Some hobbits are hard to break

December 17, 2003|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

They cheered mightily when Legolas first appeared, hissed whenever Wormtongue showed up on-screen and applauded lustily as the Fellowship persevered in its quest to rid the world of evil.

But most of all the 900-plus Lord of the Rings devotees who showed up at the Senator Theatre yesterday reveled in each other's company, overjoyed not so much at the chance to see all three installments of director Peter Jackson's trilogy back-to-back-to-back up on the big screen (though that was no small consideration), but for the chance to see them in a theater packed with like-minded devotees of J.R.R. Tolkien's tale of Middle Earth.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to immerse yourself in it entirely for a whole day," said Chris Konuves, a 34-year-old computer scientist who took the day off to come down to Baltimore from his home in New Jersey.

Trilogy Tuesday, celebrated yesterday at the Senator and about 100 other theaters throughout the country, offered fans the chance to see the extended director's cuts of the first two films in the trilogy, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, as well as be among the first to see the long-awaited final chapter, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. (The film, which chronicles the ultimate fate of both the One Ring and the Fellowship charged with destroying it, opens nationwide today.)

Fans, some of whom had paid more than $200 to scalpers for tickets (which originally sold for $35) started lining up outside the theater Monday. By 7 yesterday morning, the line had already begun stretching around the building, a full five hours before the first film was scheduled to start. The theater finally swung open its doors a little before 11 a.m., leaving a stream of Middle Earth fanatics scrambling for the best seats.

Among the happiest was 14-year-old Hannah Catzen, who started the day thinking she was going to lose out on the chance to hobnob with her fellow hobbitphiles. But then her mother called with the good news: She was outside the theater and a nice man (nice being a totally inadequate word) had an extra ticket he was looking to give away. Which explains why there was one fewer student attending class at the Baltimore School for the Arts today.

"I absolutely went crazy," said Hannah, who came to the Senator dressed as an Elven maiden, in a long blue dress and wearing a laurel wreath in her hair.

"I am an absolute Lord of the Rings dork," Hannah admitted, making not even a token effort to hide her enthusiasm. "I've read all of the books. I speak Elvish now. I'd have given up anything in the world to be here. I mean, this is the day before The Return of the King opens, and I'm getting to see it. ... How could it get any better than that?"

And it wasn't only the young, or the costumed, who showed up determined to have a good time, even before the show started. For many, waiting in line, meeting new friends and discussing the finer points of Middle Earth lore was half the fun.

"We stood for an hour out in the cold, with some of the same people we stood in line with when we bought the tickets, and it was great," said Gabrielle Oldham, a hospice worker of indeterminate age ("Go ahead, make something up," she urged).

Like most of the people there, Oldham already had seen the first two films several times, had read the books over and over again ("For the first time in the seventh grade," she said, declining to say just when that was). She's hooked on all things Middle Earthian, and is proud to say so.

"I had never gone geeky on anything in my entire life," she said with a shake of the head, "but I finally said to myself, `Doggone it, I'm not going to sneak around anymore. I'm coming out of the closet."

Kevin Hollenbeck, a computer technician from D.C., was even more a fan of the say-it-loud-and-say-it-proud school. Not only did he show up, not only did he show up in costume, but he showed up in possibly the day's most unique outfit.

Dressed head-to-toe in a blue body suit covered with yellow dots, Hollenbeck came as "Motion Capture Guy." For the uninitiated, here's the backstory: Gollum, one of the movies' key characters, is played by an actor (Andy Serkis) whose body movements are fed into a computer, which then translates them into the bug-eyed character seen on-screen. While acting, Serkis wore a form-fitting body suit with computer sensors attached all over, so his motions could be captured and fed into the computer.

Yesterday at the Senator, there were plenty of hobbits, lots of Elven maidens, a few wizards and plenty of nondescript Middle Earthers. There was only one Motion Capture Guy.

"Yeah, everybody else is wearing costumes that have more on-screen time," Hollenbeck admitted. "But that's OK."

While Hollenbeck is certainly a fan of the movies, he's definitely a fan of the way Gollum has been brought to the screen. "It would have been difficult enough for a human actor to pull this off," he said. "But for a computer-generated character to pull it off, I think that's terrific."

Spoken like a computer technician with his heart firmly planted in an age that passed eons ago.

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