Monday, 20 February 2012

Sightseeing In Middle Earth

Sightseeing In Middle Earth
High nerd related content article.

I’ve always been an avid reader and when I was younger I had a passion for the fantasy genre, I was given the Lord of the Rings when I was a teenager by my sister as a present and devoured it. Though in reality a very drawn out saga it led to a whole new interest and it was through this I discovered authors like Raymond E Fiest and David Eddings and then back peddled onto Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury. I know other who did the same with the Earthsea series and younger kids today with Harry Potter and Eragon.
It wasn’t until the film trilogy produced by Peter Jackson that Lord of the Rings became truly accessible and my favourite movie series of all time. The rather wordy and ponderous story came to life with modern technology and story telling methods. There is no denying the story is a classic and without it we wouldn’t have the rich treasure of stories that followed but we have to realize it was written by an English professor with an interest in languages more than 60 years ago to an entirely different audience. I still find it hard to accept it was originally classed as a children’s book.

The point is I loved the movies and they gave me a deeper understanding of the story of The Lord of the Rings as a whole as well as an increased interest in the movie making process as well as concept art, computer graphics, animation and production methods. I have all sorts of books based around the movie as well collectibles in all shapes and sizes, so when the opportunity arose to nick over to Wellington in New Zealand to tour some of the locations and visit the world famous Weta Workshop.
Arriving in Wellington, I half expected to see big signs and banners regaling “Home of the Ring” and that sort of stuff , especially since this was the city that when it hosted the premier for the last movie the Return of the King it had a red carpet kilometres long and more people who live in the city lined the streets. But I was to be disappointed; the eight days I was in Wellington I didn’t see any such advertising or promotion. It has been ten years since the last movie release, they have just moved on.
This is also the town that King Kong and a large chunk of Avatar was also made. The city has so much more going for it and it knows it.

Good on them I say.

This doesn’t mean a vibrant and professional little industry hasn’t capitalized on the popularity of the movies.
I booked our tour in Australia but it was easy enough to do in town - Wellington tourist bureau in the city centre are absolute gems and they never seem to shut! –we even had a couple people who jumped off a cruise ship for the day to join us.
We were picked up by our guide Phil in a lovely new SUV with all the modern comforts all up their was seven off us including our tour guide. Phil was well qualified having played six characters as an extra in the trilogy as well as being a part time sound recordist in the TV industry.
His roles included (for the nerds) an Uruk-hai, an Eastlaling, a Gondorian guard, a member of the army of the dead and an Orc, the other role escapes me, sorry.

Phil’s knowledge was vast and enthusiasm for the movies and his job were infectious. Making the whole day very enjoyable and comfortable.
If you have seen the movies, and hoping you’ve got this far you have, you would know that there are multiple landscapes and environments, many real, some reproduced in the studio. The entire trilogy was filmed in New Zealand, on both islands; many of the more extreme locations requiring four wheel drive and even helicopter access, of course these sites I didn’t visit. But what amazed me was the number of locations filmed locally within such a small distance from the city centre.
Without going into great detail over scenes, parts of the movies were filmed in local parks and walking tracks in nearby Mount Victoria.
That's the ledge through the trees there. Before and composite.



These included the Hobbits evading the Black Riders and Aragon and Theoden look down at the Rohanian Riders from a ledge, (The army they look down on was filmed over a thousand miles away near Queenstown)
Still very much identifiable when viewed on the DVD.

The tree was a fake


We traveled out of the city passed a disused quarry where massive sets were made for Helms Deep and some reused for Minith Tirith, sadly all removed on completion of filming and the Hutt River where the Fellowship paddled their boats down the River Anduin.
The River Hutt- Anduin

About 30 Kilometres north in the city of Upper Hut a whole sequence was shot in the local Harcourt park. In the movie the city of Isenguard is visited by Gandalf and he and Saruman walk in the ancient forest and soon after its majestic trees are ripped out of the ground and burnt in to fuel furnaces. That sounds quite quite epic.
It is until you realize it is only a local park about one hundred metres square.
This area was the road to  Isenguard


Me and the Missus walking in the gardens of Orthanc

Other locations were further inland and were less obvious and due to the ten year life span barely recognizable.

10 Kilometres out of the Upper Hut city in the imaginatively named Upper Hutt region which serves as the catchment area for the water supply for Wellington we went to the glorious Kaitoke regional park a thick forest where they filmed the Elvin city of Rivendell. It has natural beauty about it but when viewed in the film, it has so much computer overlays mixing with miniatures and matte paintings and other studio trickery that only a bit of foliage is seen, seemed like a waste of effort to drag all the equipment there.
So when we were told while sitting at a picnic table under a tree eating lunch that we were actually in Frodo’s bedroom, I took Phil’s word for it.
Frodo's bedroom - Before and After
YES, it's the SAME tree.

I enjoyed Rivendell for other reasons, I got to do a pose at the famous “Legolas tree” and I also got a photo opportunity with Todd , the guy with the crazy make up who played the Harrad Captain and steered the massive elephant like creatures called Mumakil. Anyone who has seen the movie will know whom I speak.
Spot the difference, damn hard, isn't it?

Me and Todd, Todd as Harrad Captain


The furthest place we visited in the North Island about 65 Kilometres out was a private property called Fernside which is over the mountain ranges in Featherstone. A lovely property built in the 1930s which used to be the private residence of the US ambassador to New Zealand.
Once again hints were left of the filming locations of Lothlorien and where Gollum/Smeagol murdered his brother after finding the One Ring but the house and lands were a beautiful location in them self. It is still the place of the only existing set piece from the movie an old bridge that was dressed up to look elvish.
Technically it doesn’t exist because when the cleared the land to get in the film crew they weaken the root system of an old tree and it fell on the bridge a couple of years later and destroyed the bridge, the one there now is a very good reproduction.
The Lothlorien Bridge, without mist, fake trees and make up.

Driving between the sites is quite an enjoyable ride thanks to the good roads and gorgeous green landscapes that surround them.
You can’t do a tour of location sites without visiting the Weta Cave in Miramar a suburb just ten minutes from the city centre.


It's small but jam packed full of fun.
I wanted to TAKE everything home





This is the hub of where all the collectables from the movie can be seen and a must for all fans. Though the size of a small shop it is chock a block full with statues and books as well a replica weapons and armour. It also has a small museum to view full size character costumes and props and the many limited edition figurines that sell out in weeks on release. The Weta cave is in a prescient known affectionately as Wellywood. In these unsuspecting streets are the unmarked workshops and production offices for Peter Jackson’s Wingnut films and just down the road are the equally unimposing Stone Street Studios where all three Lord of the Rings were made as well as the King Kong remake and a big slice of Avatar, that’s a lot of movie money there folks.
These barrels were used for the escape from the Elves scene.


I was very lucky indeed to walk passed the studio gates when they were open and witnessed scenes from the new Hobbit film being filmed on the back lot. A massive green screen with cottages standing tall in front of it. The place was full of caravans blocking most of the view but I still got a buzz.
A sneak preview of Laketown from the Hobbit Movie


To finish off, a short walk around the corner from the old paint factory that has become Stone Street studios is the wonderful full restored art deco movie theatre The Roxy. A labour of love by Peter Jackson and members of the Weta crew.
A trip into the past that everyone should experience and they serve a great cup of tea as well.
The gorgeous Roxy Theatre
Having a cuppa with Tintin and Snowy at the Roxy
The ceiling of the Roxy's Grand Foyer.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed your account but it was The Hobbit that was written for children; LotR was definitely written for adults and much of it was inspired by Tolkien's terrible experiences in the trenches of WWI. perhaps you were too young when you read it first and perhaps you should try again. Its details make it an immersive book, superbly written and suitable for any adult of any era - it's definitely not stuck in the past.