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From 'Rings' beginner to believer in 13 hours

To celebrate the arrival of the final installment of "The Lord of the Rings," several theaters around the country showed the entire trilogy, including director's cuts, on the eve of the debut of "The Return of the King." Boston Globe film critic Wesley Morris had managed to avoid the first two films. But, along with 625 "LOTR" fans, he attended the nearly 13-hour marathon Tuesday at the Boston Common Theatre. He kept a diary.

 

11:57 a.m. Great -- all the good seats are taken. The first film starts at 1:15, but everyone's already huddled under blankets. Either I can sit in the back on the far right, or in the second row. I want to get lost in these movies, but not that lost. The nosebleeds it is. Look at that guy jumping up and down, rocking back and forth with his popcorn in third row. Dude, it's 11:57.

12:37 p.m. I manage to get a large coffee past the theater staff. But there were people in the lobby eating salads and pasta. Should I have carbo-loaded, too?

1 p.m. The caffeine is kicking in. The excitement is palpable. My neighbors are friendly: Ethan, Park, Christa, Victor, and Victor's girlfriend, whose name I forget. All Emerson undergrads. And they're shocked that I haven't seen these before. "You mean the extended editions, right?" they ask. I tell them of my "LOTR" virginity, and they tell me they're not really diehards. They haven't read the books, and Christa didn't start the films until "The Two Towers" came out.

1:16 p.m. "The Fellowship of the Ring" starts!

1:42 p.m. There is no denying that this is a great movie. It's already better than "Star Wars." That preamble alone is terrific. If Peter Jackson made Cliffs Notes for movies, they'd be riveting, too.

2:31 p.m. Ian McKellen's old wizard Gandalf is the most powerful Deadhead of all time. As Frodo the Hobbit, Elijah Wood has a big neck, bigger eyes, and a soft little voice. He's so soothing and comforting that he should have his own line of mood-mellowing teas and candles.

3:11 p.m. Christa leaves to take a final exam.

3:52 p.m. Gandalf is gone??? No, no, no. He'll be back. He'll be back.

4:05 p.m. It's Cate Blanchett as Galadriel the elf queen. She's so clean.

4:55 p.m. The "Fellowship" credits roll. Pretty good. There's a vision of community and love of humanity here that's missing from most movies. Jackson could use this movie to start his own religion. I can't imagine having to wait a whole year to see what his next service will be like.

Out in the hall, the line for the men's room is as long as your typical ladies' room queue. This seems appropriate. There's rarely been a big adventure fantasy whose heroes are such a sensitive, demonstrative lot. The men hug each other and weep and emote --offsetting the virility that Jackson seems to associate with evil. Even Viggo Mortensen, as manly Aragorn, is kind and pretty. How would this film go down on Sigma Nu movie night?

With a belly full of two Red Bulls, I head back to my seat. On the way, I'm arrested by two girls' homemade T-shirts. One has a photo of Sam cradling Frodo and has a caption that reads, "Yay, for platonic warriors among men." Their names are Kristen and Michelle. I sit beside them, and we talk about the shirt. These are hard-core fans. They've read all the Tolkien books and supplemental materials. I tell them that Hobbits appear to have a great understanding of love but no real awareness of nonreproductive sex. All those hugs and longing glances, I suggest, count as consummation. To my surprise, they don't disagree.

Kristen's shirt says, "Blatant character assassination" beneath a photo of Boromir. I don't get it. She explains that in the adaptation, Boromir has gone from being a person to a plot device. Actually, she says a lot more, but while she's talking I can see the words sailing above my head.

5:48 p.m. "The Two Towers" starts.

6:37 p.m. Hey, that tree is speaking. Or is that the Red Bull talking?

6:50 p.m. Gandalf returns. The theater erupts with applause.

9:06 p.m. The trees agree to fight in the war. It's definitely not the Red Bull.

9:31 p.m. "The Two Towers" credits roll. Now that's a movie. What a great, big, epic, total storytelling masterpiece! Definitely the crowning commercial achievement of last year, or most years. Not only is it a freestanding work of pop art and entertainment, but it even interfaced with modern history and its nasty despots and territory wars.

The battle sequences are so brilliantly interrupted with those crypto-eco passages in which the talking trees spring -- well, mope -- into action. I'm a peaceful guy, but, boy, did I cheer the stomping of the Orcs. And the ring-addicted Gollum is not just some special effect. He's Peter Lorre drawn as a schizophrenic crackhead. Sam gives Frodo that "there's some good in the world worth fighting for" speech that's as good as anything in any decent Western.

What won the best picture Oscar again? "Chicago." Ugh. 9:42 p.m. I just high-fived two dudes coming out of the bathroom. I love being here! And there's a girl dressed just like the maiden Eowyn! I touch her gown's fabric and admire the craftsmanship. It's amazing. "You look just like Eowyn," I gush. She thanks me but refuses to make eye contact. Am I a freak? People are walking into walls and knocking one another with the theater door. And that "Mo' Money" poster has tricked people into thinking it's not that bad a movie. We all need to calm down.

Back in the theater I check in with Kristen, who's very tall, and tell her I really dug "The Two Towers." She said Jackson was nervous that people would see this only as a bridge, but, "Isn't it spectacular?" Yes, I tell her. Yes. Yes. I confess some confusion about the rings. How many were there? She explained it all with a Galadriel-like lack of exasperation.

10:22 p.m. "The Return of the King" begins. Here comes the king, baby! Wild cheers.

1:55 a.m. "The Return of the King" credits roll. Man, has the king been brought. It's not the crowning, fully realized work that installment two is, but it's glorious all the same. When a movie keeps ending -- there must be five different codas -- and you just sit there and take it in, you must believe in that world. You really don't want it to end.

In the lobby, there's a lot of hugging, glowing smiles, and wet eyes. One girl's boyfriend kisses her face. Another couple is making out near the busted Good Humor machine.

I am on the job. I have no one to hold, and no tears to cry. Although I really want both. I just think the caffeine has seriously dried up my tear ducts.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com.

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