Middle Earth, front and center

Trilogy Tuesday getting diehard fans pumped up

December 16, 2003|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Some people can't wait to see The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, and have had their tickets in hand for weeks.

Some people can't wait to experience The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, and have their costumes ready, their Internet chat rooms primed, their Elfin dialects perfected.

Then there's Michael Brown. He's the guy who pitched a tent outside the Senator Theatre at 11:30 a.m. yesterday, to ensure he's first in line for today's long-awaited Trilogy Tuesday, a first-in-a-lifetime chance to see all three chapters of Peter Jackson's Rings trilogy on the big screen back-to-back-to-back (the first two in extended director's cuts, no less).

Of such devotion are legends made and songs written; were this Middle Earth, surely everyone from the elflord Elrond to the lowly Gollum would know well of Brown's devotion.

Ah, but of what matter is fame, anyway? Young Michael cares little about lore and his place therein. In fact, the only place he's worried about is the one he'll occupy in line today. His devotion ensures that he shall be first, with dibs on the best seats in the house, and that's reward enough for him.

"Every car that has passed has looked at me funny," Brown, 22, says via cell phone from his temporary York Road lair. "But it's worth it, absolutely."

Ah, but let's not praise Brown too highly. True, his devotion may seem more dramatic than most, but beginning today and for the next few days, as The Return of the King begins unspooling in moviehouses throughout the country, he'll have plenty of company. Fans of this series are a dedicated lot.

Certainly, the first two chapters of the Rings trilogy kept the crowds happy; together, they've brought in some $1.8 billion at the box office, not to mention six Oscars and a host of other accolades. And it's not just Trilogy Tuesday that is getting people excited - Fandango, an online ticket service for movies, reports that 80 percent of its business last week was people buying Return of the King tickets (The Last Samurai was second, accounting for 4 percent). All this for a film that won't open officially until tomorrow.

But those who will be converging on the Senator today are among the most dedicated of all. Most spent $35 for tickets to the all-day affair (the first film, The Fellowship of the Ring, will begin at noon, while the last strains of the closing music for The Return of the King won't be heard until 1:30 a.m.), but many had to pay far more. The 900 or so tickets put on sale Nov. 10 were gone within hours, leaving many out-of-luck fans at the mercy of ticket scalpers.

Not that they're complaining.

Take Rachel Crowder, a 22-year-old Hopkins undergraduate from California. She paid $150 in an eBay auction for her ticket to Trilogy Tuesday - an act she laughingly admits was "crazy," but one for which she has no intention of apologizing.

"I thought it would just be really exciting to see all three of them someday," says Crowder, who took time out yesterday afternoon from studying for her last midyear final exam to try and explain her devotion to all things Middle Earthian.

"I think the stories are so magical, and they're a reflection on us as a society," she says, sounding not crazed at all. "They're powerful stories of friendship, of good overcoming evil. And they're just spectacular films.

"Plus, I just wanted to see them at the Senator. I just knew that would be great."

Such words, of course, are music to the ears of Tom Kiefaber, the Senator's owner. As yet another feather in his theater's cap, his was one of just 100 theaters nationwide to be chosen as host for a Trilogy Tuesday event.

He loves the diehards. Even those who couldn't land a ticket for today (plenty of tickets remain for the remainder of Return of the King's run at the Senator).

"For these premiere events, there is a concentration of people, a level of fanaticism - and I say this with a level of affection - about these fans for these big events that is mirrored in the fanatical approach we take in operating this theater. The object of the fanaticism may be somewhat different, but there is ... a camaraderie that very quickly develops, and it's really a wonderful thing."

Trilogy devotees will be rewarded today beyond simply just seeing the movies. Nearby restaurants are offering discounts for lunch (no small consideration when you'll be spending 13 hours in a theater that doesn't serve hot dogs). Representatives from Medieval Times, the combination restaurant and renaissance festival at Arundel Mills, will be on hand this morning to add an appropriately fantastic flavor to events. And WWMX-FM's Kenny Campbell (of JoJo and Kenny fame) will be on hand to play music, offer trivia-contest prizes and serve coffee and doughnuts to all those chilled Middle-Earthers waiting in line outside the theater.

"We're going to try and keep the crowd in line," laughs Dan Burgess, the station's promotions director.

One person they won't have to worry about is Michael Brown; he's here to see the movies, not carouse. And he arrived on the theater's sidewalk well-armed for his quest.

"I've got a cell phone, two blankets, a sleeping bag good to 20 degrees, a thermal blanket, a backpack with a change of clothes, Power bars and a bottle of water," Brown says. "I'm ready."

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