Friday, November 5, 2010

Falling into Middle Earth

Today I allowed my inner literature nerd to burst to the surface by going on an all-day Lord of the Rings movie sightseeing tour around Wellington. I was picked up at 10:15am outside Base Backpackers, and spent the rest of the day with six other people plus our tour guide, Ted, driving around in the minibus to various locations around Wellington. While on the bus Ted kept us entertained by playing pertinent clips from the movies to help us see the areas we were visiting in context, as all the locations have been returned to their natural state, and it takes a bit of imagination to envision the sets as they were during filming.

Our first stop heading north of Wellington was Dry Creek Quarry where Helm's Deep (a fortress in a valley in Rohan) and Minas Tirith (the capital of Gondor besieged at end of The Return of the King) were constructed. Since all three LOTR films were shot as one (without breaks in between), Minas Tirith was built on top of Helm's Deep set, incorporating aspects of Helm's Deep into its design. All that remains are the concrete blocks the sets were constructed on top of; the rest is a mound of gravel and hills covered with scrub brush.

From there we moved to Harcourt Park in Upper Hutt, where Gandalf rode down the path to Isengard, and he and Saruman walked in gardens discussing the mounting power of Sauron and Mordor. The weather was beautiful and sunny today, and with the rhododendrons in bloom the garden looked beautiful. The hilarious part was when Ted had just finished describing how Gandalf rode down this gravel path construced just for filming, and behind him came this older man with a long white beard, just out for a stroll in the park! Perfect timing.

Do I look like Gandalf?

We made two brief stops along the Hutt River: first where Aragorn washed ashore on the banks of the River Anduin and was rescued by his horse Brego in The Two Towers, and secondly where Faramir explains in a flashback to Frodo and Sam how he found his brother Boromir floating dead in a boat. I got to lie down on the (very uncomfortable) rocks and pretend I was Aragorn… apparently when they shot the scene with Viggo they brought in a truckload of sand for the actor to lie on!

We stopped for lunch at Kaitoke Regional Park, where the set for Rivendell was built. Apparently the park warden got so tired of visitors asking how they could get to the set location he incorporated "Rivendell" signs into the rest of the park's signs, so it's on the signposts along with things like "Pakuratahi River Walk" and "Camp Ground"! Looking at the set's site, one would never know it was part of a movie, as before filming all the native plants were removed, placed in a greenhouse, and then replanted in their original locations once filming was complete. Using trees as a reference, however, the angles of some shots can be discerned (FYI, "The Council of Elrond" was filmed indoors in a studio). We all had a chance to don a blonde wig, elf ears, and hold a bow and arrow to recreate a famous promotional shot of Legolas in the forest.

The afternoon was primarily spent up Mt. Victoria Wellington Town Belt, where we visited the filming locations for a number of scenes. The first was a cliff face used for point-of-view shots where a) the hobbits see the Nasgûl swarming them at their Weathertop encampment, and b) Aragorn and Theoden look down at the Dunharrow encampment (in both cases, what the actors were actually looking at was a blue screen, and the action was filled in later at Weta Digital).

The second location was one only seen in the extended version of The Fellowship of the Ring, where Frodo and Sam, having just set out from the Shire, camp under a large tree. We recreated the scene, having one of us pose as Sam, cooking sausage and tomatoes on a frying pan, and the other as Frodo, lying in the curve of the trunk of a tree, smoking a pipe, deep in thought.

The next two locations involved the "Shortcut to Mushrooms" scene where the four hobbits are chased out of the cornfield and roll down a steep embankment to land in a heap on the road below, and then when Frodo becomes distraught go and hide under a large tree stump and root system as the Nasgûl gets dangerously close. We recreated the hobbits lying in a heap on the road, complete with the cow pie and broken carrot. Hiding from the Nasgûl was a bit more difficult to recreate, as the stump and root system the hobbits hid under was entirely fake, and as such was removed after filming; the hollow is still there, however, so we took turns posing in it with the ring. I got to play Frodo in both scenes; my co-actors were two men from Holland and one from Germany.

The last site we visited was the hill the hobbits run down to the ferry on the way to the village of Bree as they are chased by the Nasgûl. Here we recreated the famous silhouette shot of the black rider appearing at the top of the path, but by rather unconventional means: three of us posed as the horse! I was the head, a German woman was the rider, and one of the Dutch men was the body and rear. I was somewhat skeptical that this would work, but it actually did! Because we are so far up the hill, and in shadow, we really do look like the silhouette of a horse and rider.

Leaving Mt. Victoria, we continued to Miramar, a suburb of Wellington, and saw the buildings of Stone Street Studios, Park Road Post Production, Motion Capture Studios, and Camperdown Studios, where set work and digital production for LOTR was filmed. The buildings are low-key, with no trumpeting of what goes on inside them emblazoned on their exteriors, which helps to maintain security and secrecy about their projects. Work for Avatar was recently done in these buildings, and now that The Hobbit is going to stay in New Zealand, much of the work on those two films will be done in Miramar as well.

We had a fun hour-long stop at Weta Cave, a store/exhibit of the work of the special effects company. There we saw examples of the armour and weapons of the races of Middle Earth, and many sculptures and books about not just LOTR but Weta's other projects as well. I bought a map of New Zealand that illustrates where many of the key scenes for LOTR were filmed… I have a feeling I will be doing more LOTR location visiting when I get to Queenstown.

Our last two stops for the day were down to the suburb of Seatoun, where many of the actors lived in houses while filming, and where the set of the village of Bree was constructed. We also saw the sandstone along the beach that was inspiration for the "rocks" (carved out of polystyrene) that constructed Shelob's lair; Weta Workshop wanted something that looked like it had been crumbled by the giant spider's venom, and felt the sandstone, weathered by the waves on Wellington's windy shores, was the perfect fit.

I left Middle Earth around 6:30pm when I was dropped back off at Base Backpackers again, suffering from a strong urge to either watch a LOTR movie or start reading one of the books again. Sadly, I did not bring either with me, but something else managed to distract me anyway: tonight, November 5th, is Guy Fawkes night, and I ended up going down to the harbour (just a short walk from here) to watch the fireworks. It had started raining earlier in the evening, but thankfully had stopped, and I was able to enjoy the fireworks without getting completely drenched.

Wellington Harbour at Night

Tomorrow I migrate hostels; I am walking with all my stuff 2 km to Downtown Backpackers, and then if I am feeling up to it (god I hate this cold that will not go away) I will go visit Te Papa, the national museum.


No comments:

Post a Comment