OLD-TIMERS are calling it "The Emptiest Show on Earth." You expect old-timers to be crotchety and resistant to change, but you know what? They have a point.

The newly reinvented Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus attempts some major changes, and most of those changes are pretty lame if your age happens to be outside preschool range.

The 136th edition of what bills itself as "The Greatest Show on Earth" opened Thursday and closed Saturday at the Oakland Arena. The circus heads to San Jose Wednesday and runs there through Aug. 27. Bypassing San Francisco's Cow Palace this year, the circus' last Bay Area stop is Stockton, Aug. 31 through Sept. 3.

In "The Lord of the Rings," all the Hobbits and wizards and such jabber nonstop about "one ring to rule them all." The Ringling folks have taken that philosophy to heart.

The classic three-ring circus is, at least for now, a thing of the past. This is a one-ring circus, which means the action now covers most of the arena floor.

It's funny, but you don't realize how much you miss three rings until you're forced to watch a one-ring circus for two-plus hours. With three rings, there's never time to get bored by the acts because your attention is always shifting in an effort to catch every little thing.