- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 20, 2001

Yesterday couldn't come soon enough for some fans of J.R.R. Tolkien's epic tale "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," which debuted in movie theaters nationwide with a strong midweek start and enthusiastic reviews, but sales lagging behind expectations.
"I've been waiting 30 years for this movie," said Tom Distefano, 50, of Corpus Christi, Texas, before going to an afternoon showing with his wife, Bobbie, at the massive Muvico Egyptian 24 theatres at Arundel Mills Mall.
"I've read the books over fifteen times," said Mr. Distefano. In Maryland to visit relatives for the holidays, he said he would have taken the day off to see the movie if he was at home and scheduled to work. "I consider myself a bit of a Tolkien freak," he said.
Tolkien's famous story, published in 1954, was voted the greatest book of the 20th century in a reader's poll conducted in 1997 by Britain's Channel 4 and the Waterstone's bookstore chain. In 1999, a customer poll on Amazon.com voted it the greatest book of the millenium. "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" by J.K. Rowlings was fifth in that poll.
Yet the movie version of "Harry Potter" started off stronger than "Lord of the Rings." Tolkien's tale of Frodo and the ring of power generated between $1.5 million and $2 million in advance sales, about half the amount brought in by the Potter film, Karin Olsen, a representative for Fandango.com, said yesterday afternoon.
Still, there is little doubt that "Lord of the Rings" will be a success. Moviefone reported Tuesday that more than 100,000 advance tickets had been sold, and Miss Olsen said Fandango.com sold "quite a bit more" than Moviefone.
Tom Whittington, manager of the Uptown Theater in Northwest, said "Lord of the Rings" was "a little behind 'Harry Potter' sales-wise." While "Potter" sold out its first couple days in advance, only the first day of "Lord of the Rings" did.
Mr. Whittington said this was due to the difference in audiences. J.K. Rowling's tale of a boy wizard appealed to a younger audience, while Tolkien's story of war and quest in Middle Earth was written for older readers.
"It's a different kind of crowd," he said. "They're older and more literary. It's adults people who have jobs and commitments. There are no kids."
Miss Olsen said Fandango.com is expecting sales to only go up, adding that since "Lord of the Rings" opened midweek, its numbers would necessarily be lower than "Potter's" Friday opening. "They're expecting a dramatic increase this weekend," she said. "The newspapers are giving good reviews, and tickets are selling very briskly, so we expect this to be a big-number weekend."
Critics have indeed given glowing reviews of "Lord of the Rings." Salon.com and Rolling Stone's Peter Travers named it their top movie of the year. It already has been nominated for Best Picture by the American Film Institute and the Broadcast Film Critics Association, according to E! Online News.
Fans waiting to see the movie yesterday spoke about the story's "power and scale."
"All the other stories that are told today are based on what [Tolkien] did," said Frank Wilson, 52, who attended with his 20-year old son.
"It's a story of friendship, the tragedy of war and conflict, and how the smallest choice can affect the entire world," said Michael Nankervis, 33, who was there with his two sons.
For fans, Tolkien's "Ring" is much more than a fantastic tale. "The Bible is just a story … but it holds a lot of truth for some people," said Mr. Nankervis.
"In the same way, 'Lord of the Rings' holds a gut-level truth that you can conquer insurmountable obstacles by striving and not giving up."

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