‘Ring’ mastered

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
PG-13 (Intense battle scenes, frightening images)
Starting Wednesday in area theaters
Three reels out of four

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King has moments of absolute brilliance. It has moments that will take one’s breath away. It also has an absolutely riveting performance by one Sean Astin, who most people remember from the Rocky-esque Rudy.

But what the movie also has is a running time of three-and-a-half hours, which will try the patience of anyone not a candidate for sainthood.

The third installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy concerns itself with many things, but chief among them is the final battle for Middle Earth.

Lord Sauron’s forces have laid siege to Minas Tirith, the capital of Gondor, in their efforts to eliminate the race of men. Meanwhile, Frodo and Sam (Astin) continue their arduous journey toward Mordor, where Frodo aims to throw The One Ring into Mount Doom, destroying it forever and thus finally freeing the good citizens of Middle Earth from the evil grip of Sauron.

The journey gets more treacherous for Sam and Frodo as their guide, Gollum, is getting even more unpredictable. What mischief is he up to now?

Of course it’s not just the length of the film that is trying. It is what happens to the viewer during this time. The Return of the King is quite simply an emotionally draining film. What director Peter Jackson has achieved is admirable, but he could have spent more time in the editing room rather than tweaking the special effects.

Of course the special effects are part of the reason the previous two movies in the series captivated audiences around the world. If anything, the effects in The Return of the King blow the first two out of the water because Jackson and his team of wizards (pun intended) have had the benefit of time to improve their creations.

Chief of these marvels is Gollum. As amazing as he was in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, the creature is even more impressive here. He looks less computerized, thus far more real.

The prodigious length notwithstanding, The Return of the King still possesses many towering moments. Since J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of the trilogy, was a professor of medieval history at Oxford, it’s not surprising that the movie evokes the Middle Ages, despite the fact that it is supposed to be a fantasy. And, as in the first two, the location filming is breathtaking.

For many years, the Lord of the Rings trilogy was believed to be impossible to bring to the screen. There was an animated version, but the less said about that, the better.

With the completion of the trilogy, it can be said that Jackson pulled it off, despite some reservations. Just do yourself a favor, please. Make a trip to the restroom before the movie starts. You’ll thank me later.

Freaky Friday
Available Tuesday

This is actually the second remake of the well-regarded 1976 Disney comedy that starred Barbara Harris and a teenage Jodie Foster. The first remake was a made-for-TV movie in 1995, starring Shelley Long and directed by Philadelphia’s own Melanie Mayron (remember Thirtysomething?). No matter, with a healthy box-office gross of just over $100 million and with Jamie Lee Curtis getting her best reviews in years, this version owes no one any apologies. Curtis and Lindsay Lohan play a feuding mother and daughter whose lives are thrown a curve when they inexplicably switch bodies. The two eventually gain an appreciation for each other that did not exist before.