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Unspoiled for ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ – Arathorn’s Review

Editor Note: Arathorn was an original staffer of back in the early days of the site. His involvement in the site has waned in recent years due to professional and familial responsiblities. His perspective on ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ is unique as he has remained completely unspoiled and out-of-the-loop for nearly 10 years. Spoilers Ahead!

So, the question you probably want to hear answered is how The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey compares with LoTR.  From my perspective, it’s pretty favourable – it worked much better for me than RoTK and FoTR, and probably slightly better than TTT.  For context however, this is coming from someone who seriously undermined their enjoyment of LoTR by spoiling themselves rotten – whereas I’ve deliberately kept myself unspoilt for The Hobbit.

The pacing of The Hobbit: AUJ is gentler and more consistent than LoTR – the storytelling unfolds at a much more metered and less rushed pace.  At no point did I feel bored – it felt like a leisurely but appropriate telling of the story.  Also, where story padding is added, it generally feels that it’s actually dramatically required in order to provide additional context for the ‘real’ story, rather than a jarring and illadvised substitution from the books.  For instance, the presence of Radagast is a much-needed and legitimate extension to portray the rise of evil in Mirkwood and Dol Guldur which would otherwise have to be shown as a slightly forced flashback.


Posted in Adam Brown, Andy Serkis, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Elijah Wood, Hobbit Movie, Ian McKellen, James Nesbitt, Ken Stott, Martin Freeman, Peter Jackson, Production, Richard Armitage, The Hobbit

Lord of the Ringtones

Following up on Sean Astin seeing ‘Orange’ back on Thursday – I caught the fantastic advert in question before a screening of the equally LoTR-spoofing Shrek 2 yesterday; In case you were wondering what all the fuss is about, the advert can be found online at [More]. In other news, did anyone else notice Shrek & co passing through Lorien and Caradhras en route to Far Far Away? Or perhaps I was imagining it…

Posted in Old Main News

Connect securely to IRC with SSL

As of April 6th, has been accepting cryptographically secure connections via SSL on port 6697 – in layman’s terms it means that you can connect to the server without other people with whom you share your ‘net connection eavesdropping on your passwords and conversations. For more information on how to make use of this, check out the new SSL section in the updated FAQ! [More]

Posted in Barliman News

Return of the One Party Webcast!

TORn is currently making plans to provide a live video and audio broadcast of this year’s Oscar Party here on the website, in association with our friends at The hope is to let those who aren’t attending the event in person participate in the next best way – potentially also meeting up in Barliman’s to discuss what’s going on and touch base with any chatters at the party itself.

However, for the webcast to be a success, we’d really appreciate it if everyone could fill in This Short Survey so we have an idea of how to put on the best show possible. [More]

Posted in Old Main News

War and Middle Earth

I spotted this great review of John Garth’s Tolkien biography: Tolkien And The Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth on Monday evening’s edition of The Evening Standard. Written by acclaimed author A. N. Wilson it’s definitely worth a glance. [More]

Posted in Old Main News

Yet Another Perl Hacker Required!

Does the sight of

$body =~ s/([\s.,(]^|)
/$1<a href="http:\/\/$3$4">$2$3$4<\/a>$5\ /xgi;

give you warm fuzzies? Moreover, can you see what it might do (and can you spot the potential bug?) If you can, and if you’re looking for a major project this summer – if you believe that TORn is something more than just another fansite and want to contribute something back – then read on… [More]

Update: We’ve received a huge number of responses in the last 24 hours – thank you to everyone and we’ll get be getting back to you as soon as we can.

Posted in Old Main News

Yet Another Perl Hacker Required!

The technical side of TORn is built on mod_perl. This ranges from mod_perl subs being invoked from SSI templates to fullblown Apache::Registry applications and mod_perl handlers. Whilst parts of the site are also implemented in PHP (Reviews, Line Parties), we believe that well-written mod_perl should be just as maintainable and accessible as PHP – and certainly more powerful and consistent with the overall architecture of the site.

Unfortunately, we are running low on manpower. We have many exciting new site sections which we want to get running before RoTK arrives. Unfortunately, the current team simply doesn’t have enough free time to do them all. So, if you’re a perl hacker who’s been hooked on TORn and you have time this summer to take on some of these projects and contribute back, we’d love to hear from you. In return, your work would be seen and appreciated by the hundreds of thousands of viewers that come to TORn every day – showcased on one of the largest and most exciting fan-run websites ever at the climax of its success.

The ideal skills we are looking for are:

  • Strong mod_perl/apache/unix knowledge and experience – a belief that mod_perl has not been obsoleted by PHP and newer technologies. The main project will make use of a templating system for mod_perl which combines the power of pure mod_perl with the convenience of PHP templating.
  • Expert knowledge of classic HTML. You don’t have to know how to make a Holy Grail 3-column CSS layout – but you do have to know that adding a <br> after a solitary <img> tag in a <td></td> table cell is needed to stop the table row height being distorted – and that <form> tags have a nasty habit of introducing spurious whitespace and have to be positioned carefully. And how to minimise obsolete <font> tags with CSS without wrecking the appearance on older browsers. And why it’s bad karma not to close <p> tags.
  • Strong understanding and knowledge of SQL – we are nearing the end of a transition for all of the site’s data being stored in MySQL databases.
  • Ability to work well with a team of dedicated (if perhaps slightly rabid 🙂 volunteers over IRC (and IM & e-mail)
  • Familiarity with PHP.
  • Passionate enthusiasm for TORn – being prepared to invest time and effort purely to ensure the continuing quality and unique position of the site, in return only for the enjoyment and unique experience of doing so. (c.f. here.)

If you’re still reading and interested, then we’d love to hear from you as soon as possible. Please mail an introduction, CV/Resumé + anything else you think might be relevant to me at

Posted in Old Special Reports

WETA Talks Linux Hacking

ComputerWorld Magazine has a great, albeit slightly short, article featuring snippets of an interview with Milton Ngan which hints at some of the issues that WETA Digital came up against when transitioning from IRIX to Linux. Exceeding the 4GB memory limit under IA32 seems to have been the biggest problem – no word on whether they felt the problems were finally worth it. Thanks to Starlady for the heads up. [More]

Posted in Old Main News

Sauron RoTK Shots?

Has PJ been sneaking past shots from RoTK in the quick montages that form the FoTR and TTT trailers? Remember the old near-subliminal shots of Sauron decapitating an innocent man of Gondor in the first FoTR trailer? Ringer Spy Raggo put forth the hypothesis in Barliman’s tonight that the footage may in fact have been taken from Return Of The King… [More] Updated!

Posted in Old Main News

Sauron RoTK shots?

Rumour and debate has abounded recently on just how many shots from TTT:EX and RoTK may already have been flashed in front of our noses, in the form of the rapid-fire montages that make up the FoTR and TTT trailers. Ringer Spy Raggo mentioned in Barliman’s tonight the possibility that the venerable near-subliminal shots of Sauron wielding his mace in the first major FoTR trailer which we analysed back in the day – might in fact be an unintentional preview of RoTK goodness. Specifically, the bright blue sky doesn’t look particularly Mordoresque.

But on closer inspection, going through the footage of The Last Alliance in the FoTR Prologue (in the theatrical cut) reveals precisely the same shot…

…but now, with all-important digital colour correction applied; transforming a sunny day somewhere in New Zealand into the darkest shadows of Mordor. So the conclusion to be reached is, alas, that we have no better idea as to the nature of Sauron’s corporeal form (if any) in RoTK than we’ve ever had, since the original “20 Questions with PJ” AICN interview back in August 1998:

We still don’t have a definitive answer. The Sauron of the books is sketchy at best, which makes it hard to turn him into a screen villain to carry 3 movies. Imagine not really seeing Darth Vader for all 3 Star Wars films. You just can’t do it.

We obviously have Sauron’s various emissaries to represent him, but just how Sauron himself appears is still a puzzle we are trying to solve. I agree that you can’t reduce him to being a big guy striding around in black armour – but he cannot be limited to a flaming eye either. It’s tough. We’ll keep working on it.


Demosthenes did some digging around and found two key reports from almost precisely 2 years ago, courtesy of Ringer Spy Sylvesterpasemester by way of Tehanu, which describes how when working as extras on the set, they saw “a huge guy with black armour and a huge kind of battleaxe or a hammer, who was standing in the front of a giant bluescreen and there were nine, I repeat !!NINE!! smaller guys with crowns around him…” [More] (N.B. the updated report then reappraises this figure to EIGHT smaller guys). Now, there is obviously the chance that this was an abandoned shot from the FoTR Prologue – but the mention of “Around him there lay tons of dead human bodies and a great corps[?]” hints perhaps even at the infamous RoTK Oliphaunt Set? We sure didn’t see this in FoTR, though…

And further revelations about the extent of Sauron’s appearance in the films were made by Philippa Boyens herself in Creative Screenwriting Magazine as discovered by Ringer Spy Hunter – specifically the top of the third column on this page. And in the same story, Sylvesterpasemester updated his original report – giving details of the armour of the troops on set. But is it the Last Alliance (complete with Nazguls who never made it to the final cuts) – or the Last Battle before the Black Gate of Mordor? Decide for yourselves… [More]

Posted in Old Spy Reports

Massive Attack

From last weekend’s Sunday Times Culture supplement, here’s yet another article all about MASSIVE – the artificial intelligent crowd scene generation software used by Weta Digital on the films. Whilst most of it’s regurgitation of the excellent video documentaries on the Official Site, there are a few new snippets to be garnered. [More]

Posted in Old Main News

Massive Attack

From last weekend’s Sunday Times Culture supplement, here’s yet another article all about MASSIVE – the artificial intelligent crowd scene generation software used by Weta Digital on the films. Whilst most of it’s regurgitation of the excellent video documentaries on the Official Site, there are a few new snippets to be garnered.

Massive Attack

A computer with a mind of its own made the awe-inspiring battle scenes in The Two Towers, reports Courtney Macavinta

In a sparse, sunlit loft, the programmer Stephen Regelous quietly works alone every day to the hum of his laptop. But what he is really doing is leading the masses. Regelous created Massive, the special-effects program behind the colossal battles in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. Using Massive, the Oscar-winning Weta Digital team pulled off hugely anticipated scenes for The Two Towers – such as the battle at Helm’s Deep – by digitally generating smart crowds to supplement the live action.
The computer generated characters, called agents, have minds of their own. “Every agent has its own choices and a complete brain,” Regelous says. “The most important thing about making realistic crowds is making realistic individuals.”
To bring JRR Tolkien’s books to life, Gathering 70,0000 or so tall, broad-shouldered extras, dressing them in elaborate armour and choreographing them slaughtering each other was out of the question. And that was just one scene from the prologue to The Fellowship Of The Ring. So in 1996, Peter Jackson asked Regelous, who had worked on the director’s film The Frighteners, to come up with a program that could handle the task. In Massive, agents’ brains – which look like intricate flow charts – define how they see and hear, how fast they run and how slowly they die. For the films, stunt actors’ movements were recorded in the studio to enable the agents to wield weapons realistically, duck to avoid a sword, charge an enemy and fall off tower walls, flailing.
Like real people, agents’ body types, clothing and the weather influence their capabilities. Agents aren’t robots, though. Each makes subtle responses to its surroundings with fuzzy logic rather than yes-no, on-off decisions. And every agent has thousands of brain nodes, such as their combat setting, which has rules for their level of aggression. When an animator places agents into a simulation, they are released to do what they will. It’s not crowd control, but anarchy. Each agent makes decisions from its point of view. Still, when properly set up, the right character will always win the fight.
“It’s possible to rig fights, but it hasn’t been done,” Regelous says. “In the first test fight we had 1,000 silver guys and 1,000 golden guys. We set off the simulation, and in the distance you could see several guys running for the hills.” For inspiration, Regelous didn’t watch war movies as you might expect. Instead he experimented with artificial intelligence by growing digital plants, and studied how people avoided each other on crowded streets.
Massive is not just for making war. It was also used to generate doubles of the film’s stars and to create flocks of birds. “I wanted to take the processes of nature and apply them to generate computer imagery,” Regelous said. As a result, when the dark wizard Saruman sends his Uruk-hai warriors to Helm’s Deep to crush the human alliance in The Two Towers, the army isn’t made up of the same character copied and pasted 50,000 times, marching around like a chain of paper dolls.
“Every soldier is drawing from their own repertoire of military moves and determining how they will fight the fight,” explains Richard Taylor, director of Weta Workshop, on New Line Cinema’s site. “Some of the scenes in Helm’s Deep defy belief.”
Regelous plans to sell Massive for £25,000 per single floating licence. Even if he doesn’t win over the market, some say he’s made great advances. Seth Lippman, a technical director for the first two Rings films, said Massive surpasses techniques used for other Oscar-winning films he has worked on.
“In What Dreams May Come, the crowd characters were like 2-D billboards in space – filler. They couldn’t become main parts of the action,” Lippman said. “The illusion created by using the 2-D billboards would be exposed when employing the radical 3-D moves Peter Jackson is famous for. With the Massive approach, he could fly cameras right through the middle of the battle.”
For his part, Regelous is satisfied that Massive’s agents are covert enough to win over fans of the trilogy. “I can’t tell what’s Massive and what’s not any more.”

Originally reprinted by the Sunday Times Culture from Lycos News. Copyright © 2002 Lycos Inc. All rights reserved.

Posted in Old Special Reports