If Thursday, May 19 -- opening day of Star Wars Episode III -- was Christmas for local sci-fi/fantasy fans, then Saturday, June 4, most undoubtedly will be New Year's Eve.
Oh, how the blogs and message boards are buzzing: "Are you going in costume?" asks one posting. "Are we meeting at the Hobbit Hole Cafe before?" asks another. Folks who recently pulled out their Vader helmets, lightsabers and Princess Leia wigs are dusting off their chain mail, elvish outfits and pointy ears for the opening of "The Lord of the Rings Motion Picture Trilogy: The Exhibition." At 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, the Houston Museum of Natural Science will unveil props, costumes, weaponry and other exclusive memorabilia from the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. The traveling exhibit, which originated at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, has until now visited only London, Singapore, Sydney and Boston.
But this weekend, Frodo, the Fellowship, that sneaky bastard Gollum and most of the rest of Peter Jackson's Middle-earth are coming to town, and to celebrate, the HMNS's entrance and Grand Hall will be transformed into a medieval village. At the midnight opening, hobbit lovers can delight in demonstrations of hand-to-hand combat, horses in period armor, live trebuchet demonstrations, performances by bards, weaving and even an archery display. The first 250 attendees get a free poster, and folks who simply must dress in character can compete for a replica "One Ring," awarded for best male and best female costume.
Fans of the precious can expect to be blown away, says Az James, the exhibit's touring manager. After several international stops, she's still amazed at people's reactions to the show. "In London, people had such a sense of awe, they were actually crying."
And why wouldn't they? Now, die-hard fans can examine film props up close, including a display of hobbit hands and feet, weapons and costumes -- such as riding attire worn by Liv Tyler's Arwen, a dress worn by Cate Blanchett's Galadriel and Gandalf's robes (which Ian McKellen seemed almost too natural in). Also on view: intricate saddles that took months to create (and often got only a few seconds of screen time). The kicker, says James, is the strikingly real, life-size replica of slain character Boromir. "He's silicone, and when it gets warm, little beads of moisture that look like sweat actually appear on his skin. He has to be powdered before he goes on display."
Also look for interactive elements that will put you into the action via the same technology used in the movies. You can shrink to hobbit size or stand as tall as a wizard in an interactive display. Or grab a foam sword and shield and watch as a computer translates your swipes into digital action on a nearby screen.
The sprawling exhibit encompasses three galleries and can take up to four hours to view in its entirety. So if you want to relive Frodo's journey to destroy the One Ring or the Rohirrim's charge into battle, or just see what you'd look like as a hobbit, buy your tickets early. Museum staffers are already taking requests from Ringheads all around the country, who'll be traveling to Houston to catch this once-in-a-lifetime and, sorry, precious show.