Recently I reported on the first Tolkien-based tour in the Swiss Alps, “In the Footsteps of Tolkien,” run by the Alpenwild company. I mentioned that our group ended the tour by visiting the brand-new Greisinger Museum, home to the world’s largest private collection of Tolkien art, books, and collectibles.
The image to the right shows the entrance to the museum, looking remarkably like the façade of Bag End transferred into a neighborhood in the prosperous eastern Swiss village of Jenins.
We had stayed the previous night in Chur, a charming small city with an old center with some buildings dating back to the medieval period, including a beautifully preserved cathedral. After a brief tour there, we took a short train ride to Landquart, the nearest station, and then took a taxi out to Jenins. As during the rest of our tour, the weather was sunny and mild. (more…)
Posted in Collectibles, Exhibits, Fans
Humphrey Carpenter’s excellent biography, Tolkien, was published way back in 1977, and it is still considered the best of its kind. I remember reading it shortly after it came out and learning that in 1911, when Tolkien was a young man of 19, he formed part of a group taking a walking tour in the Swiss Alps. It was his first and only experience of really large mountains, and as he later made clear in several of his letters, the experience inspired the mountain landscapes in his Middle-earth writings.
At the time, I vaguely thought it would be wonderful to take a tour of the places Tolkien and his companions visited, to see exactly what had fired his imagination. Over the years that vague thought occasionally resurfaced, but I never imagined that I would actually be able to do it. Not until December 1, 2012, when TheOneRing.net posted an announcement that there was to be a tour based on that idea: “In the Footsteps of Tolkien.” (more…)
Posted in Meet Ups, Other Events, Tolkien
Welcome back to another in my occasional series about how I did the research for my book, The Frodo Franchise: The Lord of the Rings and Modern Hollywood. (Click here to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.)
By the time I got to Wellington for my first research trip, in late September of 2003, principal photography was over. I didn’t expect that I would get to to on set and see Peter at work. In fact, Peter was in London supervising the editing and musical scoring for the first week and a half of my four-week visit. As I described in the second part of this series, I did get a delightful tour of the Stone Street Studios on my first day of active research. At that point, pickups of some orcs, destined to be inserted via CGI into battle scenes, were being shot against a big green-screen as they fired bows (the arrows to be added via computer). One of the cinematography crew members was directing this action. I was briefly in the studio again later and saw a little more filming of orc pickups. Those were my only on-set experiences.
Posted in LotR Production, Movie Return of the King, Peter Jackson, Production
Of the three trips I took to New Zealand in 2003 and 2004 to conduct interviews for my book, only the first happened before the release of The Return of the King. I didn’t go thinking that I would suddenly be privy to spoilers and secrets. Shooting was over, I assumed (wrongly), and I figured my interviewees would not tell or show me anything confidential.
But at times they did. In my previous installment of this series, “Places Full of Magic,” I wrote about the facilities I visited. Now it’s time to reveal a few things I learned there—and kept quiet about. (more…)
Posted in Daniel Falconer, Movie Return of the King, Other production, Wellington, WETA Digital, WETA Workshop
Last week, all fans of TheOneRing.net were focused on the approach of “The One Expected Party.” But there was another event involving some of the Oscar-nominated members of The Hobbit production team. On Saturday, February 23, the Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard (just down the street from the Dolby Theatre) was the venue for “The Art of Production Design,” jointly sponsored by the Art Directors Guild, the Set Decorators Society of America, and the American Cinematheque.
The panel of guests was made up of the production designers for Lincoln, Anna Karenina, Life of Pi, and Les Misérables, as well as The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Dan Hennah was there as production designer (at the right in the photo), along with Ra Vincent (left) and Simon Bright (center), the set decorators.
With that much talent present, the time allotted to each film was all too short. Dan Hennah assured the audience that the designs for The Hobbit were not just a return to The Lord of the Rings. There were new challenges involved in what he called a “long and relentless journey.” A great deal of pre-production had taken place during the period when Guillermo del Toro was on board as director. Once Peter Jackson took over, everything was revisited. (more…)
Posted in Dan Hennah, Other Events, Ra Vincent, Simon Bright
Once again it has been a long time since I posted in this series, but what with the run-up to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Adventure and the reaction to it, TheOneRing.net has been a busy place, and now we’re coming up on The One Expected Party on Oscar night! But I’ll delay no longer.
In the first entry I recalled getting the permission to interview the filmmakers and going down to start my work, back in September-October of 2003. The second one dealt with my first interview and tours of the Three Foot Six office building and the Stone Street Studios. Now, more of the facilities I visited.
The Film Unit
My third full day in Wellington was Wednesday, October 1. Melissa Booth called and said I could come to the new Film Unit building to meet Barrie Osborne. He, as I cannot stress often enough, was the one responsible for getting me New Line’s permission to interview the filmmakers for my book. This meeting, though, wouldn’t be for an interview. (I interviewed Barrie twice for the book, first a couple of weeks later and again during my third Wellington visit in December, 2004.) He was driving out to the old Film Unit facility that afternoon to give the people working there, sound mixers, editors, and other post-production crew members, a pep talk.
As most readers know, the race to finish The Return of the King was on by that point, and a lot of people were working long hours. I was told that Barrie often gave these pep talks, and the filmmakers really appreciated them; it was part of what gave the production that feeling of being one big family. I could at least introduce myself to Barrie and ride with him to the Film Unit; the half-hour drives there and back would allow us time to talk about my project. (more…)
Posted in Barrie Osborne, Daniel Falconer, LotR Movies, Models, Other production, Peter Jackson, Richard Taylor, WETA Digital, WETA Workshop
Today Variety has revealed that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey nearly didn’t get nominated for an Oscar in the special-effects category. As the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences keeps pushing the nominating process to earlier dates, films released late in the year sometimes can’t be seen by those in charge of voting on which ones will make the final cut to compete for the Oscars.
The committee of 40 experts met on November 28 to come up with a short-list of 20 films that the members of the Academy in the special-effects section could see and vote on by January 3 to determine the final five nominees. Problem was, the committee members had nothing to look at from The Hobbit except its trailers!
The assumption was that this film would be a major visual-effects contender–but that was mainly based on the success of The Lord of the Rings and other Weta Digital work. Not all the members of the committee were happy with including a film virtually sight-unseen. In the end, The Hobbit got its nomination, but as the chair of the committee told Variety, “There will be a post-mortem to review the rules.”
What will probably happen is that the production companies will be pressured to provide sample reels of the effects in their films at a date early enough to make sure that committee members can see them, even if the film hasn’t been released yet. As Variety concludes, “Especially Part 2 of ‘The Hobbit.’”
Posted in Hobbit Movie
Reactions to the high frame rate (HFR) of 48 frames per second used for The Hobbit have ranged from love to hate, and everything in between. Now Pulitzer-prize-winning still photographer Vincent Laforet has weighed in. He undertook to see the film in 3D HFR, 3D, and 2D, all on the same day. He disliked the HFR version, preferring both the 3D and 2D versions at the normal 24 fps. Laforet’s blog post, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Masterclass in Why HFR Fails, and a Reaffirmation of What Makes Cinema Magical,” gives a detailed description of how he found it difficult to identify with the characters and have any emotional involvement in the story while watching the HFR version. The lighting looked bad, whereas it looked good in 2D–even though these are different versions of the same footage. The tiny flaws in makeup, sets, and special effects were visible in the HFR version but not in the normal version. Laforet explains why he thinks all this was the case, and although the essay gets a bit technical at times, it’s generally pretty clear. If you haven’t seen The Hobbit yet and are wondering which version to see, or if you’ve seen the HFR version and are wondering if the normal-speed version is worth seeing, check out what Laforet has to say.
By the way, he does like the fact that Peter Jackson is bold enough to test out new technologies like HFR!
Posted in Hobbit Movie
Fans of the Lord of the Rings film know that of the three screenwriters, Fran Walsh is the one who avoids interviews and other sorts of publicity. When I was doing my research for The Frodo Franchise, I managed to talk with Peter and Philippa, but not Fran, who sent word that she was too wrapped up in working on King Kong to think back to her previous project. Fair enough, as Bilbo says in agreeing to a certain riddling game. Still, fans of the trilogy can’t help but be intrigued by this talented lady. After all, she not only helped write the LOTR scripts, but she did some directing and came up with the idea for the famous “Gollum talks to himself” scene.
But yesterday the New York Times published a substantial piece on Ms Walsh, written by Brooks Barnes, who is obviously a lucky fellow. Last summer, he says, he “largely roamed without supervision” during a two-day visit to the Hobbit set–spotting, among other things, Ian McKellen in full Gandalf mode catching a snooze between scenes.
Even so, his eventual interview with Fran had to be done via long-distance telephone. Philippa chimed in as well, which makes sense, given how closely these two collaborate on the scripts. Very closely, in fact, since they reveal that they often work in bed together in their pajamas, surrounded by dogs! (When I interviewed Philippa, she was living next door to Fran and Peter, and I suppose she still does.) It saves the trouble of commuting the short distance to the Miramar filmmaking facilities.
Posted in Fran Walsh, Hobbit Movie, LotR Movies, Philippa Boyens
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences today announced ten films that have made the shortlist for the Visual Effects award for 2012. Naturally The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is among them.
On January 3, members of the Academy’s Visual Effects branch will view 10-minute excerpts from all the films and narrow them down to the final five nominees. The nominations for the 2012 Academy Awards will be announced on January 10.
The Oscars ceremony itself is scheduled for February 24. With luck, those who attend the newly announced event, “The One Expected Party,” will be able to celebrate The Hobbit‘s win in that and other categories!
Posted in Hobbit Movie, Oscar Parties
Jonathan Handel, a contributing editor for The Hollywood Reporter, covered that tense period during the late summer and early autumn of 2010, when it looked as though the Hobbit production might leave New Zealand. Readers will no doubt remember the labor union issues that raised that threat and the negotiations between Warner Bros. executives and the New Zealand government. Handel has revised and updated his reports into a short book, The New Zealand Hobbit Crisis, available in print form and for Kindle. If you weren’t paying much attention at the time or just have forgotten some of the details, now you can read about that episode secure in the knowledge that The Hobbit‘s production remained in New Zealand!
Posted in Books Publications, The Hobbit, Warner Bros.
Back in July I posted the first in this series of memoirs about my work on my book, “Researching THE FRODO FRANCHISE: Part I, Off to Wellington without a Handkerchief.” I’ve been all too long in following it up, but lots of travel, including attending the “Return of the Ring” event in England in August, has interfered. I’ve got at least a dozen of these entries planned, so despite the fact that so much attention is focused on The Hobbit, I’d better get going!
This entry begins my recollections about the places where The Return of the King was still being worked on when I showed up at the end of September, 2003. They are scattered mostly around the Miramar peninsula, which was and is sometimes referred to as “Wellywood.” I gradually visited all of them to interview filmmakers or to get tours to familiarize me with the facilities that Peter Jackson and his colleagues had built up. That process had happened during the 1990s, but it accelerated to a breathless pace as the infrastructure for accomplishing the three parts of The Lord of the Rings were built and expanded.
Those facilities have grown even further as King Kong, Avatar, and now The Hobbit have been made. This is the story of how I discovered them in 2003 and 2004. (more…)
Posted in Barrie Osborne, LotR Movies, Other production