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To the Crack of Doom!

A "Lord of the Rings" Trilogy Tuesday war journal.

3:50 AM, Dec 19, 2003 • By M.E. RUSSELL
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"Today it is said we live in a secular society in which many people--the best people, the most enlightened people--do not believe in any religion. But I think that you cannot eliminate religion from the psyche of mankind. If you suppress it in one form, it merely re-emerges in another form."

--Michael Crichton, in a speech to the San Francisco Commonwealth Club, September 2003

Tuesday, December 16, 10:30 a.m.

The place: Lloyd Cinemas, a Portland, Oregon multiplex, resplendent in 1980s neon and sparkly granite, looking like what might result if Fritz Lang filmed "Miami Vice."

The event: "Trilogy Tuesday," a back-to-back screening of the "Extended Editions" of the Lord of the Rings movies--followed at 10:00 p.m. by the premiere of The Return of the King. Trilogy Tuesday participants get to see ROTK two hours before everyone else--specifically, before the siege army of fans that's already lined up outside for the midnight show--and we get to watch Cinemascope prints of movies we already own, with beverages, while we wait. All this and theater management is letting us bring our own food. Really.

Disclaimer: The word "geek" is going to get bandied around a lot. It's not meant as an insult. The web helped fans of fantasy realize that their community wasn't nearly as small as pretty girls prone to abusing the word "whatever" would have them believe. These days--at least in the circles I frequent--"geekiness" refers to a certain unapologetic enthusiasm. And believe me, there's a lot of unapologetic enthusiasm on display as I saunter up to the assembled throng. For one thing, I am unapologetically and enthusiastically having my place in line saved by Damon, a 27-year-old friend in the exhibition biz.

Experience leads me to conserve my energy and show up late: Back in 1998--when there were only three "Star Wars" movies and two-and-a-half of them were good--I dragged my then-girlfriend to theatrical screenings of all three "Special Editions" over a nine-hour period. Around the time Mark Hamill started getting schooled by a puppet, movie food and cramped seating left us feeling as though we were shaped like ten-pins; by the time the Ewoks showed up, we were primed for deep-vein thrombosis.

Trilogy Tuesday will take nearly four hours longer than that did.

Damon showed up an hour-and-a-half before me; he had his place in line saved by Hal, the man upon whom we must pin the geek Purple Heart. Hal's been in line since 10:00 p.m. Monday night. Hal, God bless him, wore a "freezer suit" and brought a sleeping bag and a chair. The people ahead of Hal in line--who've been holding the top spot as a team since Sunday, cycling through six-hour watch assignments--gave him free coffee. "The people over there had a big tent, an Xbox and a Playstation," Hal says, pointing behind him.

Trilogy Tuesday was announced a few weeks before tickets went on sale earlier this fall. Tickets ($35 each) sold out quickly; afterwards they fetched hundreds on eBay. In other words, this herd has been thoroughly culled; I'm in the company of the canniest, wealthiest geeks on Earth. A few well-placed bomb blasts at select theaters nationwide would cripple the fantasy-film aftermarket.

11:32 a.m.--I meet the fetching elf teens. Any veteran of the preview-screening subculture--a very real subculture, filled with pear-shaped, bearded cadavers clutching passes scored at record stores, damaged people who've mortgaged their lives in pursuit of bragging rights and a large buttered popcorn--would be surprised by the demographics of the Trilogy-Tuesday and midnight-screening lines.

For one thing, there are women.

Meet fraternal twins Katie and Heidi, both 19; they're dressed as elf maidens, complete with glued-on pointy ear-tips. They're here with 21-year-old Marie, an art student whose more elaborate elf-ears took 30 minutes to apply--and who's also wearing a full-on suit of Third Age Elvish warrior armor that took her two-and-a-half weeks to make using craft foam. She got the instructions from a website; in case you're wondering, it's the same costume worn by Haldir, leader of the elf archers at Helm's Deep.

"I met the actor who played Haldir, and I was wearing this," Marie says with the low-key pride of someone who's actually done the work. "He said, 'That's an awesome costume.'" She dreams of working for WETA Workshop, which made hundreds of suits of armor for LOTR. There are young men in line who would swim through bilge to shake the hand of the last man who kissed her.