A friend and I attended the free showing at the Loews Cineplex on 34th Street in Manhattan. We got there about 5:40 PM for a 6 PM show and thought we were in the wrong place when we didn’t see a line of people.

Further confusing us was the long line across the street at the Manhattan Center (opera house/theater), which was actually for a People magazine event with Justin Timberlake. It turned out that, on the 2nd floor landing of the Loews, there was a table set up where staffers were checking e-mail addresses against the printouts we brought along.

We each got a ticket for a free soda and popcorn bag and were directed to theater 7, (I assume) the largest one in the multiplex. At first, we were told we could only sit in the first four rows or the last three, and that the middle eight rows were reserved.

I counted wrong and we sat in the last of the “reserved” rows, but 10 minutes later the same guy told everyone that we could sit anywhere. Since we were right in the middle of the theater, we stayed put. The most disappointing thing about the whole evening was that the theater wasn’t that crowded. It was about 3/4 full, which wasn’t bad, but I had expected to fight for seats, especially in Manhattan. A few minutes after 6, the projector came on and we were treated to a DLP version of the full TTT trailer. Then, with no further ads or trailers, the FOTR extended version started.

Overall, we agreed that the added footage improved the movie. I liked the original opening, but I thought that Bilbo’s introduction of hobbits and The Shire was effective and charming. Throughout the movie, the additions helped to clarify character motivations or explain events of the story that were only alluded to in the original version.

The gifts scene in Lothlorien might have been the most effective addition; we both really enjoyed Gimli’s hesitation and embarrassment with Galadriel. A few bits seemed thrown in just for geeks like us, such as Gandalf’s line about Smeagol being Gollum’s real name.

I expected the movie to feel like it was 3 1/2 hours long, and it did, though I was never bored even though this was my fourth viewing. The digital projection was clear, the colors bright and crisp, and the sound was outstanding. I can’t wait to see this version again on DVD next week. And I’m even more excited now for TTT next month.