Remembering the Incomparable Experience of 'LOTR Trilogy Tuesday'
by Alex Billington
December 15, 2014
It was late 2003 and I was still finishing high school. Although I had never read the books, each year I kept growing more fond of Middle Earth thanks to Peter Jackson's adaptations of Lord of the Rings. By 2003, I was a movie maniac, following websites non-stop for info about the Matrix trilogy (which also concluded in 2003), Terminator 3, Hulk, X2 and Kill Bill, not to mention the Star Wars prequels in the middle of their grand finale. But it was Return of the King, and its triumphant debut on December 17th, 2003, that won my heart. On the Tuesday before release, I participated in a global event known as "Trilogy Tuesday", one of the first times ever a trilogy of movies were billed back-to-back-to-back. It ended with the midnight show of Return of the King, in total over 12 hours spent in a theater. One of the best experiences of my life.
This week, Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies arrives in theaters, and there's another Trilogy
Tuesday Monday happening today. But I'm not attending. This series of movies just isn't the same, it doesn't hold the same weight as Lord of the Rings, unfortunately, and in general I've sensed that Hollywood has lost their interest in fan service and instead is focused on getting as much money out of fans as possible. It's ironic that New Line Cinema somehow had the foresight to pay their respects to the Lord of the Rings fans during Trilogy Tuesday, but ever since Hollywood has never lived up to that event. They have tried to do marathons and trilogy screenings, but none of them are the same. So it's time for a fun look back.
If you didn't buy tickets the moment they went on sale, you were out of luck. Trilogy Tuesday tickets were announced and theaters revealed a full two months in advance, as seen in this old TheOneRing.net post with full details still available. Each local cinema only offered one theater, roughly 300 seats, hosting the Trilogy Tuesday event. That means only 300 people per theater within each city were lucky enough to experience it. And it came with a trove of special gifts: collectible swag galore, and three frames from one freshly minted 35mm print of the film that was chopped up to be given specifically to Trilogy Tuesday fans. How cool was that? No one else could buy, or would ever be able to obtain, this item. It was truly one-of-a-kind, and that's how the entire event felt. It was indeed a one-of-a-kind experience that to this day has never been matched.
I remember desperately searching for just one ticket (I was the one crazy enough to go). Groups organized by fan sites like TheOneRing.net had already snatched up most tickets. The others went fast, and the theater wasn't listing more despite selling out before they even announced. Finally, I got an extra one from a friend and that was that - I was in. By the time Return of the King came around, I was a Lord of the Rings fanatic even without the books. My friends and I had already attended the midnight shows of Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers in December the two years before. I remember vividly driving in heavy snow storms (December in Colorado) to get to the theater, we all said screw the weather, Middle Earth was more important. It was as if each of us were on this journey together, following Sam and Frodo and the rest of the Fellowship as we all banded together in our own fellowship, growing up each year together in high school.
A group of fans dressed up for Return of the King - photo from TheForce.net's Jedi Council Forums.
However, when it came down to Trilogy Tuesday, I was determined (pretty much I had no choice) to go solo. I was also one of the only ones who was undeterred by the need to play hooky. You see, the first screening (of Fellowship of the Ring) started at 1PM on Tuesday. A school day. Yep, I said screw it, I'm taking a half day whether they like it or not. Middle Earth is more important than English class. Maybe I can go in and catch my first class, grab some lunch, then head to the theater and get in line. By the time I got there, the line was already crazy long. By the time I got into the theater, where everyone was defensively staking out seats (your home for the next 12+ hours), the only open spot was in the very back. So I took my seat against the back wall, attached my makeshift sign with my name on it and settled in for the very long journey ahead.
Here's what was so special about Trilogy Tuesday: instead of just showing the same two movies we'd already seen last year, Peter Jackson wanted to give fans the complete experience. So they screened the Extended Editions of both Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, before eventually showing the theatrical version of Return of the King (at the time of release the Extended Edition of ROTK had not been completed, and a year later when it was released on DVD I had another marathon screening of all of them in my own living room). If you calculate the total time spent watching movies that day, it would come out to about: 664 minutes, just over 11 hours of Lord of the Rings. Bring it on. I was ready. Or so I thought. It was an emotional experience, and by the end I was in tears. ROTK still holds the #1 spot as my own favorite movie.
I often hear the boring response "who would want to waste their time sitting in a theater for THAT long?" when movie marathons are brought up. The point is that it's not about time spent watching the screen, it's about time spent with the characters we love. Many say that we're in the golden era of television, with series like "True Detective", "Game of Thrones", "Mad Men" named as favorites. How much time have you spent with those characters in their world? The more the better, right? The first season of "True Detective" runs a total of 480 minutes. That's not even close to the amount of time we got to spend with Sam and Frodo and Gandalf and Legolas and Gimli and Aragorn in one sitting. It's a huge compliment to Peter Jackson and all the people at Weta to say they envisioned such a beautifully detailed Middle Earth, that none of us wanted to leave. We wanted to stay there forever, for as long as the theater would allow us before we got kicked out.
I'll admit now that I wasn't properly prepared. I didn't bring some kind of dinner, or any snacks, or much of anything except my enthusiasm. Most of us munched on popcorn and movie theater concessions for as long as we could hold out, but it finally caught up with me. Once our screening of The Two Towers had finished, I could feel a migraine headache growing. It's not uncommon with me, but with Return of the King up next I didn't want it ruined by a headache, so I set out to find some ibuprofen. I raced across the theater asking employees and random people if they had any, eventually finding one staff member who had a few extra. With some crappy theater food in my stomach, and a couple of Advils, I sat back down, rested my eyes and prepared for the grand finale. A finale I thought we'd never have again (yet here we are with The Hobbit…).
There's something magical about Middle Earth, and Peter Jackson knows it. That's why he has spent so many years of his life taking us to every corner of Middle Earth, introducing us to every character big and small. It's exhilarating to spend 8 hours being introduced to a world unlike any other, full of characters good and evil, and finally watching their story come to an end. These are our friends, we know them so well, we've followed them every step of the way. Will they make it to Mt. Doom? What will the final battle be like? What about the fate of Smeagol? I was unprepared for the emotional experience that Return of the King took me on, and I remember sobbing at the end. Peter Jackson had given us the most satisfying, the most exciting, the most enriching conclusion we all could've asked for - and it paid off double when he won 11 Academy Awards on Leap Day the next year. All that hype, excitement, all 11 hours, it was all justified when he won.
That was my greatest moment with the Oscars. For as long as I can remember, I have watched the Academy Awards ceremony live. I'm sure many people do, but after becoming a part of the industry, you see awards in a whole different light. Every year I hear critics rant and rave about who should've been nominated, who should win, and why the awards are a bunch of bullshit when their favorite person/film doesn't win. I had my moment with the Oscars. And it was glorious. I remember sitting on the edge of my couch watching as, one-by-one, The Return of the King took almost all of them - from Best Score (which I still listen to) to Best Screenplay to Best Director to, the king of them all, Best Picture. We will ever see another fantasy movie win Best Picture? Maybe, maybe not, but I don't care. The one I really, truly wanted to win did, and that was it.
For years I've told any/everyone that Trilogy Tuesday was the best experience I have ever had in a movie theater. It's true, and it has yet to be topped. I haven't ever had a chance to write about it, as it took place three years before starting this site and until today, there has been no reason to bring it up. But here we are, and The Hobbit is getting its own trilogy screening event, and I'm not attending. The reason why isn't as important as the fact that nothing can compare to Lord of the Rings. At the time, New Line Cinema released the three LOTR. Now, New Line is part of Warner Bros. I have always considered that Trilogy Tuesday was the once-in-a-lifetime perfect storm of marketing meets fandom. Somehow the New Line execs agreed to this and agreed that the fans deserved everything that was coming to them - from nice collectible swag to an incomparable experience. They didn't ask for anything in return, except our gratitude (and repeat viewings).
Thank you to whoever made Trilogy Tuesday possible. Thank you to the executives who said "yes", who signed off on the cost of swag, and agreed to ship two Extended Editions prints and figure out the logistics to make it work. Thank you to the theaters that said "yes". It remains an incomparable and unforgettable experience in my own life, and I'm sure everyone else who attended would say the same. Sure, every movie is different and worth "experiencing", but when everything comes together perfectly - when the people, the characters, the stories, the fans, the excitement, when it all works in harmony, it's a remarkable experience. To me, this is what the cinema is made for - moments like this, the communal experience, fans joining together to watch and cry and cheer for the people they believe in because they're so wonderfully realized.
A very cheesy video made by AMC MovieGoer Network recapping the Trilogy Tuesday event:
Nowadays, everyone does marathon screenings. From Harry Potter to Twilight to The Hunger Games to Iron Man and Avengers, even Die Hard. It's not really special anymore. It's just that thing the studios must do, or the fans will be upset. It's a bland marketing tactic now, when it originated as a way of giving back to the fans. Trilogy Tuesday was unique because the entire event felt like it was designed to give back to the fans who had committed themselves (in $$) to this series for so many years. In Hollywood today, they see fans are "already sold", and thus don't feel like giving them anything in return except more of what we're already expecting (dull marketing, limited reveals, frustrating/confusing events without any organization).
One month before Trilogy Tuesday, I also attended the global opening of Matrix Revolutions. Instead of hosting a marathon screening of the trilogy, Warner Bros instead decided to open the final Matrix for fans around the entire world at the exact same time. So for those of us in America, that meant 8AM. Yes, I woke up crazy early to go see Matrix Revolutions before anyone else. The theater was barely 1/3 full, there was no event feel to it, no palpable buzz, just a bunch of die-hard nerds skipping out on school/work to find out what happens to Neo. It was unforgettable, but in a different way. Now, 11 years later looking back at these events, I long for the days when the cinematic experience was paramount. I wish Hollywood still cared about paying back to fans as much as they love taking fans' money (in copious amounts). It seems they've lost their way, and it's about building out the fanbase rather than servicing them properly. We're in a whole new era.
"I will not say 'Do not weep', for not all tears are an evil…" I will always remember the incomparable experience of Trilogy Tuesday. After 11 years, nothing has topped it. I'm glad to see Marvel Studios trying to honor their fans in unique ways, and they've come the closest. But I'm just as sad that I'm not at The Hobbit Trilogy today, but that's for an entirely different reason - that's because these Hobbit movies just aren't the same, they just aren't that great, and it pains me to admit it. Perhaps the ideal experience of a trilogy is for another generation of moviegoers, perhaps we have yet to encounter another new series that comes together in perfect harmony. Then again, with another Star Wars trilogy on the horizon it might be sooner than later.
Notes: Thanks to TheOneRing.net for info on the original Trilogy Tuesday. You can also read a fun article from USA Today in 2003 covering the event. Photos come mostly from fan sites - click for original source.