The King Returns

The movie event of the year kicks off today with the release of the third and final chapter in New Line’s big-screen adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Having already won the New York Critics Circle award for Best Picture, Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King promises to give fans a triumphant return to the world of Middle-earth and a feast of digital animation magic courtesy of the multi-award-winning artists at Weta.

This leg of the epic journey follows the disbanded Fellowship of the Ring as they battle the evil forces of Sauron and journey to destroy the one ring that can ensure the rein of darkness. Expected to be the highest-grossing installment in the series, Return of the King is also the longest at just over 200 minutes. But even if you’re not a big fan of the literary classics, the onslaught of sweeping battle sequences and nasty digital monsters should keep you on the edge of your seat most of that time.

Fans camped out all day to be first in line for 12:00 am shows at local theaters. There were even radio reports of scalpers selling tickets for as much as $600 on Ebay. Some theaters, like the Arclight in Hollywood, are offering the complete trilogy for $20 a seat.

The first film in the series was made for $93 million and went on to earn more than $313 million domestically in 2001. The Two Towers followed in 2002, raking in nearly $340 million stateside alone. Return of the King should dwarf its predecessors, dominating the boxoffice for weeks to come as would-be competitors steer clear of its warpath. Only Universal’s live-action Peter Pan, which opens Christmas day, stands a chance of pulling in a tidy profit by cornering the kid market. Action maestro John Woo’s Philip K. Dick adaptation Paycheck, starring Ben Affleck and Uma Thurman, also opens Dec. 25, but is not expected to fare as well in the shadow of Jackson’s juggernaut.

Go behind the scenes with a look at The Return of the King’s astounding visual effects with animation supervisor Randall William Cook in the December issue of Animation Magazine.