Ring*Con 2004: Can It Get Any Better?
Another year down the road and another Ring*Con come and gone. For the third year running, fans and guests from some 30 countries over the world gathered in Bonn, Germany for what is know to be Europe’s biggest Lord of the Rings-convention. And like any good ‘sequel’ it delivered on everything it should have: it was bigger, drew more visitors, got the big-name actors and was (in my humble opinion) better as well.
For the third installment organizers managed to sign an impressive list of actors to attend; experienced conventioneers Lawrence Makoare and Jorn Benzon; first-timers Jarl Benzon, Sandro Kopp, Paul Norell and Thomas Robins; Ring*Con-veterans Mark Ferguson and Craig Parker and topliners Billy Boyd and Bernard Hill, the latter of whom only signed up after the rather late cancellations of Karl Urban and John Noble due to work commitments.
All of them as well as almost a dozen Tolkien-experts and lecturers and four music bands made their way down to the Maritim Hotel-slash-conventioncentre in Bonn, for the third and probably last time home of Ring*Con. Because next year installment of the convention has already been announced, but will move to a different hotel in the nearby town of Fulda. But more on that later.
Programming has always been the things that made Ring*Con so immensely popular. Combining actor-panels and q&a’s with lectures from experts and enthusiastic fans, workshops, and impressive dealer and gaming-area’s. And this year was no different from that, with an amazing 10 events going on at the same time at a certain point during the weekend.
And because there was so much going on at any given time the convention floor hardly ever seemed crowded, even though numbers were higher then last year (and obviously the year before). The only times when things looked extremely busy were when guests filled up and left the main hall for key events like the opening and closing ceremony and the Billy Boyd and Bernard Hill-panels.
That this year would have a higher number of attendees compared to last year became obvious of Thursday with more visitors choosing to check in the hotel the day before the convention started, despite an ‘easy’ afternoon of programming on Friday with a couple of (German) lectures and panels from the Benzon-brothers and Sandro Kopp, the latest actor/extra to have joined the convention-circuit and certainly one to keep an eye on. Of course this early excitement might have had something to do with the pianobar…
Long lines filled the lobby before doors opened on Friday, and when they did visitors did not rush to the main hall to reserve a seat, they did not flock into the dealer area or into some of the lectures; no, they went and did something else. They are a loyal bunch those Ring*Conians; they all rushed towards the pre-registration desk for next year and by the end of the weekend 700 people had booked tickets for next year, most of which did so on Friday. Booked without knowing the venue (which has yet to be build) or any of the starguests or even what exactly they’ll get for their money.
Things picked up in the afternoon with the first ever convention appearance on Paul Norell (The King of the Dead). And although he admitted to being very nervous (and it showed, especially in the beginning) he turned out to be a wonderful, charming speaker who had some interesting stories to tell about working with Peter Jackson (and discovering the many, many ways in which someone can turn and look into the camera) and the two years (!) that seperated the filming of both camera-angles in the scenes he shares with Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas. Also, did anyone know Paul Norell is one of the two Easterlings that can’t find Frodo and Sam in front of the Black Gates in The Two Towers? Well, now you do.
After his panel came the opening ceremony (a mixture of stage and screen performances) and the introductions of all the guests followed by the highlight of that day: Billy Boyd’s first q&a. He couldn’t make the opening ceremony (missed it by mere minutes) because his flight was delayed but was rushed into the Maritim right on time for his scheduled 8 p.m. panel. Unfortunately he was at a total loss as far as why he was on stage so it took a few minutes for him to understand what he was supposed to do. After he was briefed and his panel got underway there was a slight scare for those hoping for, well, questions and answers because the first few questions seemed to be along the lines of ‘sing us a song’ (buy the dvd) or ‘I just want to say you look really great and I’m glad you are here’. It all turned out alright though and Billy was as charming and funy and not to mention mischievous as ever.
The first day ended with a q&a with Lawrence Makoare and a part q&a part comedyshow by Mark Ferguson and Craig Parker. Being in attendance for an amazing third time Mark and Craig are Ring*Con-favorites with the downside that we’ve all heard their stories by now. They found a clever solution for that though; taking questions for the first half of their panel and fooling around for the second. The format is known: they’ll tell a story one word at a time followed by an interview with a visitor who answered in German which then had to be translated by Craig (something they apparently made up a few minutes before going on stage) but it is always funny nonetheless.
Saturday was the conventions busiest day; lots of programming and lots of visitors. Fresh out of breakfast visitors were treated to the first Bernard Hill q&a. Much can be written about Bernard but fact remained that his session was funny and interesting and he scored points with remarks as ‘they should have made six movies’, ‘Hobbits are a nasty race of midgets’ and ‘we couldn’t have the Rohirrim singing in battle, it would be like some kind of scene from Monthy Python’s Life of Brian wouldn’t it?’
The main part of the day was reserved for the first autograph session. Visitors who had bought the three-day package (and they were legion) got most of the autographs for free and only had to pay an amazingly low 10 euros for those of Billy Boyd and Bernard Hill so obviously interest was high. But the autograph session left a gap in programming from noon till 5 and that was hard to fill. Unlike last year there was no real ‘high profile’ programming like the WETA-demonstration and it was something like that that was missed in those hours and in the second signing session on Sundaymorning. WETA-people are obviously busy and John Howe apparently had to bow out due to other commitments, but perhaps next year…
The evenings programming was some half an hour delayed because close to 1400 people were rushed through in the first autograph session (impressive numbers indeed, though unfortunately it meant no hobnobbing with the stars but there were plenty other occasions for that). The delay also meant Craig Parker and Mark Ferguson had to cut their second panel short as well, but they had plenty on their plates anyway as they also had to host the auction and costume contest (yes there was a costume contest but I avoided it this year so I can’t complain about it).
Very unsurprisingly the costume contest went on for longer then expected meaning that Billy Boyd’s panel started later and lasted slightly shorter then was planned. The same can be said for the other panels that evening; Thomas Robins (who made his debut and did an excellent job at it) and Paul Norell but that was okay as it prevented the much seen (or heard) embarrising silences you sometimes get when noone has a question. None of that this time around though, as a matter a fact all the q&a’s during the weekend were interesting, the questions were good and there was little to none ‘does anyone have another question… noone?’ coming from the stage. Also, and that was perhaps even more surprising there was very little ‘I have a present for you, can I come up and bring it’, ‘tell us about Orlando/Viggo/someone else’ or ‘please reenact this or such scene for us (even though you were not in it) and can I join in?’ coming from the audience. This of course once again shows that those Ring*Conians are not also very loyal but also genuinly interested in what the actors have to say, and are not so much asking questions for their own pr.
Irascian and Leo during the costume contest… just kidding folks, we like costume contests 😉
Sunday’s autograph session caused the program to be delayed for a bit as well, but no harm done there. In fact the time was well spent talking to New Zealand-native but German-born Sandro Kopp. Sandro (one could argue he has some blink-or-you’ll-miss-them scenes in the movies, but at least he had many of them) is a self proclaimed “very, very lucky guy” who not only got some work on the set but who also happens to be a very talented artist who’s work has interested Richard Taylor (with a possible job at WETA in the future) and recently got him drawing alongside the likes of John Howe and Alan Lee. And a possible book of his artwork made on set might not be far off, so be sure to check out this website for more on Sandro in the near future!
Bernard Hill’s second panel started of the final track schedule of the weekend, followed by Thomas Robins, who really turned out to be the positive surprise of the weekend. And he had stories as well, having worked with PJ before on Heavenly Creatures (although his one scene with Kate Winslet was cut, or so he says) and Forgotten Silver. Lawrence Makoare finished it off with a panel featuring his many wonderful Viggo Mortensen and PJ-imitations and some unexpected disco-dancing! After that it was time for the closing ceremony, once again a great mixture of stageperformances and video’s including a swordfighting demonstration with cameo’s from Thomas Robins, Paul Norell and Lawrence Makoare and some comedy from the runner-up of Germany’s version of Star Search or whatever they call those talent searches nowadays; unexpected fun for those that understood a bit of German!
Much like writing this report the entire weekend flew by and to be honest I’ve been to conventions where that certainly wasn’t the case. And yes maybe this was because sometimes during the weekend I figured it would be better to go for a swim or have a drink in the bar with some friends instead of being on the convention floor. But to be honest that is, perhaps more then other things, what Ring*Con is all about: enjoying yourself, relaxing and drinking beer. Err.. I mean hanging out with friends.
It was hard to find any flaw in last years convention and it was even harder this year. Delays in programming (and the waiting around that came with it) were annoying but also the only glitches in the organisation that I noticed. And that is probably the thing that sets Ring*Con apart from other events: their organisation is top notch. The man behind that is FedCon’s Dirk Bartholomae who with his key crew must have done at least 15 conventions and practise makes perfect.
Some doubts as to how smoothly this years Ring*Con would run arose after German Tolkien Society Chairman Marcel Buelles and Herr-der-Ringe-film.de webmaster Stefan Servos announced that they wouldn’t be involved this year, but none of that transpired. Of course that might have been because they were still working; doing lectures (on Sunday morning nonetheless, a very difficult time), taking care of lecturers and whatnot. It just shows the devotion these two have to Ring*Con after being the spiritual fathers of the first installment in 2002.
A devotion that can also be found in the visitors, many of whom have attended all three installments of the convention. Like I said; they are a loyal crowd, they are a smart crowd and they are a growing crowd.
And rightly so, because so far the organisation hasn’t let them down. They keep prices very reasonable, programming very interested and they keep on lining up the big names. Brad Dourif the first time around, John Rhys-Davies last year and now Billy Boyd and Bernard Hill. Obviously the successes they had in the past have generated some good gossip in the convention-circuit and for next year even bigger names are expected amongst the lineup.
They will no doubt get some good promotion from this years guests, none of whom could find something bad to say about the event and all of whom seemed to have had a good time. It was the first convention for people like Paul Norell and Thomas Robins and it’ll be hard for them to find one to top it.
More visitors are also expected and noone will really mind that either. Ring*Con 2002 was a wonderful event which had a small and almost intimate feel to it with the actors roaming the conventionfloor freely and hanging out in the bar at night. That has certainly changed over the years and now we are at a point where it is getting slightly surreal (and this is going for all conventions by the way) to the point where none of them can walk around without being asked for photographs and even the Master of Ceremonies (the ever excellent Marc B. Lee) is signing signatures every other yard. Everyone seems to be a star and thus they are almost forced to distant themselves from the main convention areas. But its a win-win situation; a convention that draws lots of visitors can offer more money to bring in the bigger names.
Competition, for now, need not worry though: according to Bartholomae a copy of Ring*Con cannot easily be put together somewhere else as the German event relies heavily on its volunteers (many of whom have worked together on several conventions). And actually that’s a pity. In this world where there’s a convention every other weekend we could do with some more quality and some less quantity.
Because lets face it folks; there’s some conventions out there that don’t compare to Ring*Con. Events that are all about autographs are fine if you enjoy lining up all day for one little scribble, but do they really offer that much more? Conventions like Ring*Con are at least worth every penny you pay for it, keeping you entertained almost 12 hours a day. In fact, its not so much a convention; its more like an experience.
And I’ll go out on a limb and say it: it is the best Lord of the Rings-convention experience out there.
Next year the organisation will face a very tempting challenge: a sparkly new location in the form of the Esperanto Hotel in Fulda, Germany. Bigger location, presumably a bigger number of attendees and bigger names… Blimey, that sounds like a successful sequel, wouldn’t wanna miss it for the world!
Want more pictures from this event? Well, mine aren’t extremely good but you can find the ones above and some others with more little stories from the weekend in this gallery here!Posted in Old Special Reports on November 2, 2004 by leo