Like everyone else who has written in, I was lucky enough to win one of the passes to see the Special Edition DVD on the big screen. However, I may have driven farther than anyone else to take advantage of the privilege – 8 hours each way from Charlotte, N.C., to Merrifield, Virginia, just outside of Washington, D.C. Two hours into the journey, I stopped off in Winston-Salem, N.C., to pick up my faithful elven sidekick, Lithilien Quicksilver, and we made the rest of the jaunt to our nation’s capital together.

We were the first in line at noon Tuesday, much to the dismay of the manager at the National Amusements Lee Highway Multiplex. Despite the sad shake of his head that clearly conveyed he thought we needed to get a life, he and his staff made us welcome, letting us hang out in the lobby rather than the cold driving rain and allowing us unfettered use of the facilities.

We were the entire line until about 3 p.m., when two local Ringers and members of, Erendis and Iorethdttr (who also leads the TOR.n line party for Washington, D.C.), arrived in full costume, including gorgeous hand-made elven cloaks.

Ultimately, the D.C. showing was rather sparsely attended (approximately 90 fans), which was a blessing given the fact that New Line had distributed 400 passes for a 300-seat theater and then reserved the 100 prime seats – virtually all of the center section of the theater – for VIPs who never showed up. Fortunately, New Line did not consider the first six rows of the theater to be prime real estate, so those of us at the front of the fan line were able to snatch the very seats we wanted most. It was sad, however, to see the rest of the fan faithful, packed into one narrow side section, outside the best audio zone, while all of those sweet seats in the center section went unused. (To be fair to New Line, they did open up the unused section just before the movie began, but moving was awkward so most fans stayed put in their original seats.)

Others have covered the new scenes in great detail, so let me just say that while many will insist on calling the Special Edition the ‘Director’s Cut’, I will always think of it as the ‘Book Lovers’ Cut.’ So many wonderful touches from the books are there – the charming new Concerning Hobbits section that gives us so much more insight into the nature of hobbits; Bilbo’s battle with the Sackville-Bagginses; Frodo’s wonderful quote explaining to his hobbit companions that he is choosing to trust Strider because servants of the Enemy would look fair and feel foul while Strider looks foul and feels fair; Merry’s reflection on what midges in the Midgewater Marshes eat when they can’t get hobbit; a glimpse of Sam’s father, The Gaffer; the first mention of Gollum’s real name; substantial new insight into Aragorn’s reluctance to lead and his ongoing conflict with Boromir; and, of course, the brilliant gift-giving scene (although some of the gifts are changed from those in the book).

Those fans who thought Peter Jackson drew too generous a picture of Boromir in the theatrical release will find plenty in the Special Edition to balance the portrait. The Boromir in this version is much darker and sinister, and more well-rounded.

Marton Csokas’ Celeborn is reborn in this version as well – his new lines and scenes give us a completely different view of Galadriel’s husband and the actor who plays him. The vicious running jokes about Csokas should begin to dissipate once fans get to see the new-and-much-improved version. Haldir, Gimli, Merry and Pippin fans also will find much to like. Boromir’s death scene, which I would have sworn to be the peak of perfection in the theatrical release, is even more powerful here.

Howard Shore’s additional score is, in places, even more hauntingly beautiful and grand (who would have thought that possible?) than the music in the theatrical release. His touch is absolutely unerring, and there were times when I was so swept away by his stunning new musical phrases that I could barely absorb what was happening on the screen.

DLP Cinema, a Texas Instruments Company, deserves mega-kudos for their incredible digital projection system. It was electric to see the movie in all its glory – flawless, crisp, richly hued and free of those annoying black dots and jumps that mark film reels. The sound, too, was far and above anything I had heard before, even in far more modern theaters. You didn’t just see and hear the flood at the Ford of Bruinen – you could actually feel it rumble through the core of your body, as if the weight of the water were about to crash down on you personally. It literally swept us away.

Be prepared, however. Once you see the SE DVD, you’ll never want to watch the theatrical version again. This has to be the movie as PJ truly intended it, and it is brilliant beyond belief.