The Return of the Ringers – Nov 30, Wellington

For the past three months or more, I’ve been peripherally involved in assisting with TORn’s party for the premiere of Return of the King in Wellington — Return of the Ringers.

I say peripherally because I found it to be of much use all the way from Brisbane (Australia). However, TORn was blessed to have three incredibly talented and dedicated Kiwi organisers in Tehanu, Rochelle and Lyric — and pulled off what I believe was a truly exhilarating night at the Skyline Restaurant on December 30.

One of the oddest things about Wellington (for me) is the long twilight each evening. Because I’m from a subtropical city, it feels decidedly strange to wander around at 8pm in bright sunlight. Hence I feel very odd rocking up to the Skyline Restaurant at 6.30pm in broad daylight – it’s like I’ve arrived too early.

But I haven’t, and there’s already a good-sized queue forming. After a quick peek around the grounds (the views of Wellington and the bay are absolutely stunning and everything they were advertised to be), I head off in search of Tehanu.

The fine art of registering 700 people

I track her down pretty quickly and ask what needs to be done — I end up attaching red bracelets to peoples’ wrists at the registration desk. After doing that a few hundred times I’m still extraordinarily clumsy at it. I’m also absolutely stuffed and mildly worried I’ll have nightmares about bracelets that night.

Thankfully, everyone is extraordinarily patient — shuffling 700-odd people into a venue does not happen in just five minutes — and for the most part everything proceeds very smoothly.

Stunt knights from the medieval folklore festival down by the bay turn up to provide free entertainment for those waiting in line — the clash of sword on sword and sword on shield is punctuated by the occasional scream of a stolen maiden.

Costumes, costumes everywhere

Eventually, I’m released from duty and get a chance to wander. One of the things I’m most struck by is the sheer number of people in costume — many of them crafted in exquisite detail. As I wander about with Ben Wooten (Senior Designer for WETA Workshop) we marvel at the beauty of the outfits — dozens of Arwens, Eowyns, Boromirs and Legolases. I even spot a very cool Grima Wormtongue in court garb.

Later on, I spot one lass dressed as a Balrog, having adapted fairy wings, made a pair of horns and procured a long black whip from somewhere. I find myself pondering the amusement value of staging a confrontation between her and one of the many Gandalfs wandering around.

I’m so busy early on that I barely notice Lothlorien come and go from the main stage. I do stop for a few moments to listen to the Harp of Gondor playing Gollum’s Song from the Two Towers soundtrack — it’s exquisite.

Shards of Narsil? Yours for $900!

I wander into the auction room — many items have been laid out for a silent auction just like the one held at the Oscar Party back in March. There’s dozens of items, including books signed by Alan Lee, Richard Taylor and Peter Jackson. I also spot some Sideshow/WETA collectibles — a tower of Orthanc and a Gandalf statue among them. Someone has also donated the Shards of Narsil. The box they’re in is surprisingly large.

Outside again, I spot a spectacular King Theoden in regal court attire. In fact, I initially mistake the outfit for Aragorn’s kingly outfit. The gent wearing it — a millionaire who owns a Silicon Valley software development company — corrects my mistake. He tells me his partner made it herself, as well as the Arwen (or was it Galadriel?) outfit she’s wearing.

And now for Someone Important

Not long afterwards, screaming and a rush of people from the large outside marquee toward the stage inside the Skyline alerts me that Someone Important has arrived.

I wend my way through the crowd, but by the time I get close to the stage, it seems that Someone Important has already disappeared. Disappointing Times.

I manage to sneak my way into the backroom — dragging my friend Altariel in with me. There I discover a host of people who have apparently materialised out of nowhere. Okay, they came in through a secret backdoor, but that doesn’t sound anywhere as cool.

Someone Important turns out to be half a dozen (or more) cast and crew from Lord of the Rings.

I’m delighted to catch up with Bruce Hopkins, who’s in town for the premiere. Ben introduces me to Gino Acevedo — WETA Workshop’s Senior Prosthetics Supervisor. Originally from Arizona, he’s one of at least a couple of WETA employees who’ve decided they’re staying on in New Zealand even though Rings is now done.

Corsair Cameos

I mention to Gino about his cameo as a dwarven lord at the very beginning of Fellowship, and he tells me he also has a cameo in Return of the King as a Corsair of Umbar. Look for a huge smiling man helping Richard Taylor load and fire a ballistae. Peter Jackson also has a brief cameo as a corsair. Initially, he filmed a longer sequence of about two minutes where he was battling one of the major characters, but eventually he cut it from the theatrical print. Perhaps we’ll see it next year for the EE release.

Lawrence Makoare, Sean Astin and Ian McKellen are also there. I think it’s Bruce who introduces me to Sean, who grants me the ultimate compliment by saying I asked some of the most incisive questions of the entire media roundtable earlier in the day. I am left momentarily speechless.

We chat briefly, and I come away with the overwhelming sense that this guy is very clued up — he has a huge future ahead of him in acting and directing. (Not that he needs my approval, I’m sure).

I also run into Royd Tolkien (who oddly reminds me of Hugh Grant) and Gordon Paddison (webmaster for before I escape back into the anonymity of the crowd.

From a safe distance, I spot Gino and Ben up on the stage with TORn Staffer Quickbeam. I can’t see who else the crowd is yelling for — it could be Ian McKellen. At any rate, everyone appears to be ecstatic with the unexpected cast and crew appearances.

Signatures, photos and chats

Later, Richard Taylor wanders through the restaurant protected by four stunt knights. The crowd is well behaved, though, and Richard seems perfectly happy to chat and pose for photographs, chat and sign a few (dozen) autographs.

I’m chatting with some friends when Quickbeam taps me on the shoulder and whispers that John Noble is somewhere on the premises. We spot him outside having a smoke, and Quickbeam quickly guides him to the stage for a hello to everyone.

John also helps out with the charity auction. All proceeds go to the Give Life organ donor awareness campaign — dedicated to raising awareness about organ donation throughout New Zealand. The Shards of Narsil go for $900, while a gorgeous copy of the Hobbit signed by Peter Jackson goes for around $600.

Shortly afterwards, I spot Ben and Bruce wandering about, handing out spot prizes and goodies in leiu of an official costume contest (which we sadly ran out of time to hold properly. Sorry guys.)

Pacy, celtic-influenced … is that the Proclaimers!?

Meanwhile, much dancing is going on at the other end of the Skyline as Ballyscully belts out pacy Celtic-influenced tunes. I don’t know whether to be horrified or amused when right at the end they strike up the Proclaimers’ “I would walk 500 miles”. Am I the only person in the world who doesn’t like this song? The crowd is delighted though, and many join in and sing the chorus line.

Wandering across to the stage, I laugh to see three Black Riders dancing maniacally. And what do they have for steeds? Hobby horses. Watching them shake and wave them above their heads ranks as one of the most hysterical parts of the night.

Huge thanks go to all the sponsors and supporters who helped make this event possible — Sideshow/WETA Collectibles, Dymocks, Wellywood, NZ Post, The Tin Shed, Te Papa, Red Carpet Tours, Te Mangai Paho, Wellywood, Craftwood Souvenirs, Citylink, Museam Hotel De Wheels, Whittakers, Citylink, Lothlorien Winery, Westplaza Hotel and the Skyline Restaurant.

Despite a few hiccoughs here and there — some confusion around the auction and the lack of costume contest — the whole evening seems a resounding success in retrospect. Tehanu tells me the next day that we raised some $10,000 for Give Life out of the auction, drink sales and such and after paying for the huge marquee, decorations, bands and rent of the Skyline. And, no, TORn didn’t make a cent out of the event.

I hope everyone who was there had a great time, and I may just see some of you at the Oscar Party in February.