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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 December, 2003, 15:49 GMT
Fans hail final Lord of the Rings
Fans in LA take their seats before a Ringathon showing the full trilogy
Fans in LA took their seats before a "Ringathon" showing the full trilogy
Film fans who have just seen the final instalment of The Lord of the Rings trilogy have been heaping praise on the much-anticipated movie.

The Return of the King, based on JRR Tolkien's fantasy novel, opened in the US, UK and Europe on Wednesday.

"It lived up to all the hype," said Columbia University student Alex Davis.

Die-hard followers in 100 US cities, many dressed as characters from the movies, camped out for "Ringathons" showing all three films back-to-back.

Stacy Prassas, a 41-year-old computer programmer, was a cinema-goer who spent the night watching all three movies in Manhattan.

Orc archer
The film features the biggest battle scenes ever seen on screen
"No-one seeing the movie at 2am is going to say that they're not impressed," said Ms Prassas.

"I thought it covered all the points in the book. ... The truth of the matter is, it's a terrific film. I was very excited."

Even before its release, it won praise from two US critic bodies, traditionally seen as a pointer to major awards such as the Oscars and the Golden Globes.

On Monday, it was named best film of the year by the New York Film Critics Circle, made up of movie critics from the US city's newspapers and magazines.

And it was listed in the American Film's Institute's (AFI) top 10 films of the year, alongside the likes of Lost in Translation and The Last Samurai.

I have waited for three years to see it
Amy-Joy Wigman, 21

Movie executives are hoping its global box office takings will surpass the $1bn (£571m) mark - which would make it the most successful film of the trilogy.

One fan, Daisy Martinez, 45, who wore a green hooded cloak for a screening in New York, said the trilogy "speaks to the times, it speaks to the inner child inside everybody".

"The story that it tells is that the littlest person can make a huge difference in the world, and I just feel that with the stuff that's going on in the world today, we need to believe that," she said.

British fans interviewed by BBC News Online at a cinema in London's Shepherd's Bush were also ecstatic about the final film.

"It was fantastic," said Russell Cory of Northampton. "It was definitely the best of the three, and it's the best film of the year."

"We were prepared for this day a couple of months ago," said his friends James Denzil Bartholomew, from Chiswick. "There's no comparison with any other film. It's in a genre of its own," he said.

It was much better than the other two
Isaac Spurway-Thorp, 11(second right)

Joy-Amy Wigman, 21, from Hounslow, said The Return of the King was "absolutely brilliant".

She said "I have waited for three years to see it. It's not just about the battle scenes, it's still got the personal moments. You don't miss all the character's relationships.

"I was so looking forward to seeing what happened with Sam... his relationship with Frodo is the main thing in the film."

Eleven-year-old Isaac Spurway-Thorp, from London "really liked it".

She said: "It was much better than the other two. But one thing they needed was a bit more from the end of the books."

Elijah Wood as Frodo
The film stars Elijah Wood as heroic hobbit Frodo Baggins
The final of director Peter Jackson's epic £200m trilogy has had premières all over the world to publicise the release.

Jackson and the cast, including Sir Ian McKellen and Viggo Mortensen, have travelled the globe promoting the film.

More than 100,000 people attended the world première on 1 December in Wellington, New Zealand, the home of the director and the base for the 13-month shoot for all three films. The film is released there on Thursday.

Last week a reportedly record crowd packed London's Leicester Square to cheer the stars of the film at its UK première.

The first two films, The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, have so far made almost $1.8bn (£1bn) around the world.

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