“Does anyone have any questions about Flipper?” Front and center, Mondo chief Justin Ishmael isn’t fooling anyone. Next to him is Elijah Wood, the star of the 1996 Alan Shapiro-directed Paul Hogan vehicle Flipper. But we know this can’t be Flipper. Not for the highly anticipated tenth Mondo Mystery Movie, a series that has spanned across shows in Austin and Los Angeles, each better than the last and each packaged with an amazing work of art that attendees have the exclusive opportunity to purchase. Even though Justin and Elijah insist that we’re all about to watch Flipper, this crowd of true believers — a crowd that, when asked who was in attendance for the last Mystery Movie, saw about 80% of hands raised — was having absolutely none of it. “So you guys are just going to shit on this event?” said Ishmael in a faux tiff. “Okay then, lets roll the movie.”
And so began our screening of Flipper.
Thirteen minutes and one painful on-screen conversation about Spaghetti-O’s later, the movie stopped and another movie began, the real draw. It was still a film starring Elijah Wood, but this one had no dolphins. It also, much to my own dismay, was not all thirteen episodes of Wilfred season one. We were created by the bulging gaze of Andy Serkis and the story of Smeagol, the backstory of how he came to madness over “The Precious.”
And so began our screening of the extended cut of Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.
250 minutes later (yes, that’s 4 hours and 10 minutes), there was not a dry eye in the house. Not here, not for the denizens of Nerd Mecca at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin. These are the kind who sit at their desks refreshing Mondo’s Twitter page every five minutes, wage war against ticket sales system algorithms and stand in line for upwards of 12-13 hours just to see a movie they’ve probably seen a number of times. And while doing all of that, they have no idea what the movie is. In here exists a level of fandom that most people would see as insanity. Others question whether or not such behavior is proper or “normal.” Are these adults malfunctioning? Is this the worst case scenario of Internet-era fandom? What’s the big deal about Mondo, anyway? Jump on the Google, the arguments are spread far and wide across the blogosphere.
In here, at 11:37pm on a Thursday night, under neath the rapidly cooling Texas skies, no one cares. They are just enjoying the reward they’ve earned with their enthusiasm for moving pictures and their patronage to one of the art world’s rapidly ascending poster factories. Each of them is enjoying the vast splendor of Middle Earth seen through the lens of Peter Jackson. An accomplishment of scale and fantasy and computer generated effects that remain unrivaled almost a decade later. Some may be seeing Gollum on screen and think, “I can’t believe these are 10-year old effects.” All are riveted, all are emotionally invested. This is where the understanding of what Mondo has built can be seen so clearly. It’s not for everyone, but it’s everything to some.
The screening concluded and the house lights revealed those weary, soggy eyes — seriously, the “You bow to no one” moment between Aragorn and the Hobbits gets me every time — all quickly focused on the task at hand: time to get the poster. Ever since Mondo got Tyler Stout to deliver a poster for Akira, there’s always been something extra special about their Mystery Movie goods. And for Mystery Movie X, that little something extra was ever-present in the Aaron Horkey designed Return of the King print. They wanted to do something special, Ishmael explained before the screening, to give back to those who’d made Mondo and its Mystery series such a wild success. A companion piece to his Jurassic Park design, Horkey brought his colorful, intensely detailed touch to the world of Middle Earth:
All of the sudden that $80 (or more for the variant) spent prior to the screening didn’t sound so bad. The next morning, these limited edition (only 260) prints were selling for upwards of $675 dollars on eBay. But it’s a small fraction of those who bought it who will now flip it online. Those poster hunters are the scourge of what Mondo does, but they don’t come close to representing a majority of those in attendance. Everyone else — yours truly included — is picking out wall space.
Mondo, the boutique art arm of the Alamo Drafthouse empire, has announced that they will continue on with a series of Lord of the Rings posters throughout the year, covering all the films with a number of great artists — this includes, as we can only assume at this point, The Hobbit, which is due out this winter. For those who collect this kind of art and have allegiance to Gondor, this is very exciting news.