“Did you see the chain-mail bikini?”
On any other day, the question would have made me mash my eyebrows together in confusion.
But on Wednesday night, as I settled into a fairly comfortable seat at the Cinerama in Seattle, I was ready for anything. In front of the big screen, a pair of elves fluttered by in white robes. A dwarf posed for photographs by the exit. And yes — yes! — a woman in a chain-mail top was settling into a seat about 10 rows in front of me and my friends, rattling all the way.
It was opening night of “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” and for at least one night, the Cinerama was nerd heaven.
A confession: despite the fact that I wear glasses, I have rarely trafficked in official nerdom. I never played “Dungeons and Dragons.” I have only seen “Star Wars” twice. If I were stranded on the planet Klingon, I wouldn’t even be able to ask where the restroom is.
But when “Lord of the Rings” comes to town, I make an exception. The first movie was bold, epic, fun, and, somewhat ironically, human; basically, everything that filmmaking has lost over the last few years.
I agreed to meet a few friends in Seattle Wednesday night, for a showing that scheduled to begin at 8 p.m.
I arrived at 6:45. The line stretched down the block, then veered sharply to the left and continued further, down yet another block.
A man sprinted by wearing a forest-green cloak and a belt. The belt had a scabbard for a short dagger.
A woman in line purred, “I want that belt.” There was genuine envy in her voice, and why not? Who couldn’t use a nice dagger? (Christmas is only four days away. Hint, hint.)
I scanned the line for my friends. This was an important part of the process. Where they were in line would dictate where we sat.
There were a few bearded men in lawn chairs. A group of co-ed types toward the middle… success!
My friends were near the front of the line, about a quarter of the way back.
I jogged up.
“Who was here first?” I asked, after pleasantries had been exchanged.
A friend named Vin gave a proud nod.
“Three forty-five,” he said.
I checked my watch. It was almost 7 p.m.
It was cold. Cars honked as they went by. Eventually, nine friends had gathered, and we started discussing strategy.
“What about the front middle?”
“No, I can’t handle the front middle. How about the back middle?”
“The back middle would be good, but it fills up quickly. How about the back of the front?”
“The back of the balcony?”
“No, no… not the balcony. We sat there for “Star Wars,” not the one last year but the re-release? And it’s not good.”
“Is the picture bad?”
“No, the picture’s fine, but the sound is bad.”
We shivered in the cold. I stamped my feet a few times.
I said, “Wow, I never knew there was so much strategy.”
Like an idiot, I decided to extend the joke.
“Like a well-played game of chess, right?” I asked.
More silence. I decided to keep quiet.
About a half-hour before eight, the line began moving.
Once inside, everyone ignored the candy counter. No time for snacks. This was serious business.
We jogged up the steps, jostling each other as we went.
Once inside, it was madness. Moviegoers leapt for good position. They flung their coats over seats. They insisted on saving entire rows.
“Excuse me, but this seat is taken,” one of my friends said.
“You could have been nicer!” spit the man who had tried to sit there. Apparently he wasn’t one of the good elves.
Eventually, we found nine seats bunched together beneath the projector.
“I’ve never sat here,” one of my friends remarked.
As we waited, a low murmur went through the theater. Behind me, friends were talking about books; next to me they discussed their jobs; one friend leaned over and whispered in the ear of another.
This is the good part about movies, I thought.
For all the dreck that’s produced, movies can be a shared experience, a thing we go through together. Those few minutes in the dimmed theater can be as important as the three hours that come after them.
As the lights went down, cheers followed.
The dwarfs clapped. The hobbits hooted.
The crowd cheered the previews. The crowd cheered the theater-chain logo. The crowd cheered the opening credits, the first appearance by a character, the first line of dialogue.
But as the story rolled, they quieted, and at parts of the three-hour movie, you could have heard a mouse scampering across the theater floor.
When it was over, I made my way back to the ferry, feeling like I had completed an epic quest myself.
On the ferry was a former North Kitsap High School student I had interviewed a few times.
We nodded to each other.
He was wearing a pair of elf ears over his own.
I barely noticed.