A MIDNIGHT FELLOWSHIP; A SEDATELY ENTHUSIASTIC CROWD LINES UP FOR AN ADVANCE SHOWING OF THE HIGHLY ANTICIPATED “LORD OF THE RINGS”

Fantasy epic or no fantasy epic, the no-bare-feet rules apply, even to hobbits.

Which is what Teddy Spencer, 17, of Clayton and his friends discovered Tuesday evening as they lined up at the Brenden Theatres in Concord for the movie they had been anticipating since they’d first gotten together three years ago to look at a preview on the Internet.

When Tuesday finally came, they were ready, arriving at the theater by 5 p.m., garbed in proper Middle-earth attire and toting food, foam swords and liters of Mountain Dew. Unfortunately, in the real world, you can’t bring your own soda, let alone a “weapon,” and security made them bring everything back to the car.

The friends were among the thousands who gathered nationwide to see “The Fellowship of the Ring,” the first of the J.R.R. Tolkien trilogy and easily the second-most anticipated movie of the year, after “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” Advance ticket seller MovieFone had sold more than 100,000 tickets by Tuesday to the Peter Jackson-directed epic, and Fandango.com reported between $1.5 and $2 million so far in “Ring” sales.

In the East Bay, only the Brenden, the new Pleasant Hill Century 16 and the Jack London Cinema in Oakland offered midnight shows. Advance ticket sales likely cut into lines, which didn’t form until well past 9 p.m. at the Brenden. By 11:15 p.m., audiences had been seated, with one 445-seat theater sold out and the other half-full.

Bruce Simpson, corporate security director of Brenden Theatres, also attributed finals week in many local schools for a relatively low-key turnout, which he estimates would have been three times as much. Although no other midnight screenings are planned, Simpson says shows might be added if the last ones of each day are sold out. “I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a Friday midnight showing.”

For Spencer and his friends, even forced disarmament and impromptu kung fu shoes didn’t douse their ardor.

“I’m definitely psyched,” said Josh Wolf, 16, of Clayton, who borrowed a ring and chain from friend and fellow moviegoer T. Lyn Bruketta to wear around his neck. “This movie, they definitely went all out.”

Wolf credits “The Hobbit” for introducing him to reading, which he resisted before discovering J.R.R. Tolkien in the third grade. It took him three years to go through it.

“I remember the exact time I finished,” he said. “I wanted my first words to be spoken to one of my friends.” Unfortunately, nobody was home when he called, and he slipped up when his mom asked him what he wanted for dinner, to which he responded, “I don’t know.”

“I like the story, I like the characters, I like everything,” said a cloaked Genevieve Andersen, 17, of Concord.

“It’s the bible of fantasy books,” Spencer agrees.

While the costume contest won’t take place until Saturday, on Tuesday night about a third of the moviegoers were decked out in ensembles like the elfwear donned by Teresa Shobe, 25, and her brother Nathan, 14. “They’re so elegant,” said Teresa. “The fabrics are incredibly detailed.”

While she enjoyed the Tolkien books when she read them in elementary school, as an adult Teresa “fell in love with them.” A teacher, she has offered extra credit to her Richmond High School students who read the book, though only one person so far has taken the oral quiz.

Still, not everyone there was a longtime fan of the trilogy.

“I’m here to see a good movie,” said Mike Pardi, 18, of Antioch. Pardi, who came with his family, was impressed by the previews. His mother, Linda Jacobs, likes the movie’s positive message, such as fighting for one’s beliefs. “Too much guns,” she said of films nowadays. “Killing now is just killing,” but in “Lord of the Rings,” the “killings (are) to exist, for what they believe in.”

The film prompted Rusty Martinez, 31, to read the Middle-earth tales for the first time. The Vallejo resident plans an all-nighter. “From here I’ll go straight to work” in San Francisco, he said. He was looking forward to giving his co-workers a full report on Wednesday.

But he had other reasons for attending the late-night screening. Besides a busy schedule and holidays, Martinez said he was hoping to avoid the madhouse he experienced when he took his nephew to see “Potter.”

Eight-year-old Stevie Sanders of Concord went to bed at 5 p.m. to get a nap before for the midnight show and to avoid being too exhausted to attend school the next day. He, too, is a fan.

“It’s cool,” he said of the book, which he and his father, Steve, have been reading together for the past month.

Whether he’ll be one of the first in his class to see the movie, he doesn’t plan to spoil it, unlike what some kids did with “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”

“The other people at school, they were trying to give it away,” he said. He just told them, “Be quiet!”

The Associated Press contributed to this story

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