NEW YORK One of the stars of the ''Lord of the Rings'' movies is Gollum, an emotionally conflicted goblin but fans were anything but two-minded as they left early screenings of the trilogy's final installment early Wednesday.
''It lived up to all the hype,'' said Columbia University student Alex Davis, 21, who planned to take a final exam five hours after leaving a screening of ''The Return of the King'' in Manhattan that began at 2 a.m.
''This one was better, more faithful to the original story than the first two," Davis said.
Stacy Prassas, a 41-year-old computer programmer who was leaving the same theater as it let out just after 5:30 a.m., said she was coming back later in the morning to see it again.
''No one seeing the movie at 2 a.m. is going to tell that they're not impressed,'' said 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.''
On Tuesday, 99 theaters across the nation showed all three films in the trilogy back-to-back, with ''King'' debuting midnight Wed-nesday. Numerous treats were arranged for the die-hard fans, with some theaters setting up buffets for the between-movie breaks.
The trilogy, directed by Peter Jackson and starring Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen and Sean Astin, began with the ''The Fellowship of the Ring'' in 2001. ''The Two Towers'' followed in 2002.
Moviegoers said Jackson's final stroke was well worth the wait, enrapturing even seat-weary fans, many of whom showed up dressed as their favorite characters.
''The crowd was cheering and clapping at certain points,'' said Joe Kingshaw, who attended a marathon screening in Baltimore. ''The crowd got dead silent during some other really serious moments.''
Fans who endured roughly nine hours in a seat at Loews Theatres Metron in San Francisco emerged into darkness at about 1:30 a.m. local time Wednesday also with high praise for the trilogy's conclusion.
''Overall, I think it was the best of the three,'' said Mitchell Johnson, 25, who got in line for tickets at 2 a.m. Tuesday.
But Johnson, an engineer in San Francisco, said watching all three films at once lessened the pleasure a bit.
''It was good but really long,'' he said.
Chris Baryliek, a 26-year-old who attended the Baltimore screening, conceded that sitting through three movies at three hours apiece would be trying.
''I was kind of hitting the wall during the first presentation,'' he said.
''My upper back was saying 'What are you doing to me?'''
Kingshaw's future plans foretold a likely course for legions of ''Rings'' fans.
''I plan on seeing it again,'' he said.
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