappointment here. As for the storytelling, the plot spoilers I'd read before the movie left me a little apprehensive about the way the ending was going to come off (no spoilers here), but I think Peter Jackson rounded off his epic in a fairly graceful elegiac way which will warm the hearts of all true fans. (Non-fans, as mentioned before, will just find it sentimental and boring, but the movie really is not for them to first order.) Finally, the "ninth member" of the Fellowship, the settings in New Zealand itself, shone magnificently as in the two prior films — not to be missed is the sequence showing the signal beacons of Gondor skipping their way up to Rohan (gondor.net?)
Adding to the eye-appeal, for guys, anyway, were some very fetching scenes with Liv Tyler and Cate Blanchett doing their elven thing. Those who appreciate Hugo Weaving and Orlando Bloom won't go away unhappy either (the latter topping his "horse-trick" scene in Two Towers with an elaborate Mumakil-scampering trick sequence which I do want to see again myself).
Was it really 200 minutes long? I left the theater a little dazed and hungry, but not as exhausted as I thought I'd be. Bring on the extra scenes in the DVD edition, I say.