WELLINGTON — Our story so far: On behalf of TheOneRing.net, I was invited by Warner Bros., supported by the good folks in Peter Jackson’s camp, to come to Wellington and relate the experience of the World Premiere of The Hobbit to fans worldwide. This is a personal thrill for me but I feel also the responsibility to convey as much of the experience as possible to TORn readers and everybody who cannot come. It is 5 a.m. in Wellington on HOBBIT: An Unexpected Journey premiere day. (More photos after the red carpet so we don’t bog down the site.)
It is strange to miss a whole day but that is what happens when you make the 13-hour flight from Los Angeles to Auckland and then to Wellwood. Leaving on Saturday evening, Sunday never happens and Monday is just getting started upon landing. Inside the modest-sized Wellington airport, all eyes are drawn to Weta Workshop’s giant surreal Gollum poking his head through the ceiling as if it is his personal fish pond. Air bubbles accompany him and the trout he is happily hunting. While it is popular culture, the workmanship and craft of the work also most definitely make it art. Eventually it should head to Wellington’s world class Te Papa Museum.
But signs of Middle-earth are everywhere. The walking tunnel between the aircraft and the terminals are also papered in Hobbiton scenics and the baggage claim is also famously fun and Shire-ized. To my delight, in the baggage area is Elysia Gibb, who took care of some of the top talent involved with the filming of the three Hobbit movies. On Monday she was collecting guests from the airport but I was just happy to see a friend. Helping her was now a new friend Jo Williams who helped with baggage and transportation and was friendly and excellent in every way and did everything in her power to solve a luggage problem. (In fact, I vote that somebody give her a big raise!)
After checking in and getting official credentials (and hey, I always feel genuine satisfaction when TheOneRing.net is treated as a legit media outlet as it should be) it was time to head to one of Welly’s suburbs, the Miramar peninsula, which happens to be where Peter Jackson built his film-making empire.
We took the scenic route along the waterfront and to a land-locked around the bay and into the completely disguised area that is the dream factory behind The Hobbit. A quick meal at Scorch O Rama, an eatery that offers amazing views of the bay and is reportedly a favorite of Mr. and Mrs. Orlando Bloom. I learned that a B.L.A.T. would be available in most cafes and is similar to the BLT sandwich but with an avocado slice. Try that at home.
I love cinema and that includes the physical space where movies exhibit and down the street from Weta Workshop is the beautifully restored art deco Roxy Cinema. It is styled and funded by locals that include Richard and Tanya Taylor and other Wetas. While there, we ran into one of the owners, fell into conversation and were advised to pay careful attention to the details around the place including sculptures created just for this space. Besides the ground floor café and its menu that seeks to find culinary adventure and spice, there is an upstairs space that is spectacular, dominated by a ceiling fresco by Greg Broadmore. That giant piece catches the eye and will not let go but the beauty of the details and the sculpture and yes, even the Hobbit displays aren’t to be missed either, along with some fantastic old movie posters.
We also ran into Academy Award winner Jamie Selkirk who was super friendly despite the fact that we haven’t met previously. As a lover of the physical places where people watch movies, I rate the Roxy as an absolute must visit in Wellington, either for food and drink or for a movie or for both. I suspect The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will play here, only hundreds of yards from the set it was filmed at Stone Street Studios and the Weta Digital and Weta Workshops where so much of it was finished.
Oh but while visiting the Roxy is highly recommended, we had business this day at Weta and as part of scheduled-by-Weta press tour. As fortune would have it, also there right at the time, was the extended TORn family on its Premiere Trip! Fellow staffers and message board users and even friends from DragonCon were all together nearby so I had to excuse myself from the offices and run outside and downstairs to find friends. Awesome!
Much to my surprise, the new red door on the side of the building was the first-day opening of the brand new “Window Into Workshop” which had just opened Monday in time for our visit.
The idea is to create a space inside the workshop where the public can get a glimpse of the artisians at work and both the idea and the execution are wonderful. Doubly Awesome!
Back to official business, TheOneRing was given the Weta treatment with other press from Australia and China, all scheduled by the excellent hosts of Warner Bros. and assisted by tourism staff by 100% Pure New Zealand.
In fact, that group has turned over its social media to me for the week on Facebook and Twitter. In fact my formerly reliable laptop has given up the ghost and my Twitter seems to hate me and my phone so the tourism folks have been spectacular at helping facilitate some updates. Genuinely awesome and hopefully those issues have been resolved and these will be coming fast and furious now.
Once the official business with Weta started, we were lead into a boardroom with Sir Richard Taylor and a hoard of awards and collectibles. The Oscars are stacked in there with the troll collectibles and fauns and blue-skinned aliens.
The press gathered were somewhat new to the Weta concept and organization so Taylor answered very basic questions in his wonderful way and drops statistics and overview thoughts peppered with salient details like rain.
Most interesting to me were his comments about his plans to see the movie, much like fans around the world will.
“I haven’t seen the movie at all — well I got to see seven minutes of it when Peter (Jackson) showed it to Prince Charles — but I will get to see it with mostly fresh eyes with my family.”
He was sure Jackson would show it to him if he asked but he preferred getting away from the final film so he could enjoy it as a fan as much as possible with his children. He was especially looking forward to seeing it with his children.
Ten Weta Workshop team members will walk the red carpet along with the Taylors and as a native New Zealander, Taylor, like so many others, takes a great deal of pride to have the film’s premiere in his home town.
“For The Hobbit I am walking down the red carpet with my family. (Doing that) for Return of the King are the most special three hours of your life. Being there in a city you live in, embracing your city, it is overwhelming.”
Taylor also noted that between the two trilogies, his team has “been in Middle-earth for nearly half our careers.”
After Taylor’s introduction we were led by him down the stairs and through the sacred geek halls of the Weta Workshop. I have been very fortunate to explore them with completeness but it is a thrill every single time to walk them, filled with treasures as they are. It is a living museum of sorts and they led the press to one of the very best rooms in the whole joint, the realm of sword master Peter Lyon. On the workshop wall hang many of the hero-swords and maces left over from Lord of the Rings days. On the table in front of us were the goods from the just completed Hobbit movies, a giant-sized Orcrist among them.
I think photos may serve better than words at this point but I can’t convey the hilarity of one of the Chinese writer asking to take the sword from Lyon to feel its weight. He knew she would drop it and so handed the massive folded-stell sword over while also keeping it and her safe. (They don’t sharpen the weapons incidentally.) After she all but dropped it he admonished her with a smile that it was a two-handed weapon. He showcased Sting in several sizes and we got a good gander and some hands-on time with new dwarven weapons as well.
“I am making real swords. They look real because they are real,” Lyon, who was a sword maker before Weta found him and put him to work in the early days of LOTR said.
Everybody seemed most amused by the rubber swords used for riding or stunt filming. Again, images not words are best here. (Coming after the red carpet to keep our site running!)
Matt Appleton, costume supervisor, took a turn as well, chatting about the many layers of dwarves costumes and the many house of process to get things right but also to work with speed to meet the demands of a production.
“It is constantly challenging,” he said. “(Such as when) a material isn’t available or a deadline gets moved up.”
MORE TO COME
So that certainly isn’t all. After leaving Weta Workshops we went to Weta Digital and of course we still had the Red Carpet Tours and TheOneRing.net combined party that you already have read so much about. I might have some fresh insights and I definitely have some cool photos but more on that later. After all its almost 7 a.m. and today is the World Premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey with press conferences and a Red Carpet experience. You can watch the live nine-camera feed on TheOneRing.net complete with chat.
Follow us on Twitter at @TheOneRingNet, follow me @MrLDC and for the rest of the week @PureNewZealand as well.