Ring worms, Rejoice! Third time's a charm

Ringworms have reason to rejoice. As expected, since the trilogy was filmed all at once, director Peter Jackson hasn't blown it in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Although it's the longest of the three, it seems shortest because it's better paced. The effects are superior overall (although Sauron's all-seeing eye is a little cheesy); you'll have a hard time telling what's CG and what isn't.

You won't want to see The Return of the King before you've seen the other two parts because there are a lot of characters, and very little time is devoted to their backstory, except the opening "When Smeagol Met Gollum" segment.

Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin), guided by the treacherous SmeaGollum (Andy Serkis), continue their mission to destroy the coveted Ring in the fires of Mount Hood, while everyone else prepares for the final battle at Minas Tirith, the "city of kings" and capital of Gondor. If good triumphs, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) will assume his rightful throne; if not, Middle-earth is in deep...um...well, trouble.

Again Arwen (Liv Tyler) has a small part and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) a minuscule one, but Eowyn (Miranda Otto) becomes a major character, riding with the troops and transporting Merry (Dominic Monaghan), another hobbit. The fourth hobbit, Pippin (Billy Boyd), is on a mission of his own. Even Legolas the elf (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli the dwarf (John Rhys-Davies) make peace before the final battle.

Gandalf (Ian McKellen) has a more prominent role than he did in The Two Towers, making grim pronouncements (he's a better wizard than he is a prophet) every few minutes. McKellen makes the silliest gobbledygook profound. Like James Earl Jones, he sounds so authoritative we don't question anything he says.

There's one battle after another, with men, hobbits, elves, and dwarves facing other men, Orcs, Fell Beasts (winged dragons), and Mumakil (giant elephants– check out Legolas' cool dismount from one). In perhaps the most exciting scene, Gollum leads Frodo into a trap with Shelob, the giant spider that should scare up a few nightmares in viewers. It's the most dastardly trick in Smeagol's catalog.

Thousands of skilled craftspeople have worked at their peak to make the trilogy an instant classic that will replace The Wizard of Oz as the all-time favorite fantasy film for many, the movie they watch every year on Christmas Day (all day, in this case, with maybe a break for dinner).

The Return of the King has too many endings and sometimes borders on self-parody with its solemnity and the profusion of plots and characters, but that's all part of its uniqueness.

It's been presumed from the start that the Academy would wait until the trilogy was complete and award the final installment an Oscar for all three, assuming the quality held up. Well, it hasn't held up: it's improved, so bring on the awards!