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Oscar talk for Return of the King
December 2, 2003
Director Peter Jackson's third and final film in The Lord of the Rings series has Oscar "written all over it", according to the first people to see it at its world premiere in his hometown of Wellington.

And Jackson, who also saw The Return of the King for the first time at the premiere, having worked on it until a week ago, was pretty pleased himself.

"I was very moved actually to see the response from the audience to the movie combined with the movie itself," he told Radio New Zealand today as stars prepared to leave for Los Angeles and the American premiere prior to its worldwide release on December 18.

"It was all very emotional," Jackson said - an opinion shared by New Zealand's chief censor, Bill Hastings, who confessed: "I was in tears for the last hour."

People among the 2,000 first-nighters at yesterday's premiere were united in their praise for Jackson's film, which they dubbed even better than the first two in the series of JRR Tolkien's cult fantasy classic, The Fellowship of the Ringand The Two Towers.

All agreed that the epic, which runs for 202 minutes, was powerful and emotional and one said: "I was totally mesmerised."

Alex Funcke, Jackson's director of photography and visual effects, told Wellington's Dominion Post: "It is a masterful piece of story- telling."

Stars and thousands of guests attended a host of post-premiere parties in Wellington, the main location and home base for the trilogy, which was shot against the backdrop of New Zealand's mountains and lakes.

The premiere followed an ecstatic welcome for Jackson and the stars from a crowd put at 125,000 who lined 2.5km of city streets to see them pass in a colourful parade from a reception at the NZ parliament to the Embassy Theatre for the first screening.

Stars present included Sir Ian McKellen (the wizard Gandalf), Liv Tyler (Arwen), Elijah Wood (Frodo), Orlando Bloom (Legolas), Sean Astin (Sam), Billy Boyd (Pippin) and Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn).

International critics who previewed The Return of the King have agreed not to publish their reviews for another week to maintain the suspense at American and European premieres.

But first-nighters revealed some surprises.

"I had to close my eyes a few times, once when Frodo lost a finger," said Carla van Zon, director of next year's NZ International Festival of the Arts.

And the Dominion Post said the computer-generated Shelob the spider, "full of stealth and squelching sounds, is the scariest creature in the entire film trilogy".

It added: "Several in a media audience shuffled uncomfortably and held their hands to their faces as it battled Frodo and Sam."

And Jackson told the New Zealand Herald: "There were a few gasps of horror during the Shelob scene and they laughed in the right places and there were a lot of sniffles where I hoped there would be."

The Dominion Post also said: "Huge pounding elephant creatures called Oliphaunts in the Battle of Pelennor Fields that make the battle for Helm's Deep in The Two Towers seem like a minor skirmish.

"For once, the cliche was true - people really were on the edge of their seats."

It said the deformed Orc commander Gothmog "makes the Elephant Man look like Brad Pitt and tipped: "Expect another cult following."

The paper said other highlights were "The sea of lava and giant explosions on Mt Doom upping the ante on the expected climax" and "Hordes of armour-covered cave trolls pummel soldiers in the battle for Minas Tirith."
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