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<I>Return of the King</I> Signing at Best Buy Brings Out &lsquo;Ringers&#39;

25 May, 2004 By: Jessica Wolf

LOS ANGELES — With an amiable smile, an intimate word, a hug or a handshake, beloved Hobbit “Merry” (Dominic Monaghan) kicked off New Line Home Entertainment's DVD release of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, the final installment of the “Lord of the Rings Trilogy” this week, signing autographs and posing for pictures with a throng of die-hard fans at a West Hollywood, Calif., Best Buy store.

Fans arrived with copies of the first two DVDs, posters, magazines, action figures and even homemade LOTR collages.

“Some of the dedication of these people is really cool,” said Stephen Mouillesseaux, one of the Best Buy staffers pulling a mini-graveyard shift for the event. “We've had people sitting here since before the store opened.”

By 10 p.m. nearly 400 LOTR devotees snaked along the sidewalk outside the store, including Angela Corbelli waving a sign that read, “Hobbits are a Girl's Best Friend” and her friends who staked out their spot early in the afternoon.

They were there “for Dom” and “to buy the DVD.” The plan is to buy the theatrical version now, the extended version when it arrives, “plus the boxed set, plus the set of extended editions when it comes out — everything” one of the Hobbit-loving girls chimed in.

“And that's on a college-student's budget,” Corbelli said. “I'm going without food for a week for this.”

Cliff Broadway, senior editor of Theonering.net, was on hand with his camera crew, filming footage for the documentary Ringers: Lord of the Fans, all about the LOTR phenomenon and its fans, including some from Germany and Florida who flew to Los Angeles just to be at this signing.

He said most of the fans he knows will pick up the release just to tide them over until the extended edition comes out.

New Line got it right, he said, by being up-front with their dual-release strategy from the beginning, allowing fans plenty of buying options.

Best Buy staffers began rolling pallets stacked with boxes of DVDs, as Monaghan greeted one avid fan after another, ready to let the crowd in at midnight and let the buying begin.

New Line execs Pam Kelley and Matt Lasorsa were on hand for the event ,but wouldn't talk numbers.

“Let's just say we're extremely pleased with the [shipment] numbers we've received,” Lasorsa said. The studio expects to see a boost in sales of the first two films with this release, he added.

“We think that a lot of people have held off, and now that Return of the King is out, they'll pick up the complete collection.”

As for fans who have become fanatical about the extended versions and all the added features, some will wait for the extended edition, some will only buy the theatrical version and many will buy both, Lasorsa said. The version streeting today is the one that won the Academy Award for best picture and 10 other statues, so it's a collectible in its own right, he pointed out.

“I think we are going to see the strongest first-day selloff of all three,” Kelley added.Fans are getting this installment a little earlier than the first two movies, which both streeted in August after their respective holiday theatrical debuts, simply because the studio didn't have to wait for a 10-minute preview of an upcoming to put on the disc, Lasorsa said.

“It's actually kind of bittersweet for us,” he said, of the Return of the King bow.

Kelley agreed: “None of us will ever work on a project like this again.”

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