By PAUL ASAY THE GAZETTE
J.R.R. Tolkien was annoyed when his publishers refused to meld his fantasy epic, “Lord of the Rings,” into one huge book. Director Peter Jackson sympathizes. He thinks of his Oscarwinning adaptations of “Rings” as one huge movie — albeit one originally released with yearlong intermissions. The movies hit theaters in December 2001, 2002 and 2003 respectively.
To honor the intent of Tolkien and Jackson — and with no new “Rings” movie to keep me occupied — I decided to settle into my sofa and watch all three “Lord of the Rings” movies in succession.
We’re talking the extended versions, here, including the new “Return of the King,” which was released Dec. 14, just hours before my Middle-earth marathon began. The movie’s release marked the first time geeks like me could spend a full day in Middle-earth.
You could watch Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” three times before the credits would roll for “Return of the King.” Put all three together, and you’ve got an 11-hour, 22-minute feature, which makes the 3-hour, 58-minute “Gone With the Wind” look like a throwaway lark in comparison.
Admittedly, I’m a fan of the “Rings” movies.
But 11 hours and 22 minutes? It’s enough to challenge even the hardiest of couch potatoes. Would the experience make me swear off the movies forever? Would it break my sanity? Would it make my feet grow big and hairy?
Should I stretch first?
Tuesday, 12:02 a.m.: I blearily weave into a local Media Play store to pick up my reserved copy of “Return of the King.”
I’m a latecomer.
According to a Media Play official, at least 10 copies were picked up and purchased in the 120 seconds before I arrived. About a half-dozen sweatshirted, 20-something guys are loitering in the store, gently caressing their blue “Return of the King” boxes. It might be my imagination, but one appears to be muttering “my precious” under his breath.
9:06 a.m.: I start “Fellowship of the Ring.”
9:30 a.m.: Less than 30 minutes into the first film, I realize I should’ve bought a bigger television for the marathon. Maybe I could’ve expensed it.
10:16 a.m.: I’ve been sitting for more than an hour. It’s hard work, and I need to keep up my strength. I grab a chocolate-chip cookie.
10:18 a.m.: Another cookie wouldn’t hurt.
10:25 a.m.: Saruman is hatching an army. Well, actually, he’s growing soldiers, plucking them out of the ground like huge, evil-looking carrots. The imagery makes me hungry, but two cookies is my limit.
11:34 a.m.: Poor ring-bearing Frodo. In the past hour, he’s been stabbed, skewered, held upside-down by a gigantic octopus and, just now, had to make a death-defying leap across the chasm of Ultimate Doom. C’mon, guys. At this rate, Frodo’s never going to make it through another nine hours.
11:36 a.m.: Take your King Kongs, your Godzillas, your T-Rexes. For my money, the most wicked-looking movie monster ever has got to be that horned, flaming Balrog.
12:10 p.m.: Does anyone else think it strange that, with so many natural wonders and ancient ruins in Middle-earth, no one ever runs into a park ranger?
12:30 p.m.: “Fellowship” is done, and I’m feeling just dandy. This movie-marathon thing is a snap. Now that I’ve lost feeling in my butt, I can go for days.
12:45 p.m.: I start “The Two Towers” and chow down my lunch — a plate of pizza rolls.
12:55 p.m.: Gollum — everybody’s favorite pale, anorexic, computer-generated character — shows up and starts making trouble with Frodo and his best bud, Sam Gamgee. You know what they say: Two’s company . . .
2:43 p.m.: All this stationary viewing is hard work. I wish I could take a walk. Maybe I will. Over to the cookie jar.
3:04 p.m.: My kingdom for a nap. Better yet, Peter Jackson’s kingdom for a nap.
3:30 p.m.: My youngest child is home from school. I nod in her general direction and ask her to fetch me a cookie.
3:35 p.m.: In watching these movies straight through, I’m getting a sense of deja-vu. I see a girl huddled in the caves below Helm’s Deep that, just hours before, was a little Hobbit at Bilbo’s birthday part. Is she an exchange student?
3:42 p.m.: Talking treethings are holding a meeting. One of them says “We never say anything unless it is worth taking a long time to say.” I betcha Peter Jackson has that line hanging up on his bulletin board somewhere.
4:24 p.m.: “The Two Towers” ends in gloomy fashion — fitting my mood. My head is throbbing, my tailbone is sore and I think I’ve eaten too many cookies. To top it off, I’m concerned the tree in my front yard might decide to walk off. Or worse, eat one of the neighbors.
4:37 p.m.: I start “Return of the King.” Only four hours, 11 minutes to go.
4:41 p.m.: It’s sad and moving to watch Frodo progress from a happy little Hobbit to a ring junkie. The transformation strikes me harder now, it seems.
5:30 p.m.: I know Minas Morgul is supposed to be the second-most evil place in all of Middle-earth. But that emerald green glow makes it look like the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. I can almost hear the Orcs playing the slots inside.
5:39 p.m.: Hey, another battle! Imagine! Now, I have nothing against a little fabricated blood and death, but even I have my limits. In Middleearth, the leading cause of work absenteeism is beheading.
5:40 p.m.: The mountaintop beacons are lit. It’s probably the first time those beaconlighters have had anything to do in ages. Man, that’s a job I’d hate: Just sitting around, not doing anything, hour after hour . . .
6:11 p.m.: There’s that little girl again — only she’s in Minas Tirith! She’s no exchange student; she’s either an enemy spy or Peter Jackson’s granddaughter.
7:06 p.m.: That giant spider looks more realistic than some real spiders I’ve seen. Or is that just my 10 hours with these movies talking?
7:46 p.m.: Chaos breaks out among the enemy, and Orcs are beheading one another with abandon. One of them looks like Ron Artest.
7:51 p.m.: As much as I’ve liked these movies, I’ve always been disappointed that Sauron, embodiment of all evil, is really just a huge, bus-sized eyeball. It seems like Frodo could’ve saved everyone a lot of trouble — and me a lot of time — if he had just packed a BB gun.
8:11 p.m.: Oh, stop with the “No, Sam, I can’t recall the taste of water” shtick. Just climb to the top of Mount Doom already!
8:22 p.m.: Sam and Frodo take care of that pesky ring. Now they must endure another quest: meandering through the movie’s 16 endings.
8:49 p.m.: It’s really, truly “The End,” and thank goodness. I’m tired, cranky and headache-y, and I swear I’ll never eat another chocolatechip cookie again.
It (the marathon, not the cookie) was worth it. The films do carry more oomph when viewed together. The characters develop more fully, the story line progresses more coherently.
But I don’t plan on doing it again any time soon. At least not for another week or so.