“Two tickets to The Hobbit, please.”

“Which version would you like to see?”

“Which version? What do you mean?”

“At 1:30 it screens in theater seven in 3D with THX sound. At 1:55 it screens in theater one in 48-frames-per-second IMAX 3D with 16 Channel Dolby sound and seat-quake technology, for a special fifteen-dollar admission. At 2:20, it screens in theater twelve in conventional 2D digital projection.”

“What are most people saying about the different versions?”

“Our cinema satisfaction surveys report that they’re long and confusing, with iffy narrative logic and unnecessary backstory.”

”Which version would you recommend?”

“I’d wait for the 4:15 screening in theater fifteen, presented in 2D Action Focus format. It has a running time of 70 minutes with no dwarf songs, Silmarillion flashbacks or long nights of dramatic hesitation experienced in real time.”

“I was hoping to get started by three o’clock.”

“Would 3:05 work? In theater eight, we’ll start the Extended Journey Final Cut version in Hi-Res Digital Cinemascape. It expands each of the epic battle scenes by showing their impact on minor characters who had to stay home.”

“Does Hi-Res Digital Cinemascape require special glasses?”

“They’re optional with the audio guidebook headset package.”

“Will my car be okay through the expanded version? I’m in the downstairs garage.”

“I’m afraid your validated parking would expire during the battle of Azgarroth.”

“I guess that would be okay.”

“There’s also the Enchanted Express version at 3:15 in theater five. It runs ninety-seven minutes, with eight scenes of playful dwarf banter replaced by an extended visit with Tom Bombadil and two dozen enhanced CGI rodents.”

“Which version has more Gandalf?”

“You like Gandalf?”

“Yeah—I’d pay to watch Ian McKellen read the phone book.”

“Excellent. The Shire Directory Special Edition screens once at 3:30 in theater six with premium lounge seating. Online sales only, though.”

“Have you got anything that runs two hours or less, balances character with action into a compelling fantasy narrative, costs eight to twelve dollars, can be seen with the naked eye, won’t trigger my epilepsy, and starts before three o’clock?”

“2:45, theater nine. Swallow this capsule thirty minutes before show time.”

“I’ve got my ten-year-old nephew with me.”

“Oh—my mistake! With your nephew, you’ll want the Frodo Family Edition, playing at 1:45 in theater three. It runs 110 minutes, features two extra dwarf songs, and introduces six animated talking animal characters. Also, CGI safety rails have been added to the treacherous cliff passages. And Gandalf’s pipe blows bubbles.”

“He might like that. Is there a place we can get a drink and discuss our options?”

“Classic, diet, low-sodium, and colon-friendly refreshments are available to ticket holders on level 2, up the stairs. You may also wish to visit Dr. Gluten’s Kosher Java or our Fair-Trade Agave Microbrewery, both in our front lobby.”

“Coffee sounds good. Do you know if they can do something milk-free?”

“Certainly—just take this clipboard and fill out these forms. The barista will call you.”