Camping Out For "Lord of the Rings" - An interview with Tolkien Online's Jonathan, John Cline and mandos

Daily Radar interviews Jonathan and several other Tolkien Onliners at the preview line for the Lord of the Rings theatrical trailer.

In a tribute to the Star Wars: Episode I box-office camp-out, a group of J.R.R. Tolkien fans organized a sleepover at the Los Angeles AMC theaters on Thursday, January 11, the night before 13 Days would open with the new Lord of the Rings trailer attached. The ringleader was Jonathan Watson, founder of The Tolkien Guild, a group of websites that banded together in September 1999 to promote author J.R.R. Tolkien's work in the Internet era. Watson's own site,, is part of that group.

Tolkien Online's Jonathan.
Daily Radar: Jonathan, why is this trailer so important?

Jonathan Watson: Ultimately, this whole line doesn't necessarily come down to the trailer. It comes down to an event of Tolkien fans just getting together and having fun, hanging out. The trailer is a touchstone of the major vision that will be given to the populace of Tolkien's world. So, it's a good time to see how well it's going to encapsulate our own imaginations.

DR: How did you coordinate this with the movie theater?

JW: They had done these kind of little events before, and they contacted the city and arranged a few of those things so that we wouldn't get overnight parking tickets or other sort of weird looks from police officers driving by.

DR: Are you a Kevin Costner fan?

JW: No, I can't say that I am, but I hear the movie's good. I'm actually looking forward to the movie too, but more to the trailer, obviously. I mean, the second Star Wars trailer came out with Wing Commander, and I don't think a whole lot of people stayed to see that, so this is a big step up.

DR: Who would win in a fight between this line and the Star Wars line?

JW: I was actually part of the Star Wars line, and there are some other people for the Star Wars line here, so I guess we'd all win.

Ted, Cline, and Ringbearer's Joram put up rain shelter.
Watson's partner in Tolkien Online, Jon Cline, was helping set up a tarp for the predicted rainfall that night. He took a break from construction to answer a few more questions.

DR: What was your input in this event?

Jon Cline: I kind of came in with some PR and event planning. I put together the stat sheets and made the calls and had the conference calls with New Line. The official mission statement states: "The Tolkien Guild aims to advance the work and vision of J.R.R. Tolkien with integrity and respect. Together we are a diverse community of committed, cooperative and active contributors in pursuit of this common goal."

DR: Why not just wait until Saturday to see this trailer? It'll still be there.

JC: For one, it won't be shown twice. This is the only time that it'll be shown twice. For two, there's an element of community here that I really enjoy. I'm excited to know what these people here think about Tolkien and enrich my experience with theirs.

DR: Are you expecting anyone to dress up like Lord of the Rings characters?

JC: Surprises always happen. I don't know. This is my first line. I don't expect that. This line is a precursor of what will happen in November and December of this year for the real film.

As Cline went back to construction with partners Ted Tschopp and Joram Manka, it did start to rain, so we abandoned them to return Friday morning. The theater ended up only half full, between the overnighters and the senior citizens that came in off the street just to watch Costner. When the lights dimmed and the titular ring appeared on screen, the crowd exploded. Armies marched, horses rode, and men climbed mountains as text identified the titles of the three films and their release dates. When 13 Days started, surprisingly few people cut out.

Nathan Watt.
After the film and the second screening of the trailer, we got some reactions from fans. Nathan Watt stayed up drinking coffee and singing songs the night before, but was as awake and alert after the film as he had been at the beginning of the previous night.

DR: Was the trailer everything you hoped for?

Nathan Watt: Yeah, it was really cool. I'm so looking forward to the movie. You know, I wish it had been a little longer, but this way it keeps more suspense for the audience. You're wondering what it is.

DR: Was there too much text?

NW: No, I liked it. I thought it was really well presented. It would have been nice if it had been longer, but then it might have taken away the effect that the movie is going to have. Keeping it in secret is really cool, like the original Batman trailer. It was just the Batman logo and everybody was like, "Oh wow, what is that? We've got to see that."

Tolkien Online's Dave "mandos" Schulze.
Dave Schulze felt a bit out of place. At 45 he had about 20 years over the event's organizers, but the spirit of Tolkien united them.

DR: What brought you out to this event?

Dave Schulze:I've been posting on Jonathan's website for about a year now. I decided to drive down from the mountains where I live outside of Fresno, about 200 miles. I'm probably the oldest guy here. Tolkien reaches people of all ages, but things like this are more of a youthful type activity.

DR: Did you miss work for this?

DS: No, I work in construction, and it's raining right now, so everything's shut down. It was kind of a last-minute opportunity I decided to take.

DR: What did you think of the trailer?

DS: It was too short, just like the books. Too short. The scene of the orcs crossing the field, with thousands of orcs, that looked pretty cool. Everything looked really great. They need to hurry up and get the films out.

Tolkien Online's Jon Cline.
Finally, catching up with Jon and Jonathan, we got their post-event thoughts.

DR: Jon, was it everything you hoped for?

Jon Cline: I thought the trailer was really good. The part I liked most, since I'm really unfamiliar with the story, I really appreciated the slower moments, like when Cate Blanchett is talking about "Even a small man can change the future" to the hobbit. When they were showing the fellowship one by one with the mountains in the background and all of their gear. That was really intense. You feel and experience their grief, their tiredness and their tenacity. I really see that in their pursuit.

DR: It wasn't too short?

JC: Well, it was pretty short, but obviously they don't have a whole lot of production-ready footage after a production like that. If I had any complaint about it, it would be that it should be more available for someone like me, who is very new to Tolkien's work. In the beginning, when they show really fast flashes starting with the catching of the ring, going to the orcs and all that stuff, I'm not really getting a picture of what that is. Once they slowed down and went into Cate Blanchett, the hobbit and the fellowship, it became very powerful to me.

DR: What did you think of the turnout?

JC: We didn't have the numbers that we expected, I think because of the weather, but I think this is a lesson in quality over quantity. These fans are going to go home, get on the message boards and tell other people and spread Tolkien's fame to their little groups, and they're going to come back next time. That's what we wanted.

Fan sets up tent to weather the storm.
Watson estimated 25 people in their overnight line, but was happy enough about the free Krispy Kreme doughnuts and coffee provided for them in the morning.

DR: So, was it all you hoped for?

JW: Well, I never totally took an inventory of everything I hoped for, but it was really great. I'd love to see it a few more times. I'm so glad we were able to see it twice, because the second time I was really able to concentrate on the few things that I think I missed. I noticed more the really fast clips that they had in the first half of the trailer of... I think it was Mary and King Theodan, him swearing allegiance to the king. But I think he was able to capture the Middle Earth feel, which is what I was concerned about. The really personal shots and the grand, sweeping shots really did it for me.

DR: Was it too short?

JW: Of course. I would have liked a longer trailer, a 2 1/2-hour long trailer. I could go for that.

DR: Your final thoughts on the event?

JW: It was so much fun, but I'm ready to go to bed. I'm cold, I'm dirty -- but I wouldn't have traded it for anything.

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