November 28, 2001
The LOTR follows a mainly outdoor story line. It goes through many landscapes, from the snow and mountains of the Misties, to the great river Anduin, to the forests of Lorien. All these scenes needed to show the raw ruggedness and wilderness that is Middle-Earth. In this week's column I will discuss New Zealand, the site of the film, and some aspects of set construction.
To make a LOTR movie true to Tolkien there needs to be a background full of texture and detail. The driving principle behind the film-makers has been a desire to achieve authenticity: 'It has been remarkable,' says Peter Jackson, 'that if you want to know more about any aspect of the story of LOTR, you simply scrape away from the surface and you'll find more information, going back thousands of years. Tolkien created all that historical material and whilst it is difficult for us to put that into a movie, it is vital that the film is seen as being more than just characters in costumes walking around in a New Zealand landscape. On the practical side there has been a vast amount of unsung creativity.
The sense of wonder and discovery, of vast distances and long journeys is central to the book and to the films. For the director, Peter Jackson, the landscapes depicted in the trilogy needed to fit with Tolkien's vision of middle-earth. 'The Lord of the Rings is not a fantasy per se,' he explains, 'Tolkien wrote the book as a mythic pre-history of a Europe existing in a dark age, long since forgotten. So I wanted to set the film in a slightly surreal version of a European landscape - which is exactly what New Zealand offers.' Ian McKellen, who plays Gandalf, says 'Everything here is more magnificent.
New Zealand offered an unspoiled environment with landscapes relatively uncluttered with the impedimenta of human civilization: no power pylons straddling the hills (which may explain why Auckland, a city of 3 million went without power for 2 weeks a couple of years ago.. hehe!), no motorways ripping great tears of tarmac across farmland.
From personal experience I can whole heartedly agree with all the film-makers say. I have visited New Zealand 3 times (1982, 1993 and 1994), and the environment is striking. The snow capped peaks in the distance is contrasted with lush forest and raging rivers. It is a truly beautiful place. I would recommend it as a holiday destination to all!
Preparations for building Rivendell began eighteen months before the start of filming, with the planting of trees and vines that would be incorporated into a landscape that includes wooded glades and artificially-constructed waterfalls. While with the shire, a large empty sheep field is transformed in to Hobbiton. The existing lake is extended, rolling hills were enhanced by the moving of 5000 kilolitres of soil, fields were ploughed and 500m of hedges were added to the 10 acre Hobbiton site. Real flowers and vegetables were planted in the the gardens of the hobbit-holes over 12 months prior to filming. One tree that was planted was the massive oak which stands above Bag End. Winched into place and secured with steel cables and concrete, its outstretched branches were then clothed in 250000 hand painted leaves and artificial acorns.
Did you know....