Friday, May 25, 2007

Finding Middle-earth

It's next time already, or finally. Greetings from Auckland. Our trip is nearly over, our friend and travel sherpa Diane has headed home to Nelson, and we are whiling away the hours until we see Pirates.

We've spent the past few days traveling from Wellington, where we ended up spending a good deal more time than anticipated. Maybe that's not exactly true, because we didn't have much of an agenda to begin with. At any rate, the North Island has proved exceptionally beautiful in its own right, and if it's not quite as majestic as the South Island is rumored to be (we didn't go south of Nelson), it's still a lovely place to drive through. In fact, the center of the North Island, through which Route 1 runs, is essentially empty. Which means that for several hours, until Lake Taupo, you are acccompanied by little more than wide, wide views of a couple volcanic mountains, amazing cloud formations, and grassy hills and plains. I've never been to the American Midwest or Southwest, but I imagined that the feeling might be much the same, and it occurred to me that having sufficient water, gasoline, and food, as well as a good cellphone connection, is a good idea. Fortunately, I had no need to worry over such things as (a) I wasn't driving and (b) I was engrossed by Brian Sibley's new biography of Peter Jackson.

Which brings me to the promise of my last entry. The day after we arrived in Wellington, we decided to take a Lord of the Rings tour around the area. Jenifer had been acting like there was no need for such silliness, but as our trip wore on she was better able to admit to her own geekiness, owning up to her own passionate following of the films' production and releases. Indeed, she's often joked about whether our relationship would survive in a post-LOTR world, since we'd been together for under two years when word of the movies was first released in August 1998. But we've done quite alright, thank you very much, and now we had a chance to visit some of the locations we'd seen in the films and in all those many hours of DVD special features.

Our friendly tour guide, Jack, picked us up from the Wellington hostel a little before nine (this is Wednesday a week ago now), and soon we were off, with six others (from Malaysia, Canada, Michigan, and the UK) in our van, named "Gollum." Jack was knowledgeable, passionate, and not a little opinionated, especially when it came to the debacle over Peter Jackson's involvement (or not) in The Hobbit. We climbed up Mount Victoria and found the wooded spot that served as a Shortcut to Mushrooms in Fellowship. What struck me immediately was how ordinary the site was, a simple dirt path through a public park. Again and again, whether in the locations for Rivendell, Helm's Deep, or Isengard, we saw how small and mundane locations were able to convincingly portray key spots in Middle-earth. Each place had been restored to its pre-filming locations, and Jack relayed how in many cases trees were either created by Weta Workshop or digitally relocated in order to serve a given scene. If you've watched the DVD extras, you know that the films contain many special effects shots, but I had no idea to what extent nearly every single frame was altered. Pretty cool stuff for a fan, but also instructive in the tools available to filmmakers.

The tour included a stop for tea at the Chocolate Fish cafe on Scorching Bay, where we would return three more times during our stay in Wellington. The cafe is named for its fish-shaped chocolate-covered pink marshmellows and was a popular hangout for the LOTR stars who lived nearby. After tea we drove through Miramar and saw the various Weta buildings, as well as Park Road Post, the post-production facility of WingNut Films. Mostly warehouses and "car parks," but nevertheless exciting to witness. We could only guess that projects like James Cameron's Avatar were being worked on behind the walls and closed doors.

That's it for now. I'll wrap up my New Zealand adventures when I return home. Look for pics in a few days!

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Anonymous Eric said...

I'm glad you saw a few places. You sound a bit disappointed, though. Are you dis-enchanted? Is movie magic more or less magical now?

9:25 PM  
Blogger Brian Sibley said...

Sounds like you saw What's What and Where's Where --- even if the What and Where aren't actually there any more!

And, of course, I was very pleased to note that you were reading my biography of PJ --- if only because that fact took me to your engaing and highly readble blog!

Greetings and good wishes from Middle-earth!

2:54 AM  
Anonymous Eric D. Lehman said...

Loved Shadowlands, Brian. Keep up the great work!

P.S. I did the same thing with the back of my parents' wardrobe.

9:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey Rayn i need your email to say some thing to you plz send me email

director ahmed salah

12:10 PM  
Blogger Ryan Rasmussen said...

Eric: Not disappointed at all. If anything, I have even more respect for what PJ & co. pulled off. And congrats on your cover story in Venture magazine!

Brian: Hello and thanks for stopping by! And for a PJ bio that's fun, insightful, and most of all inspiring. Great read!

10:04 PM  
Anonymous Jack said...

Jack the opinionated tourguide here... :)

Good to hear you had a great day with us in Wellington!

And hopefully your script will see the silver screen one day soon...!

6:49 PM  
Anonymous Jack said...

Jack the opinionated tourguide here... hehe... good to hear you had a great day with us in Wellington!

And hopefully your script will see the silver screen one day soon...!

6:50 PM  

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