Rings fans Ready for King's Return

December 18, 2003 12:00 am


Of the Baker City Herald

Kyle McCoy is 8, and excited, and cold.

Mostly he's excited.

John Aguirre is 10 years older than Kyle.

John is excited, too.

And cold.

Colder, probably, than Kyle.

Aguirre is clad in a pair of nylon shorts, a garment with all the insulating capacity of yesterday's newspaper.

Kyle, meanwhile, in deference to the 28-degree evening, has snugged the hood of his sweatshirt over his ears.

Kyle is excited because he doesn't know what he will see after he steps inside the Eltrym Historic Theatre and the lights fade.

John is excited because he does know.

He knows this story's every twist and turn, in fact — who lives and who dies, who succeeds and who fails.

And yet here he shivers, waiting in line beneath the Eltrym's buzzing neon marquee until the doors open and he can walk inside, settle into a warm padded chair, and watch as the tale is told.

An epic tale it is — J.R.R. Tolkien's beloved fictional trilogy, "The Lord of the Rings," freed from the narrow black-and-white confines of the novels that John and millions of others have read, and launched onto the multicolored, eye-stretching sprawl of the big screen.

Tonight, John needn't imagine the anguished roar of an arrow-pierced Orc.

That brutal sound will blare from stereo speakers and rattle his eardrums.

The event that brought John and Kyle and about 175 others out into this chilly Wednesday evening is the premiere of the last chapter in Tolkien's fable: "The Return of the King."

Since 2001, standing in line to ensure a seat at a Rings premiere has come to rival shopping as a pre-Christmas tradition.

Two years ago, almost to the day, the trilogy's opening stanza, "The Fellowship of the Ring," debuted.

And last December director Peter Jackson, who made all three movies, unveiled the middle story, "The Two Towers."

John, who's a senior at Baker High School, said he read the entire trilogy when he was in elementary school, years before Jackson filmed the first scene.

But John contends that his knowing the plot before he stepped into the theater did not steal even a smidgen of the excitement from the previous two films.

"It's better, I think, to have read the books already," John said as he relaxed inside the Eltrym about an hour before the curtain opened. "You know what's going to come so you're anticipating it. And you can't wait to see it."

Jackson, of course, was dealt the same dilemma that plagues every director who adapts works of fiction: how to cram into several hours of film a story that Tolkien needed hundreds of thousands of words to unravel.

And though Jackson was afforded more time than most of his peers — the three movies average about three hours each — it was inevitable that he would altogether ignore certain events that Tolkien described in detail.

John said he noticed several such lapses in the first two films.

But none was crucial.

"They left out little things, but nothing too key," he said. "They did a really good job of getting it right, of giving the characters the traits they had in the book."

Sean Jacobson, a 17-year-old BHS senior, agrees with John.

Sean also read the entire trilogy before he watched any of the movies.

"They seemed to do a pretty good job of transferring (from book to big screen)," he said. "The way you see it in your head is different from what's on the screen, but it's nice seeing it in both ways. It's a different point of view."

But not always that different.

For some moviegoers who have read Tolkien's books, Jackson's scenes were startlingly similar to the pictures they saw in their mind's eye as they read the words.

"Except it's a lot more colorful on the screen," said Peter Vergari, 15, a BHS sophomore.

Peter said the scenes in "The Fellowship of the Ring" in which Frodo and his friends wend their way through the mines of Moria seemed to him quite familiar.

"That's pretty much exactly like I pictured it," Peter said.

Unlike John and Peter, Kyle won't begrudge Jackson for any of the details left out of the movies.

Kyle has read only a few sections from the books — a typical situation among the trilogy's younger fans. As even experienced adult readers can attest, slogging through Tolkien's vivid, but immensely dense, prose poses quite a challenge.

But for Kyle, who as a second-grader has barely gotten his reading legs under him, the movies stand as a satisfying substitute for the unique mental images readers make for themselves.

"What I really like is the part when they get into the battles," said Kyle, who watched both "The Fellowship of the Ring" and "The Two Towers."

When asked if he has a favorite character, Kyle neither hesitates, nor diverts his eyes from the Game Boy his thawed fingers are fiddling with.

"Legolas," he says, naming the Elf who could wear a patch over one eye and still outshoot Robin Hood.

"I like how he can just shoot so fast, and he's never missed a single shot."

Kyle seems confident that his hero's unblemished record as a marksman will outlast "The Return of the King."

For the moment, though, Kyle is happy just to be in from the cold, with his Game Boy to keep him occupied until the opening credits roll.

"It's a lot better than waiting out there," he says, shrugging one shoulder in the direction of frigid First Street.

Two seats over, Kyle's dad, Kevin, also awaits "The Return of the King" with an extra dollop of anticipation.

Like his son, Kevin hasn't read Tolkien's books.

But Kevin said Jackson's movies have captivated him as completely as any novel could.

"The cinematography is just great," Kevin said. "And it's been exciting to have one movie open every year for three years.

"You don't dare miss the second and third movies if you caught the first one."

Kevin said he was intrigued by the atmosphere Tolkien created for his fictional Middle-earth — a place with a decidedly Medieval flavor, where elves and dwarfs and wizards live, and where dragons and perhaps even more fantastic creatures might well roam.

That fantastic setting, combined with the epic quest that impels Tolkien's characters to confront and to ultimately conquer unspeakable terrors, makes for an irresistible recipe.

"It's the epitome of an adventure," Kevin said. "The underdogs against the world."

Back outside, with half an hour to go, Joel Morris lights a cigarette.

Morris, 30, looks more like a resident of Middle-earth than of Baker City.

A brown cloak is draped across his shoulders.

A sheathed sword dangles from his left hip.

"I even have The One Ring," Morris says as his fingers pluck the gold band that's attached to a fine metal chain wrapped round his neck.

The tone of Morris' voice emphasizes the capital-letter nature of the term.

The Ring is the centerpiece of Tolkien's tale, the powerful but corrupting relic that the hobbit Frodo Baggins seeks to destroy by casting it into the fires of Mount Doom, where it was forged.

Morris said his costume does not depict any particular character.

"It's just my Medieval look," he said.

Morris is a devoted fan of director George Lucas' Star Wars outer space epic, a series of adventure films that resembles, in theme if not in setting, Tolkien's trilogy.

When Morris attended the premiere of Lucas' latest film two years ago, he dressed as the Jedi master Obi-Wan Kenobi.

The lure of the Rings, Morris believes, is simple: "the plot."

"Just the adventure of it," he said.

Morris' favorite character is Gandalf, the wizard who encouraged Frodo to embark on his quest to reach Mount Doom, deep in the evil land of Mordor.

"I believe in wizardry — in the power to go beyond one's self and to use it for good," Morris said.