Sunday, October 16, 2011

New Zealand trip, day 13: Middle Earth

Thursday, October 13

Before coming on this trip, my main objectives were to spend time with Josh and Team Cat Biscuit, to bask in the beauty that is New Zealand, and to do something Lord of the Rings-ish. The Shire set is currently closed to visitors (because they're filming The Hobbit there right now!), so a LOTR bus tour in and around Wellington sounded like the next best thing. We looked over pamphlets from a couple different companies, and Asia, the friendly young woman at the hostel travel desk, recommended Wellington Movie Tours, which is owned and run by a guy named Ted. We took her word for it, plunked down some money, and signed up for a four-hour tour that included stops at a handful of locations where LOTR scenes were shot. Asia did not lead us astray. The tour was excellent!

Ted took us to a number of locations that appear (or sort of appear once all the green screens and set pieces have done their jobs) in the films. While driving from one location to the next, Ted shared fun movie facts and cast/crew anecdotes, and showed movie clips corresponding to locations we had just seen or were about to see. He has a brother who works at Weta, so he had some inside scoops that you can't necessarily get by watching the DVD special features. And at each location, Ted was really good about explaining what exactly we were seeing ("Here's a picture of Frodo and Sam walking through Hobbiton woods. See that bend in the path? That's right over there. That twig off to the side if the screen shot...that's this twig right here") and also helping us line up our own camera shots ("Stand right here, camera pointed that way, and make sure you get the hill, the stump, and the twig in your shot").

Due to a slight misunderstanding, Ted thought we had booked the full day, rather than the half day, tour, so he didn't drop us off after four hours, and we didn't realize what was happening until we were well on our way to the next stop. But, although we initially hadn't wanted to invest in the full day tour, we're both really glad we ended up on it. The second half was, by far, my favorite half--well worth the extra money!

After we had visited each location, which I'll list below, we stopped at the Weta Cave where they have a number of display pieces (Gollum sculpture, Sauron's suit of armor, etc.), a lot if purchasable merchandise, and a video about some of Weta's projects over the years. Then we drove past Peter Jackson's studios where they filmed significant portions of LOTR and are filming The Hobbit right now. In fact, we drove down this one road in the studio complex, and we had to stop the bus because they were doing a take on the other side of the wall and needed quiet on the set. Once they finished the take and communicated to the traffic director that he could let traffic go again, I peered over the wall as we drove past, but all I saw was the back of someone's white ball cap.

Then Ted dropped us off at various convenient points around the city, and that was that. All in all, an excellent day! We had a small enough tour group (15) that we got to know some people and, as a group, developed some ongoing jokes throughout the day.

Oh, and after that, we tried again at Flying Burrito Brothers for Josh's belated birthday dinner, and this time were successful. The food was excellent, the atmosphere was elegantly grungy, and Josh got Argentine travel tips from our waiter.

Now, for the LOTR scene locations we saw:
  • Helms Deep / Minas Tirith – First we went to Dry Creek Quarry where they built the set for Helms Deep, then Minas Tirith. Since the set is long gone, it basically just looked like some mountains and hills. Fun fact: during filming, the LOTR films weren't a big deal to most Kiwis, so even while these massive HD and MT sets were hanging out on the side of the road, the general attitude was, “There’s a castle by the side of the road. Weird.” People weren't really interested until filming was done, the sets were all gone, and Fellowship was released in theaters.
  • Isengard – Next we went to Courtland Park, where several little snippets were shot: Gandalf riding up to the tower; Gandalf and Saruman walking through the garden discussing the ring; and the Uruk Hai starting to tear down the trees. Fun fact: they installed a path for Gandalf to ride along. When filming was finished, they wanted to put the grass back but someone wanted there to be some trace of where the path had been. So they planted a slightly different kind of grass, so the path is subtle but noticeable if you look closely.
  • Aragorn Washed Ashore – When Aragorn falls off the cliff (on the South Island) and floats down the river (also on the South Island, I believe), he magically washes ashore outside Wellington, where his horse picks him up. Here's a not great photo. The river was flooded, so we couldn’t see the actual shore where the scene happened, but we could see the rock wall on the opposite bank. Fun fact: The river he floats down flows the opposite direction as the river where he washes ashore.
  • Rivendell – We stopped for a lunch of Subway sandwiches at Rivendell. Of all the locations, this is my favorite in the movie, but to be honest, it’s really unimpressive in person—because the beauty of Rivendell relies heavily on all the CG and sets. BUT Ted was awesome and brought a Legolas costume and bow, so we could all take Legolas pictures! While our group was at Rivendell, there was another tour group there, and they did not get to take Legolas pictures. Evidence that Ted's tour was far superior to whatever company those other people used! There was also a fun swing bridge that had nothing to do with the movie but was exciting to walk on. Fun fact: Some of the trees in the park were in the way, so they had a green team who took detailed pictures of where exactly each tree was. Then they uprooted the problem trees, moved them to a nearby greenhouse that they set up, kept them alive during set-building and filming, and replanted them in their exact spots after the set was gone.
Where the Council is standing in Ted's picture is where we were standing.
  • Dunharrow Plateau – We visited the place where they filmed the smaller version of Dunharrow (where they gather armies together in Return of the King to prepare for the massive battle near the end; there was also a larger version of the camp, and I think that was on the South Island somewhere). In this picture, the men are actually standing on a ledge overlooking Wellington, but they used green screens to cover up Wellington. This area also shows up in Fellowship when the hobbits are camping at Weathertop and look over the ledge to see the Black Riders approaching.
  • Hobbiton Woods – This location was a clear favorite for me. Largely because the real location actually looks like what’s in the movie and actually appears in the movie for longer than a few seconds. Also, we had a lot of fun photo ops that Ted directed. 
    • First we recreated Frodo’s Tree, where Frodo is chillin’ in the tree and Sam is cooking. 
    • Next we recreated Shortcut to the Mushrooms, where the hobbits fall down the hill and wind up in a heap at the bottom. This was the most fun shot and involved Josh laying on the ground, me laying across him on my tummy, another girl laying/sitting on the ground with her legs over us (holding a broken carrot), and another guy with his legs intertwined with the rest of the mess. 
    • Third, we did Hobbit’s Hideaway—which happens when Frodo senses something bad is coming for them and yells, “Get off the road!” Then they hop over a (fake) tree into a little cubby. Ted recruited the four of us from the falling scene, and was very specific in his instructions on how we should pose—“Frodo, you’re holding the ring like this; Merry, you’re confused about the ring; Sam, you’re yelling, ‘Nooooo,” and reaching across Merry to keep Frodo from putting the ring on; Pippin, you have this plastic bug crawling on you, and you’re freaking out.” 
    • Finally, we went to an area in the Race to the Ferry scene. There’s a shot where one of the hobbits looks up the path and sees the Black Rider and horse. Ted’s intro went something like this: “So if you stand here and look up, those two trees up there frame the shot. Now, I bet you want a horse in your shot, huh? I need three volunteers!” Josh, the other hobbit girl, and I remained faithful to the duty of posing for everyone’s pictures, so we volunteered to be the horse. I was the head and front leg; she was the rider, horse torso, and other front leg; and Josh was the back half of the horse. I was skeptical about how much we would actually resemble a horse and rider, but we really did! See?
We're the horse and rider!
  • Weta and Studios – Next we visited the Weta Cave, then drove by the studios and some of the actors’ housing. A tree outside one of the Weta workshops was used for a mold to create Treebeard’s bark. Ted told us that was as close as we’d get to Treebeard. We also stopped at a scenic shoreline, mostly because it was pretty, but also because it loosely tied in to the films. The texture from the jagged rocks, pitted from years of salt water erosion, were used to help create the rocks in Shelob’s lair, pitted from Shelob’s venom. Fun fact: Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn) injured himself while learning how to surf (we drove past the bay where it happened), so until his face healed, they had to shoot only the unswollen side of his face.
And that was that.

No comments:

Post a Comment