Just after 11 a.m. Tuesday morning, 18-year-old movie buff Keith Shepro arrived at 20th Century Theater on Front Street. It was less than 32 hours until the Juneau premiere of "The Lord of The Rings: The Return of the King" at 7 p.m. today, and he was first in line.
"I've always wanted to be first in line," Shepro said. "I probably started thinking about this when the second 'Lord of the Rings' movie ended."
He was fifth and second in line for the first two "Lord of the Rings" films - but this time glory is his. Eight hours later, at 7 p.m. Tuesday, there was still no trace of the so-called "Clone Queens" - Sandra Galeana and Jana MacInnis - two local women who have made a hobby of being first in line for films. The Queens beat Shepro to the first two Lord of the Rings movies, "Star Wars: Attack of the Clones" and the third "Matrix" film.
"I really wanted to beat those girls," Shepro said. "I was actually expecting to see them."
All over the world, "The Return of the King," the final installment in New Zealand director Peter Jackson's adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy, opened at theaters. In Juneau, it's showing on Screen 1 at 7 p.m. at 20th Century Theater, with 2 p.m. matinees Saturday and Sunday. Admission is first-come, first-served, and the theater does not sell advance tickets. For Wednesday's screening of "Return of the King," single purchases are limited to four tickets. Screen 1 seats 298 people.
Gross Alaska did not attempt to host a midnight showing of "Return of the King," a tradition at many theaters Down South, because "Return" is opening in the middle of the week.
Tonight's premiere may not sell out, Gross Alaska manager Eric Forst said. The weekend showings tend to sell out, he said, but a few tickets could be left tonight and Thursday.
"A lot of times people get scared away," Forst said. "They see the news from Down South where the showings have been sold out for days in advance. Since we don't sell advance tickets, and we're a smaller town, we'll get full, but we may not sell out."
That didn't make Shepro's mission any less urgent Tuesday morning. He showed up wearing jeans, a down jacket and a ski cap, with some food stuffed in his pockets, decks of playing cards and "The Book of Mormon." Temperatures were in the mid-30s and it was raining diagonally for most of the day. Shepro sat in a chair, parked in a corner of the alcove in front of the theater's doors.
"I knew if it rained, a lot of people wouldn't show up, because they might think it's crazy to camp out in the rain," Shepro said. "Well it's not that crazy."
"I've camped out a lot before," he said. "I camped out for ('Attack of the Clones'). And in Scouts, we did this thing called the frostbite challenge, and we camped out in snow caves. So this is nothing."
At 7 p.m. Tuesday, Shepro had left his post, but his girlfriend, 20-year-old Sunshine Meacham, was saving his spot while he went to Bullwinkle's.
"He really wanted to be first this time," said Meacham, a housecleaner and waitress. "He wanted me to come out, but I was kind of skeptical. I thought it was going to be really cold, but it's going to be really fun."
Shepro planned to camp out with Meacham and his sister, Alisyn Shepro, a 21-year-old waitress and secretary. Alisyn met him at Bullwinkle's about 7:15 p.m. Tuesday.
"He's really good at waiting in line," Alisyn Shepro said. "This is just for the pure fun of it. It's really a social thing. You end up being friends with these people who have a lot of the same interests. We've met (The Clone Queens), and we run into them all over town, and we still talk to them. There's not always a lot of outlets here in Juneau, and a lot of the options are just bars. It's nice to have other chances to do things and be social."
Gross Alaska does not police the line, but the theater tries to organize the line in the direction of Seward Street. Camping is only permitted in the covered alcove in front of the theater doors, not on the sidewalk. Camping space is unlimited when movies open at Glacier Cinema in the Mendenhall Valley.