- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 4, 2003

D.C. resident Kyra Mairead Gorski, 21, founded a “Lord of the Rings” fan group on the Internet called the District of Dark Whispers, whose members live around the world.

Scott Heinig, a 36-year-old computer designer from Reston, belongs to a club whose members dress up as a warriors on the weekends, pretend it’s the year 1066 and stage elaborate battles in local public parks.

They’re called “ringers.”

Ringers typically read, study and form groups to talk about the otherwordly characters in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. In a few cases, they even dress up like them.

They also will stand in line for hours in the snow — if necessary — to see the blockbuster third and final installment of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “The Return of the King,” which will be released at 12:01 a.m. Dec. 17.

Miss Gorski has her tickets already; Mr. Heinig will be in line that day.

The frenzy over the tale of good vs. evil in Middle Earth begins today, with the re-release of the first installment, “The Fellowship of the Ring,” which runs through Dec. 11 at the Uptown Theatre in Northwest. The second movie, “The Two Towers,” will run from Dec. 12 through Dec. 15.

Both films, which originally ran for a little less than three hours, have been extended: to three hours and 26 minutes for “The Fellowship of the Rings” and three hours and 45 minutes for “The Two Towers.”

Tickets for the “Tuesday Trilogy” at 99 theaters nationwide on Dec. 16 — the Uptown in the Washington area — are sold out, with some fans paying up to $200 on EBay.

Many moviegoers are expected to show up at 7 a.m. at the theaters for the 10-hour marathon even though the first movie is not expected to begin until noon or later.

“The film ties up the 10 hours for a great but bittersweet time, because the trilogy is finally coming to an end,” said David Tuckerman, president for domestic distribution at New Line Cinema, the Time Warner Inc. subsidiary and distributor of the films.

The American Film Institute’s Silver Theatre and Cultural Center sneak peak of “The Return of the King” last night sold out in 15 minutes.

Hundreds of AFI members lined up around the Silver Spring theater on Nov. 10 to buy the 625 tickets. The tickets, for members only, were $35 each, with popcorn and assigned seating, said spokeswoman Joan Kirby.

Extra security guards were on hand yesterday to prevent video piracy, because the showing was almost two weeks before the opening.

“The Return of the King” has a running time of three hours and 18 minutes.

“There is a lot of pent-up demand by enthusiasts to see this movie,” said John McCauley, senior vice president for marketing at Loews.

About one-third of tickets for the first two films — to be shown in 126 theaters in the United States and Canada — were sold by yesterday afternoon, according to movietickets.com., an online movie-ticket vendor.

The “Lord of the Rings” trilogy follows the adventures of young hobbit Frodo Baggins as he and a band of allies struggle to save a mystical place called Middle Earth and destroy the One Ring.

English professor Verlyn Flieger teaches a popular course at the University of Maryland, “Tolkien: Man of the Century,” that studies hobbits and wizards, among other things.

“It’s a story about little people caught up in a big world about which they have very little control,” said Miss Flieger, who began teaching courses about Tolkien in 1972 while a professor at Catholic University.

“The story has a beauty that people can identify with, especially if you live in a place where there is cement and exhaust and not much in the way of a natural world,” she said.

The three movies were filmed almost entirely in New Zealand; about 100,000 people on Monday crowded the town of Wellington, which hosted the world premiere of “The Return of the King.”

For Miss Gorski, the fascination with Tolkien can be traced back to her parents reading her the author’s works.

“I think the movies are a good thing. It gets more people interested in reading. I know people who have seen the movies 20 times, and they read the books once a year,” she said.

Miss Gorski started the District of Dark Whispers Internet site — www.districtofdarkwhispers.net — two years ago, and members often meet in local restaurants to discuss Tolkien.

“The Fellowship of the Rings” brought in $313 million in the U.S. box office, and “The Two Towers” netted $339 million.

The trilogy dominated ticket sales this week on Fandango.com, the online and telephone movie-ticket service. About 76 percent of sales were for the third installment, and another 6 percent were for screenings of the first two movies.

Fandango Chief Executive Art Levitt said advance ticket sales since Nov. 26 are 50 percent higher than sales for “The Two Towers,” which surpassed 1 million.

“In the prior years, we saw sporadic spikes, but we have seen sales getting consistently higher for this movie,” Mr. Levitt said, forecasting it would be the top ticket seller for the 3-year-old company.

AMC Entertainment Inc., plans to devote at least two of screens in each of its nine local theaters for the saga.

Spokesman Rick King said he expected lines to start forming for the first 12:01 a.m. showing by midday on Dec. 16.

Regal Entertainment Group, which owns Hoyts, Edwards and United Artists theaters, will show the movie in nine of its 11 locations in the Washington area.

“There is a huge buzz of awareness for this film,” said Regal spokesman Dick Westerling, who added the theaters still are negotiating how many screens the movie will be shown on.

Minneapolis electronics retailer Best Buy is hoping to capture some of that buzz by heavily promoting the movies and other merchandise with in-store displays and Sunday newspaper ads.

“Historically with a major theatrical release, we will see a jump in sales in the series’ other movie titles,” said spokesman Brian Lucas, who would not discuss sales figures.

Borders Group Inc. said sales for the trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien and “The Hobbit,” a novel preceding the trilogy, jumped five times when the first installment was released in 2001.

“On average, we’ve seen strong sales for these books, especially at fall before a movie release,” when book sales double, said spokeswoman Jenie Dahlmann.

Barnes & Noble also is seeing stronger sales for the Tolkien books for the holiday season, with “The Return of the King” as the hottest item in the collection, said spokeswoman Carolyn Brown. She would not discuss sales numbers.

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