The screenplay, direction and acting was superb, as expected. This is what Vietnam must've been like. This is not some strange "artsy idea" of war, it was real. Real people fighting for their own survival and that of their friends.
And not just the American viewpoint. The North Vietnamese were given a realistic and respectful portrayal.
Another excellent job of acting by Mel Gibson. Sam Elliot, Barry Pepper and Madeline Stowe shined as well in their roles.
After not even being nominated for best actor for Braveheart (Which I will NEVER understand) and with 'We Were Soldiers' and 'Signs' both coming out this year, Mel Gibson has yet two more chances of being ignored by the Academy. When will they come to their senses and acknowledge his acting skills?
This is the most accurate film of modern warfare since 'Saving Private Ryan', and is the DEFINITIVE Vietnam war movie.
Did they follow the book to a tee (most excellently conceived story of all time, thanx Professor Tolkien...)? No, of course they didn't. They couldn't. It would have taken nine hours to fit it all in, for the Fellowship installment only. The entire Lord of the Rings would have to be at least 27 - 30 hours in all.
Were the special effects the best of all time? Perhaps. They were certainly better than those done in the last installment of the famous "Space" franchise.
The ensemble cast was perfect. The acting was superb.
The direction was absolutely perfect. For example, I'll try not to give anything away to those who don't know the story (are there really people who haven't read the books? What planet are they from?), Peter Jackson is one of very few directors, who even when practically EVERYONE knows the outcome to a particular sequence, can get the tears to well up in the eyes of the most stout emotion-quellers.
Enough said. This is the reason I go to the movies. This is what I have waited for all these years. Oscars will go to this movie, and rightfully so. Peter Jackson certainly deserves one. If he doesn't get one, he was robbed. Sir Ian McKellen should receive one as well.