The epic journey through Middle-earth ends in a blaze of confrontations and conflagrations as Frodo (Elijah Wood) finally reaches Mordor, desolate home of the all-seeing epitome of evil, Sauron. As the hobbit's will to destroy the Ring wavers, new heroes emerge... and old villains await. Peter Jackson's monumental adaptation of JRR Tolkien's epic fantasy comes to an Oscar-winning end, leaving a cinematic legacy that few - maybe none - shall pass.
In the final instalment, Elijah Wood's plucky ring-bearing Hobbit, his loyal pal Sam (the excellent Sean Astin) and the duplicitous Gollum (Andy Serkis) are nearing their awesome goal.
However, centre stage is Viggo Mortensen's Aragorn, who - faced with the prospect of Sauron's hordes over-running Gondor - must decide whether to take his place as ruler of the kingdom.
Wise wizard Gandalf (McKellen) handles the tricky negotiations as he tries to persuade Gondor's steward Denethor (John Noble) to step down while talking Bernard Hill's Rohan leader, Theoden, into joining the fray.
All the time, the most formidable Orc army yet - augmented by vicious flying vipers and thundering siege machines - is massing on the plains below Gondor.
This is the crowning glory - a cinematic feat that satisfies at every level.
Cower as a trusting Frodo is tempted into the labyrinthine lair of monster-spider Shelob with only the protection of what looks like a bottle of Calvin Klein cologne.
Duck under the seats as the mighty cavalry of Rohan bone-crunchingly thunder into Orc ranks bristling with lances, axes and spikes.
Cheer as Legolas (Orlando Bloom) swings up into the rigging of mammoth-like beasts and does for the baddies to a rousing cheer, the like of which has not been heard since children's Saturday matinees.
Hide as a spectral army of the dead is called to arms and chillingly sweeps into battle.
And blub as the four plucky pals - Frodo, Sam, Pippin and Merry - show what the true meaning of friendship is.
What makes The Lord Of The Rings such satisfying and enthralling cinema - not to mention the benchmark for action films?
Well, Jackson has performed a stupendous feat in gutting JRR Tolkien's story - once the preserve of Dungeons & Dragons-obsessed polytechnic students - and presenting it in machine-tooled form.
Without losing the emotional thrust and dramatic balance, the 1,000 pages of dense, often hippy-drippy prose has been reduced to sleekly engineered proportions.
The result is the annual stirring of dizzy anticipation in a global legion of cinema-goers who wouldn't know their Orc from their elbow.
Obviously, the special effects from Sauron's marauding swarms to the Andes-on-acid landscape play their part, but there is also a strong human dimension.
Bestowing old-fashioned virtues such as loyalty and trust on the Fellowship and the evils of greed and deceit on the forces of Mordor, the story has a depth undreamed of in other blockbusters.
Jackson's spare use of dialogue also lends proceedings an aura of mystery - unlike The Matrix, where everything felt the need to be explained with the thoroughness of A-level cramming notes.
And let's not forget that LOTR started out as a trilogy and didn't have the sequels bolted on afterwards at the whim of the studio accounts department.
Just 13 months in Tolkien time but seven years in the making, LOTR has racked up a bum-aching nine hours and 20 minutes to tell its story.
But what a story. The action adventure against which all others will be measured.