Well, here I go again. I'm sure "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" will be a smash hit, but as with the trilogy's earlier installments, I can't work up much enthusiasm for it.
I'm not pleased to say this, if only because my cool response to "The Fellowship of the Ring" brought more angry mail - really, really angry - than anything else I've written in decades as a movie reviewer.
But hey, folks, I've read the J.R.R. Tolkien novels more than once, and my quarrel isn't with his grand mythic vision. It's with Peter Jackson's often uninspired translation of his story into cinematic terms.
This said, I'm happy to acknowledge that "The Return of the King" is one of the rare instances when the last chapter of a trilogy is better than its predecessors. This isn't "Return of the Jedi" or "The Godfather Part III" by a long shot.
Credit goes mostly to Gollum, the character who made "The Two Towers" a great improvement over the first installment, and to the most exciting special effects of the series. The final battle is especially imaginative: Uncanny beasts vie for our attention with the evil eye of Sauron, while Frodo and Sam struggle toward Mount Doom to annihilate the One Ring in the fires where it was forged.
If only the whole picture were so good. But it can't sustain such power for a whopping 201 minutes, and has there ever been a movie with more endings?
Every time you think the final credits are about to roll, another scene lurches in, adding another chance to look at your watch in awe and wonderment at how much sheer footage the film has. How long will the "extended" version be when it arrives in a few months - as lengthy as the history of Middle Earth itself?
Add a lot of dull acting - except Sir Ian McKellen and Andy Serkis - and you have an uneven movie with yawns aplenty. So there's one critic's opinion, which won't make a bit of difference to zillions of LOTR fans.
• Rated PG-13; contains fantasy violence.