From: James

I’m just back from the “A Journey to Middle Earth” show at Casa Loma in Toronto. You’ve no doubt received some other reports, but I thought I’d just toss in my own two cents.

Casa Loma, a 19th Century Gothic Revival “castle” in a posh neighbourhood in Toronto, was an excellent venue for the show, and they made good use of the spaces available.

On the main floor they had props and furnishings from Bag End, along with Elven, Gondorian, and Orcish costumes and banners. The costume quality was amazing: they seemed more like period clothing than film costumes. All through the show I was put in mind of Peter Jackson’s comment that he wanted to make LotR as if it were a historical film, and that feeling was in this show as well.

The second floor housed a collection of black-and-white portrait photographs of the film principles, which looked quite good, though they weren’t quite as entrancing as the actual props & costumes. I got a laugh from the cheezy fake plate armour that Casa Loma decorates its halls with — not the tiniest bit convincing next to these props!

We went up to the third floor next, to find that the show didn’t actually match the map in the booklet: the map says “attic” but shows the third floor layout — the next part really *was* in the attic, amongst the rafters. At one end of the attic were artifacts from Hobbitton, Bree, and Moria, including the Green Dragon from the Green Dragon Inn, Butterbur’s outfit, and Orcish helmets. At the other end, in the top of one of the castle towers, is more Moria matter, including Gimli’s axe, helmet, and boots; the Book of Marzabul; a mummified Dwarf corpse; and a large blow-up of the drafting diagrams for the Dwarvish runes. They had a wall done up in rune-work — I didn’t try to transcribe it, though I could make Balin’s name out in one line.

The largest part of the exhibit was undergound, which seems appropriate. Casa Loma proper is connected to its stables through an 800-foot tunnel, which was lined with prints and sketches by Alan Lee and John Howe. Included were things like incredibly complex blueprint diagrams of the Bag End parlour window and kitchen; plans for the buildings in Bree including the Prancing Pony; many diagrams and paintings of Rivendell and Lothlorien; and much more. One thing I found interesting was the Bree diagrams: Bree’s buildings are half-timbered houses with projecting second floors — you’ve no doubt seen the photos. But what isn’t obvious in those pictures is that the upper floors of these buildings are angled outwards by 5 degrees, to make them loom over the tiny hobbits. I’m curious to see how the effect comes off in the film.

At the end of the tunnel is the “Torture Chamber of Barad-Dur”. It features an Orc-figure set up doing some smithing-work; the only place in the show where a costume is actually set up to look like a character doing something, and it doesn’t *quite* work because the orc-mask (one which was created for an extra) is empty eyed and loose.

The next room is the Gates of Moria: a large rock-face which, when the light hits it right, shows the tracery that Tolkien drew outlined in silver.

The room after is not marked on the map. It contains a number of paintings of scenes from the book, and not all by Lee and Howe. Rivendell is there, as are various mountain ranges & the like. Like the photographs, it’s a nice piece of the show, but not as captivating as other bits.

Lothlorien is next. This room contains a number of costumes, including two of Galadriel’s and one of Celeborn’s. The detail is amazing: Galadriel’s dress is made of a fabric finely textured in white on white; I can’t imagine that all of the detail will show on film, but it’s there nonetheless. The room also includes many props, including Legolas’s bow and Galadriel’s Mirror — a metal bowl of amazing craftmanship — and her gifts to the Walkers, including the Vial and the cloak-clasps.

Off of the Lothlorien room are the last three rooms. The smallest is the Hobbit’s room at the Prancing Pony, with the beds all torn and feathers everywhere — and a Black Rider in the middle of it all. Also included are the Hobbits’ travel-packs (with Sam’s the largest, with many pots dangling from the outside) and Gandalf’s cart, loaded with fireworks.

Opposite the Bree-room is Orthanc, which was set up in the actual horse-stalls of the stable; this works very well, since the stalls all have iron gates across the front. This display includes several lamps & fixtures from Orthanc, an Orcish banner with the White Hand, Saruman’s outfit, and various well-cluttered tables from Saruman’s study — including books in which you can read excerpts from Numenorean history, specifically the reign of Ar-Pharazon, the king whose corruption by Sauron led to the downfall of Numenor, and the escape of Elendil and his sons to Middle-Earth where they founded Arnor and Gondor. Nice attention to detail!

The last room is called “Rivendell”, and is dedicated to the Fellowship. All of the Walker’s costumes are here, including Gandalf and the Hobbits, as are their weapons (with the exception of Legolas’s bow, which is in Lothlorien, and Gimli’s axe, which is in Moria). The workmanship on the swords is amazing; you can read the runes on Glamdring quite clearly. Of all of them, this was my favourite room.

This room (and the attic) contained a fascinating map of “Middle Earth in New Zealand”, which marked all of the filming locations — over 30 of them, all the way from the north to the south — and the locations of the artisans involved in the costuming.

Since we got our tickets through Ticketmaster, we got free copies of the Argonath poster, so we headed back through the tunnel to the gift shop. The shop was a disappointment, though: they had very little LotR-related material; about 3/4 of the books were different editions of The Hobbit, and the rest were movie-tie-in editions of “Return of the King” (the other two volumes weren’t there!) and a non-movie-tie-in edition of the all-in-one trade paperback. The fellow behind the counter was quite disappointed in what he was given to sell. I had been hoping that there might be early copies of the movie-guide books (due out November 6th), but no such luck.

He did tell us, though, how this show came to be: Casa Loma found that, after cancellations in the wake of 9/11, they had a huge gap in their schedule between Halloween and Christmas. They got talking to their marketting people, who got in touch with Alliance Atlantis, and they hashed out the idea for this show — Casa Loma is the “sole North American venue” for this presentation (which implies that there may be some outside North America later!). Further, he said that there will be a similar Harry Potter show early next year.

The show has a small paper booklet accompanying it, which features short essays on the movie production and maps of the exhibits. Unfortunately, there’s no proper museum-style show catalog, which I would have loved.

All in all, it was an excellent show. Not hype-ish at all; much more like a small touring museum show than a movie promotion. For that matter, it’s much better as a museum show than some such I’ve seen! And with only a couple of exceptions, the props and costumes stand up as museum-quality pieces. I once saw a show of Star Trek props and costumes, and was struck by how fake-looking they were up close in person; there was only one item which gave me that feeling here (a scepter in the Rivendell room, which was no doubt meant to be well in the back of a scene). I wouldn’t have minded had the show been larger, but it was a good size (about an hour to tour at a medium pace). The only thing missing was proper merchandise — they really should have *all* of the movie tie-in books, and a broader selection in general.