I often tell people how bad my memory is. I believe it’s stress related, stress from the strange ups and low downs of the past 10 years of my life. I often have a hard time remembering what I did just days ago, let alone a month ago, a year ago, or back when I was a kid. In fact, to this day the earliest memories I have are from when my family went to Disney World in 1986. I’m willing to best most of you can remember SOMETHING from before you were 6 years old. I can’t. Well, as part of my upcoming posts, I’m going to share 10 things I’ll never forget. Completely random situations – all true – some long stories, some short, that occurred throughout my life. Today’s story will be an independent post all its own, and it’s about the most memorable moviegoing experience of my life, which occurred after I endured the coldest night of my life. But one could not have happened without the other.
Now that it’s winter again, I remember it all too well. It was December, 2003. As a special one-time only event to coincide with the release of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (the final LOTR film) in theaters, New Line set up special Lord of the Rings marathons across the country. You bought one ticket (which was $25 if I remember right), and prior to the first public screenings of The Return of the King around 10pm Tuesday night (the movie opened that Wednesday), you got to see the extended cuts of The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers (which were previously released on DVD) back to back. It was a massive 3-movie, 12+ hour experience, and would probably be the only chance for a long time to see the extended cuts on the big screen. It was a dream scenario for movie geeks around the country. For myself and my friends Jon and Mark, like many other LOTR fans, attending this event was a no-brainer, but what made us noteworthy was that we also decided we would be among the first people in line. After all, if you’re gonna spend that much time at the theater, you may as well have the best seats, right? To that end, we decided we would camp out outside the theater the night before, Monday going into Tuesday. This was nothing new to me, as I’d camped out previously for the 3 Star Wars prequels, and done long day-of waits for the Matrix sequels. It was always a fun time, you always met cool new people who were just as passionate as you were about the movies, and every now and then you’d get some infamy and appear on the news, which was amusing to me whether it made us look cool or like lunatics.
Now, we could have seen the movies and camped out at the Framingham theater, on our home turf, close to places we knew, closer to our beds, but we knew the Loews Boston Common (which is an AMC now), in the heart of the city, had the biggest and best theaters in the area, and would take a backseat to nowhere when it came to an event like this. Their biggest theater (which I assumed logically would be the one showing the marathon) seats around 650 people, and we knew it would be a great, great crowd. Seeing a great movie is one thing, but seeing a great movie with a great crowd at the first public showing is an experience that can’t be duplicated. We bought our tickets as soon as they went on sale (which was several weeks before the shows if I recall), and went about our business until it came time to set up camp outside the theater. We knew this movie would be worth any cold we’d suffer the night before. And we believed we’d have some company that night.
We’d heard how cold it was going to be prior to heading out, so we dressed accordingly. Unfortunately, the forecast turned out to be quite accurate. The temperature throughout the night was 15º or lower, but what made it really bad was the frightful wind chill. We each had lawn chairs and sleeping bags, but here was what I was wearing; 2 t-shirts under a sweatshirt hoody and a winter coat, 2 pairs of socks, 2 pairs of gloves, sweatpants under my jeans, a scarf for my neck and mouth and a big knit cap. Basically, the only part of my body that was exposed consistently was my nose. It was actually pretty effective. I was cold, but never shivering or anything like that. It’s a good thing, because at the time, there were no 24-hour stores in the area, so there would be no shelter unless we went back to the car, which was about 500 feet away and underground in the Boston Common parking garage. With the constant wind, it was below zero the entire night.
We got to Loews at 7pm and were happy to find we were the first ones to show up. The good news was we could go in and out of the theater lobby until they closed the doors around 11. Until then, we chatted with each other, and to several people who were going in and out of the theater to see other movies, many of whom asked us what the hell we were doing. So we got to explain ourselves about a dozen times, mostly to people who wished us luck and warmth for the night. What they said once we were out of earshot I’ll never know. Eventually, the last show started and they locked the lobby doors, so we were stuck outside, all covered up and looking like homeless people. There we lay, legs outstretched on our folding chairs the entire night, sometimes talking to each other but mostly not. When we did talk, it was to make fun of each other or bitch about the cold. We all tried to sleep with varying levels of success, but the thing we were most looking forward to was having another person or another group of people join us in line. The longer we sat there by ourselves, the more insane we looked. I remember the streets being remarkably quiet that night. It was as though it were so cold, even the cars dared not venture outside. I’m sure if I weren’t freezing to death, it would have been quite pretty had I walked around the Common for awhile. I spent most of my time trying, and failing, to sleep. I refused to try and find shelter or go back to the car, I guess out of some sense of pride. Who knows.
As it turns out, it was 3:30am before anyone else showed up. It was one guy, and he looked genuinely surprised he wasn’t first in line. That’s right pal, there ARE people more fucking nuts than you. Why would you show up at 3:30, by the way? How random is that? People slowly trickled into line as dawn approached, and by 7am there were probably 10-15 of us. Once the Dunkin Donuts nearest to the theater opened up, we were finally able to get some warm drinks. I’ve never enjoyed a Dunkin Donuts hot chocolate more, let me tell you. But as each new person showed up, we gained more and more notoriety for being “the 7 o’clock guys”. We got a lot of respect from our fellow moviegoers for showing up that early, which was kinda cool I have to admit. The Fellowship screening didn’t start until noon, but the theater opened the doors for us at 9am, and at that time there were probably 30 people in line. In the end, this means we could have slept that night at home in our warm beds, and showed up at the theater at 7 or 8 in the morning and still gotten pretty good seats. Even knowing that, I wouldn’t take it back for anything, because we got the best seats in the biggest and best theater in the city for a once-in-a-lifetime event. That said, I won’t be doing it again anytime soon. We ended up getting the seats in the first section up off the floor in the middle of the theater, which I started calling The Throne because that’s exactly what it looked like. Anyone walking across the middle of the theater had to pay their respects as they passed us. Or at least that’s how my delusional mind saw it. They were awesome seats, and because there was no bar in front of us, we could get up and out of the theater easily without disturbing anyone else or climbing over other people. This is a much bigger deal than you might imagine, particularly when you’re in and out of the same seats from 9am until 1am the next morning, when Return of the King ended.
Other than the cold, the main price I paid that day was in the form of sleep deprivation. I didn’t anticipate it would be so hard to sleep out there, even though I was relatively warm under all those layers. I’m gonna guess I slept maybe 30 minutes the entire night, easily the least of the 3 of us. Somehow, both Jon and Mark managed to get a little sleep, Mark the most. There were a few times that night when I knew I was the only one awake, and I was not a happy camper, to say the least. I don’t remember if it was more jealousy or rage. Believe me I tried. My eyes were closed most of the night, but my body refused to shut down. At a certain point, I didn’t give a fuck about being robbed or looking homeless. We each had backpacks, and I had my discman and a couple mix CDs I’d made for the evening. Fuck it, take it, thieves! Just grant me some sleep in return! I’d have given anything for 3 or 4 goddamn hours of sleep. Even after they let us into the theater, and we had the best seats in the house, in the 3 hours from when they let us in until around noon when Fellowship would start, I couldn’t get a minute of sleep. It was maddening. Unfortunately, by the time my body was finally ready to get some sleep, the movies had started. Despite my excitement to see them on the big screen, I had a very hard time keeping my eyes open during the first two movies. I think I managed to last all the way through the Fellowship extended cut (all 208 minutes of it), but I wanna say I slept through a good one-third of the 223-minute Two Towers extended cut. I wasn’t happy about it, but it was physically out of my control. It was either take a nap during Two Towers, or miss part of Return of the King. The latter was not an option. There was an hour-long break between each movie, where went to the bathroom, got some food, etc., but I just couldn’t sleep with the lights up and the sold out crowd around me talking. The good news was I had no problem whatsoever sitting through all of The Return of the King at 10pm. I was so pumped to finally see this story conclude (I hadn’t read the books and had successfully avoided spoilers, so I had no idea how it all wrapped up) that I was riveted for all 3:20 of the theatrical cut of RotK. I think my body also gave me a bit of a second wind. I wasn’t tired at all during the final movie. Eventually, the trilogy ended, and that amazing crowd dispersed. Before they did, that was easily the most people I’ve ever seen stay all the way through the end credits to a movie. I’d say at least a third of the crowd stuck around after RotK ended. As I said, this remains the best moviegoing experience of my life. Short of being in the room while a great crowd watches one of my own movies one day, I don’t see how I’ll ever top December 15-17, 2003.
The 3 of us packed our stuff, got back into Jon’s car (god bless him for driving), and we headed west back to the ‘burbs. When I finally got back home in Framingham, it all hit me, and I don’t know that I’ve ever been happier to see a bed. I slept for 14 uninterrupted hours that night and into the next afternoon, which is still the longest I’ve ever slept at one time.
I consider the extended cuts of the Lord of the Rings movies among the finest films I’ve ever seen, and each extended cut is superior to the original theatrical version. I’m hopeful to get another chance to see the Fellowship and Two Towers extended cuts in theaters again (and the Return of the King extended cut in theaters for the first time) in the coming years (perhaps prior to the release of The Hobbit in 2012?), but if not, I’m proud to be one of the few who can say I got to do it in 2003, and it’s one of my fondest memories. I just can’t believe that it was 7 years ago.
Next time; I recall how a 17-year old me tried to fix an overheating Buick.
UPDATE: Jon reminded me after I posted the link to this on Facebook that the Boston Common theater was actually the only one in our area that was showing the marathon, and that only 60 or so theaters nationwide were doing it, so Framingham was not an option. Either way, I was glad it was at Boston Common, and would have wanted to go there for it regardless.