Return of the 'Rings'

— Frodo and friends are feeling sentimental as the release of "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" approaches.

"This is our favorite of the three," said Elijah Wood, who plays the hobbit Frodo in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. "There's a special significance concerning this movie, as well as the fact that it's the last. It's the end of the journey and the end of the story."

The cast has a personal stake in the movie because it took so much time to produce.

"This has taken our lives up really for three or four or five years almost," said John Rhys-Davies, who plays bellicose dwarf Gimli. "Marriages were made and divorces happened in the time it has taken to do this film."

"The Return of the King," which opens in theaters Wednesday, was shot simultaneously with "The Fellowship of the Ring" and "The Two Towers." When cast members arrived in New Zealand to start filming in October 1999, director Peter Jackson and the crew had been working on the adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's tale for three years already.

"The opportunity to work on these movies was something that I knew was once in a lifetime, and I never really looked back," Wood told reporters as he and his colleagues convened at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons to promote "The Return of the King."

"The fact that I haven't really been able to work on other films as much hasn't really bothered me. It's all worth it to be a part of something that you believe in as much as this."

As with "The Two Towers," "The Return of the King" follows multiple story lines and characters, including the action-packed adventures of Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) in the title role. But everything else in Middle-Earth counts for naught if Frodo, Sam (Sean Astin) and Gollum (voice of Andy Serkis) don't make it to Mordor to destroy the One Ring.

"The extraordinary success of Peter's vision is that he has tried to be faithful to the book, and that gives you structurally such nightmare problems," Rhys-Davies said. "In the end, you have to follow the line of the Ring, and what is not essential to the line of the Ring is in a way discarded."

Astin understands why everything they shoot doesn't end up on screen.

"There's a 25-hour version of the trilogy somewhere that's got stuff that ... we're proud of and that fans would love but that in the reasonable world of bringing a film to the marketplace you can't have," Astin said. "I'm not kidding. We're in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the most film ever run through the camera in the history of cinema."

The characters brought to the big screen have made a lasting impact.

"It's wonderful for the first time in my life to have landed myself in a classic movie," Sir Ian McKellen said. "I will always be Gandalf to lots of people. ... I don't mind that at all. I'd much rather be famous as a character than as me."

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