Michael writes:

I thought I’d write a quick note about last night’s ROTK preview in Palm Springs. I had no idea of this beforehand, but we were told that this was the first-ever “public” screening of the film–all the previous screenings had been for invited guests.

A late arrival at the theatre put me very near the end of the line to get in, which resulted in second-row side seats–directly behind the seats reserved for Sir Ian McKellen. He sat there for a few minutes while he was introduced, then took the stage and spoke briefly, relating his experiences to the importance of public funding for the arts (the screening was a benefit for LA’s PBS station) before sitting down for a charming interview which ranged over his entire career. At the end of the interview, he was persuaded to recite a bit of Shakespeare–the “seven ages of man” speech from “As You Like It,” which he performed quite movingly, and dedicated to recently-deceased filmmaker John Schlessinger. Sir Ian looked great, in a very beautiful pair of leather pants. Not surprisingly, he didn’t stay for the screening. I swiped the “reserved” sign from the back of his seat. He was replaced in the front row by some New Line folks, a couple of whom took turns scanning the audience with night-vision binos looking for bootleggers.

I’m disinclined to write a spoiler-filled review of ROTK, especially as I’m still internalizing a lot of it. I will say that I like FOTR much better than TTT–both the books and the films–and had mixed expectations for ROTK. I needn’t have worried: the final film of Peter Jackson’s trilogy is an absolute masterpiece. I have a few quibbles, of course. I have serious reservations about the characterization of Denethor (my similar reservations about Faramir in TTT faded with repeat viewings, so I’ll say no more). I sorely missed Saruman’s balcony scene, which, by now, everyone knows was cut. One potential spoiler: I also missed a cut scene I hadn’t heard about in advance–the parley with the Mouth of Sauron, which seemed to me to be a lost chance for some real character-driven drama.

That said, the dramatic tensions, intercutting between stories, and development of the themes of friendship, sacrifice and loss in ROTK are handled brilliantly. The siege of Minas Tirith and the battle of the Pelennor Fields are terrifying and heart-wrenching. And Frodo, Sam & Gollum’s journey through Mordor is a thing of great emotional complexity. Trust me, you’ll cry.

Visually, how can you lose when you let Jackson’s brilliant team loose on rich environments like Minas Tirith, Mount Doom and the Grey Havens, or on fantastic creatures like fell beasts, war oliphaunts … and Shelob? I’ll only say your jaws will ache from repeated dropping.

I don’t know how I’ll feel next year after I’ve seen the ROTK extended edition a few times and can judge the trilogy properly as a whole. Today, though, to quote Boromir, life is good. I think ROTK is probably the finest of three very fine films.