''Lord of the Rings'': A sneak peek at the final film. ''Return of the King'' promises the biggest battle scene in movie history -- among other delights

By Liane Bonin
Updated August 27, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT

”The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” will have an extended four-disc DVD in stores Nov. 18, but diehard fans still have reason to snap up the just-arrived, two-disc version of the film. An enticing 10-minute preview of ”The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” is part of the package, and that juicy snippet should soothe Tolkien junkies who are finding it hard to wait until December for the final part of the trilogy to hit theaters. Here’s what we learned:

FIGHT CLUB When director Peter Jackson says ”Helm’s Deep was just a skirmish” to describe ”Two Towers”’ eye-popping final battle, he isn’t kidding. While the Uruk-hai, who fought our heroes in the previous film’s showdown, numbered 10,000, the bad guys will top a whopping 200,000 in a pivotal scene of ”Return.” And though much of what you see will be computer generated, director Jackson made sure he had plenty of the real thing to work with — more than 250 horses were gathered for the filming. A look at the elaborate computer mapping for the big throwdown suggests that this should be the most massive battle we’ve seen on the big screen. Ever.

GOLDEN REIGN Not only will Aragorn rise to the challenge of ruling, actor Viggo Mortensen might finally get his chance for some gold of his own. Aragorn’s ascension to center stage in this film (he is the returning ”King,” after all) and his internal and external struggles have ”Oscar nod” written all over them. Not only must he face off with the openly hostile Steward of Gondor, Denethor (a scenery-chewing John Noble), but he must face the Paths of the Dead (which promise to be even scarier than Shelob, the giant spider). Plus, the preview reveals that the muddy, dirty Strider actually cleans up pretty nice when he pulls back his hair and puts on some fresh clothes. Who knew?

IN TWO DEEP If Minas Tirith looks familiar in ”Return,” it should. Jackson simply tore down the Helm’s Deep set and built Tirith in the same quarry. But Tirith will be a much more evolved and detailed city, with a miniature version built on a 1-to-72 scale for sweeping overhead shots.

NOT SO GONDORABLE If you thought Frodo was looking a little worse for wear in ”Two Towers,” prepare for despair. ”You watch the complete deterioration of Frodo to the point where he ceases to be Frodo anymore,” explains actor Elijah Wood. In other words, if you’re wondering how Gollum looked on the way to becoming Gollum, you’re about to find out.