Just got back from the 9:50AM showing of Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. I decided to use a vacation day just to see it!
In a word: amazing. Perhaps the best film about friendship ever made. Three and half hours and it felt like 15 minutes. Everything about the film is perfect, or close to perfect: the characters, the acting, the special effects, the action, the pacing. If it doesn’t win Best Picture it will be the greatest crime since Dances With Wolves beat out Goodfellas.
However, you do need to see the first two films at least once, perhaps twice, in order to really be able to follow the nuances of the characters and their interpersonal relationships.
Elvis Mitchell has a great review in the Times, but I would NOT read it until after you see the movie as it gives away too much.
Anyway, you won’t be disappointed by this film. Just go see it.