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Swan song for Rings saga
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Rossiter Drake*

Mortensen (left) and McKellen team up for one last adventure.

Finale to receive welcome fit for a King
(Courtesy of The Oakland Tribune, 12.12.03)

The wait is over for Lord of the Rings fans who have been eagerly anticipating the final installment of director Peter Jackson's epic film trilogy.

The Return of the King is at hand, and those familiar with J.R.R. Tolkien's timeless tale of wizened wizards, wide-eyed hobbits and venomous villains are already preparing to celebrate the movies Dec. 17 release date -- and not just in Wellington, New Zealand, where thousands of ecstatic onlookers joined Jackson and stars Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Liv Tyler and Sir Ian McKellen for the films Dec. 1 world premiere.

At the Science Museum in London this past September, an exhibition of hand-crafted Elvish weapons and Ringwraith armor based on Jackson's films sold 20,000 tickets in its first week alone, outstripping the combined sales for similar displays inspired by Star Trek and her majestys favorite secret agent, James Bond. Next week, Toronto will host the Gathering of the Fellowship, a three-day Tolkien convention featuring workshops, art galleries, movie screenings and a masquerade ball.

In New York, tickets for New Line Cinemas Trilogy Tuesday -- a Dec. 16 marathon screening of Return of the King preceded by expanded versions of The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers -- are reportedly fetching up to $350 for scalpers shrewd enough to have snatched up tickets at $30 apiece when they went on sale Oct. 9. Marathoners there and across the nation are expected to arrive at theaters as early as 7 a.m. to stake out the best seats. As in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, local screenings of the complete trilogy, scheduled at the Century 20 Oakridge in San Jose and the Loews Metreon in San Francisco, are sold out.

Not that Rings fever is anything new. In 1998, New Line staked its financial future on a $300 million bet that J.R.R. Tolkien's labyrinthine fable could be adapted successfully to the big screen by Jackson, best known until then for tasteless raunch-fests as Meet the Feebles and Dead-Alive. Since then, the New Zealand-born director's first two efforts have taken in a combined $1.8 billion at the box office, with Two Towers outgrossing The Fellowship by $60 million.

With the trilogy gaining momentum -- not to mention millions of fans who may never have heard of Tolkien -- studio executives are predicting a $1.3 billion take for Return of the King. And if the excitement around the Bay Area is any indication, the New Line brass might just be spending their Christmas vacations playing king-of-the-hill on a mountain of cash.

"Excited? Who isnt excited?" asks Stephanie Kostyal, 26, of Oakland, a computer technician. "The movies have been fantastic, and mostly faithful to the books. I might take the day off to see Return of the King. The only reason I havent purchased my tickets yet is because Im waiting for more theaters to put them up for sale online."

Megan Doss, 23, of San Francisco, who is planning to attend a special midnight showing of the film at the AMC Theatres 1000 on the day of its release, concurs.

"I think the previous installments have been amazing," she says. "The magic and fantasy of the books is beautifully captured. I will be going to the very first showing at midnight when it opens, just like I did with the others. It makes it more exiting that way, and it just seems appropriate to watch movies like these at midnight."

Hardcore Tolkien fans couldnt agree more. Administrators at TheOneRing.net, a popular Internet destination for followers of the celebrated professor of Old English at Oxford, are organizing waiting-on-line parties around the country to pass the time until the King finally returns. In San Francisco, Frodo fanatics will gather at midnight on Dec. 17, in costume, at the historic Coronet Theater for the movie's regional debut. (So far, the party is 68 strong; those interested in joining in should contact Harlock -- aka Robert Lee -- at harlock415@earthlink.net.)

Not surprisingly, the most ardent Tolkienites, while cautiously anticipating the arrival of Jacksons King, will inevitably sweat the esoteric details.

"I am a Tolkien fanatic, have been since my early teens. I'm also British," says Jeremy Evnine, 52, of Oakland. "The main characters (in the movies) are all excellent. However, what's with Pippin's Scottish accent? That makes no sense to a Brit.

"I dont like the introduced conflicted father-daughter dynamic between Elrond and Arwen, either. Not really Elvish -- but maybe needed for the human interest angle? And why the attack on the convoy heading for Helm's Deep? Why did Aragorn have to go over the cliff? What was that all about?"

While purists might fault the movies for their slight departures from the novels, Jackson's vision has plenty of appeal for the uninitiated. Sales of Tolkien's books have enjoyed a healthy boost in recent weeks, both at the Other Change of Hobbit bookstore in Berkeley and at major retailers across the nation. Carolyn Brown, corporate communications director for Barnes & Noble, reports that sales of Return of the King have surged during the last month, as have sales of the complete trilogy and DVDs of The Fellowship and Two Towers.

Meanwhile, The Hobbit -- arguably Tolkien's most famous work -- is also flying off the shelves, and New Line executive producer Mark Ordesky has already announced tentative plans for a Hobbit film, with Jackson "keen" to direct.

Still, not everyone waiting for the King is of a literary bent. Some people just want to be entertained.

"I read The Hobbit and the trilogy in high school," says Gabriel Avila, 26, of Whittier. I'll probably peep the new flick the weekend it comes out -- definitely not Friday, but fo' sho' by Monday.

"The thing I like about the series is that its an amalgam of computer graphics and live action, a mix of old and new schools. You know, I was feeling The Matrix, but that was all actors in front of blue screens. The Matrix is a made-up computer-nerd fantasy, and Lord of the Rings is more a retelling of an old-school medieval fantasy. To me, that's worth $10, son." -- Rossiter Drake



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