Thursday, 31 December 2009

Call for hobbits - Update 31/12/2009

Note that my earlier post on sending in your photos to the studio is NOT an official Casting Call - it is merely a replacement address for the obviously wrong information posted previously on some other blog that had been widely distributed online.

As far as I can tell, Altan Baltes (the author of that blog) is in the business of collecting $50 of anyone who wants their name and photos sent to publicly available studio addresses. It seems odd to me that you'd want to spend $50 for something you can do for free, but hey, if that's what you want to do, go for it. I suspect he got the addresses from (a) the phone book, (b) the yellow pages, or (c) a hat.

NB - If you want to send me $50, i'll happily drink it away in the nearest pub make sure your photo gets to the studio. Trust me.

There was a recent TORn message that suggested the address I posted may be wrong, but I assure you, your photos will reach the right people. TORn does not in fact, contradict my message - essentially what Xoanon is saying is that the actual OFFICIAL casting call will come approximately February of 2010. Xoanon has sent me a message about who his source is, and both our sources are very high up, and talking to each other.

The official casting call will come from the official sources, of which I am NOT one. I don't think TORn is an official channel either, but they have far better contacts than I have, so perhaps it will be through them. I promise I will post any information I have for all to see when it happens.

So, to recap:
  1. The addresses posted on the Acting Auditions blog are wrong.
  2.  The address I posted on my blog is correct - for now. There isn't an official call for extras yet though, but your photos will be kept until they need them.
  3. Around February, there will be a "proper" call for extras, through the official channels. I'll post anything I hear.
  4. As always, keep an eye on both my blog AS WELL as
  5. Send your photos with your contact details and any other information (age, location, availability, etc) to the studio, and wait. If they need more information, they will let you know in good time.
  6. DO NOT HASSLE THE STUDIO PEOPLE - they will make up their mind about hiring you much sooner (ie, "no thanks, we don't need psychos or stalkers on this movie").

I know everyone is very excited by this movie but we must let them move at their own time. Peter Jackson keeps assuring us that everything is still very much on schedule, and he knows  what he's talking about.

Something else too - I can not help you with visa applications, casting applications, or your shoelaces. Please don't ask. I can only offer my personal, non-professional advice (or indeed, downright UNprofessional advice), but I'm probably not the right person to ask. Please do your own homework first.

And one other thing - I've been asked a few times if there's an age limit for applications. I haven't heard about one, and I'm assuming there isn't one. There are often child roles in big movies, and I don't see why The Hobbit would be any different. I'm sending in photos for my youngest son who is 15 years old. Think about it - did you see any kids or teenagers in LOTR? Right, so apply already!

Good luck, and may the most interesting looking people get in!

  - Jack

PS - have a very exciting New Year everybody!!!

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Cameras rolling???

Wow, interesting phonecall I just had. One of my contacts called me, identified himself as one of Saruman's spies (no, really!), and told me about his day. He mentioned he'd just run into a friend of his, who met up with an actor friend who was in town this week. Oddly, this actor said she'd been on camera already, for the new PJ movie. A quick double take confirmed that it was none other than - The Hobbit!

Cameras rolling already??? What??!?

So keeping in mind you heard it here (first hand), I heard it from a spy (second hand), who heard it from an unnamed friend (third hand), who got it from the horse's mouth (fourth hand information). So it's bound to be 100% true, right???

My suspicion, if it's true at all, is that it might have been an audition or something. I really don't think they've started filming already.

But it's kinda exciting to think it might have begun, isn't it?

  - Jack M, spreading a few more rumours before the end of the year... :)

Monday, 28 December 2009

Call for Hobbit Extras - for real this time!

After all that excitement a few weeks ago about the "official" Hobbit casting call that turned out to be mostly  bogus, I've done a little hunting around talking to people here in Wellington, New Zealand.

Here are the issues:

  • The personal blog (ie, not official studio site) where the bogus casting call was posted on mentions that "principal photography is tentatively scheduled to begin in New Zealand around May or June, 2011". As we've already found out from fairly official channels (eg, Peter Jackson himself), principal photography is scheduled to begin as early as March or April 2010. Why would they be asking for extras 18 months before they need them?
  • The  address given for the Principle Acting Casting Director, Liz Mullane, is not the correct address to send CV's to. It appears to be some sort of street address in an Wellington suburb, where as far as I can tell, the only businesses are the local fish'n'chips shop and the pub. I would not recommend sending any CV's to this address if you want to hear back from Liz Mullane Casting. Generally, actors are expected to go through their agents anyway, so principle actors wouldn't personally apply for roles in any case.
  •  The address given for the Extras Casting Director, Miranda Rivers, may well be right but it's also not official. I've not chased this one up at all, because I have the correct address (see later on this page).

So, the lesson, as Peter Jackson reminded us in the latest video clip, is "never believe anything you read on the internet (apart from this site, which is 100% accurate, all the time)". Ok, he wasn't talking about my site but it still applies, I think.

Now for the good news - I've been talking to my contact at Three Foot Seven Limited, the company here in Wellington who is actually making The Hobbit, and I have received permission to publish the ACTUAL address to send your Hobbit Extras application to.

First though, some helpful advice for applying:

  1. They will only consider you for a role if you can actually work in New Zealand. That is, you MUST have NZ Tax number. If you do not have one, do not bother to apply, you'll only be wasting their time (and yours). So, you must be either a NZ Citizen or Permanent Resident or have a temporary working visa that would see you through the entire filming schedule. NZ law says we must hire locals before we can even consider bringing in overseas people, unless they perform a task that can not be performed by locals (eg, principle actors). Extras are totally replacable. Think of extras as glorified props.
  2. It appears they will only accept physical mail, not email or fax.
  3. They will be looking for clear photographs of your head, straight on and profile, and also a full bodyshot (clothed, please!) face on as well as profile. It helps if they can see how many limbs you still have, for instance.
  4. Once you have sent them the photos and a return address, they will in all likelihood send you a proper application form with a bunch of relevant questions - other skills, measurements for clothing sizes, shoe sizes, that sort of thing. So, make sure you send them your return address.
  5. Do not bother to tell them what you think you'd be most suitable at (hobbit, elf, human, orc, whatever). They will decide that on viewing the photos. Generally, most people will want to be a hobbit or an elf anyway, but will end up being an orc or a dead dwarf, and in the background. Still sound like fun? Read on! :)

The address to send your photos to :

Hobbit Extras Application
3 Foot 7 Limited
PO Box 15104
Wellington 6243

After that, just wait. If they like your face, I'm sure they'll be in touch. If you don't hear from them, obviously you're just too ugly. Or, not ugly enough. I'm not quite sure how that works. :)

  - Jack M.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Two months left for King Kong ship...

The ship used by Peter Jackson for the movie King Kong is finally to be turned into a diving attraction, somewhere off the Wellington south coast.

The aging fishing vessel, originally named "Manuia" and built in the Netherlands in 1965, was bought for the King Kong production around 2004. It was heavily modified by the Weta Workshop to resemble an old 1890's ship, complete with smoke-stack. The original red/green colours were replaced with black, yellow and rust coloured paint, and the general shape was changed as well.

After the movie was completed, it stayed on the edge of the Miramar peninsula, where it's been moored ever since.

Now, word has it that the King Kong ship is finally going to be sunk, around mid February 2010. This has been widely expected for about three years now but the signs are pretty solid this time. Slowly, the ship is being stripped of all furnishings and non-sinkable items, and anything environmentally unfriendly. It is my expectation that it will be towed out to sea and scuttled somewhere near Wellington waters, to attract divers.

Before it's completely stripped, I hope to get a few choice souvenirs off it, if there's anything left - I know for instance that a lot of the external rivets on the hull exterior are fake, and would make great collectible items.

NB - the horizontal line of rivets is has a gap where the paint has flaked
off, taking the rivets with it - obviously glued on to the side.

Let me know if anyone is interested - I can't make any promises but I'll see what I can do!

  - Jack M

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Update on casting call - READ THIS before you send your photos in...

While I've been hammering away on the look of the blog, here's been a few things happening here in Wellywood circles as well. By now you will have heard that a casting call has been announced by an American casting agency.

I'm not 100% convinced that it's all correct - the Actors Call address isn't at the studio, and the Extras Call address is different from the one I was given by Peter Jackson's office a few months ago. The few people I've spoken to in the last two days tell me their agents know nothing about any of this - you'd expect Wellington's own agencies to be in the loop before the internet announcements come through?

I will be contacting some people in the next few days to see if I can verify any of this officially, and I'll drop a note here. And on Twitter, and on Facebook!

For now though,make sure you send them only copies, so you can send them again when the call comes through from a NZ channel (for instance, your agents, or the Dominion Post). Kristin Thompson from The Frodo Franchise wrote a good article about how it all went the last time, during the King Kong days.

The best strategy as always : hope for a role, expect a rejection.

Hard hats please, heavy construction going on...

First of all I wanted to thank everyone for their great comments, suggestions and wellwishes. Positive criticism is always a huge energy boost, not to mention good for the ego!

As you can see I've been working hard on implementing some of the suggestions you've all given me. There's a button for adding me to your RSS reader (the +Google button), I've set up a Twitter feed (#nznoldor), and I'm currently working on Facebook as well, although that's proving to be a bit of a hassle.

I've never been a big fan of the Facebook look, but it's very useful for getting hold of people. So apart from my personal page, I've now set up a NZ Noldor page on it. You should be able to become a fan of it by clicking on one of the buttons on the right here.

I've tested everything as much as possible but let me know if anything doesn't work yet, I'll fix it as soon as possible.

  - Jack

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Blog feedback wanted - how am I doing?

Hi y'all! Hope you're all enjoying my little corner of the blogosphere!

I just wanted to make a few things clear about the purpose of this blog. There seems to be no lack of Hobbit Rumours blogs around - I'm currently subscribed to about a half dozen or so. The big one of course is (or TORn, to the initiated). You may have noticed that I've put their headlines into the side bar of this page. I'd be a fool to try to compete with them, and that was never my intention.

However, I've noticed that most of the other blogs seem to delight in reposting TORn's items on their own pages. This seems a bit pointless to me, as I'm assuming that most Hobbit fans will already have a permanent link to TORn anyway, so the link (and soon after, the blog) just becomes noise in an already noisy world.

Which brings me to the purpose of my blog. My blog isn't a high-volume one. Sometimes I'll not hear anything interesting for a week or two, other times I'll suddenly have half a dozen items in one day. In general I try to only write about local Wellington related news that I've come across myself. I have a good network of spies out there, some of whom have little or no access to the internet (I know, who'd believe that!... ((you know who you are, B&M))) :)

I always copy my entries to TORn's spy report email address - sometimes they think it's worthy of spreading further; sometimes they don't. That's cool - I'm always honoured to be mentioned by them. However, since they don't always feature all my entries, it's worth adding my blog (or my RSS feed) to your newsfeeds, if you want to stay up-to-date with the latest local rumours and news. I'm fully expecting to have a big increase in cool news in the coming months - that's the whole reason I started writing them up in the first place!

I'd like to ask a favour of you all - can you tell me what else would you like to see? Should I add a Facebook group you can become a fan of? A twitter feed? A usable email address? Something else? Leave me a quick message here with suggestions - I'd love to hear from you!

One request I've often had from my tour guests is why I don't sell t-shirts or other merchandise, either on the tour or here online. Simply put, I've generally concentrated on being a tourguide rather than becoming a retailer, and let's face it, there's already plenty of online shops to choose from.

Having said that, I've recently been playing on, and I've designed a basic t-shirt that I think looks quite cool. Would there be any interest in stuff like this? Do you like this one? Do you think it's the most awful design you've ever seen? Should I stick to guiding and blogging? Don't hold back! Tell me!

Get off the road, Wellington, NZ shirt

I often have access to local items that Weta Cave can't sell online for legal reasons (some of the LOTR related stuff can't be sold outside of NZ - please don't ask me for a legal explanation but that's what they've told me). I'm quite happy to buy off Weta Cave at their retail prices and pass them on to anyone out there, if there's interest in that. For instance, they've just started selling an ultra cool Sauron t-shirt designed by Daniel Falconer that they can't sell online - let me know if anyone is interested in one.

One cool shirt - it's just under $nz50.
Get in touch if you're keen on one
(I'll add a small fee for p&p and my time).

The floor is open - let me know your thoughts!

  - Jack M.

The Hobbit location in Upper Hutt's Harcourt Park?

This just in - I've just heard from a very reliable source that Upper Hutt will be overrun by a large film crew, come February 2010. My source mentioned it would probably be in the vicinity of Harcourt Park, which was of course the location for the gardens of Isengard, where Gandalf arrives on his horse and tells Saruman that he's found the One Ring.

Harcourt Park is a very green park full of grass, trees and shrubs, and was primarily used in LOTR to give Isengard a "cultured, English garden" look. I'm having a hard time picturing it as anything other than Isengard. The only Hobbit location I can think of would be Beorn's house, but that's just speculation, of course.

Technically, Isengard doesn't appear in The Hobbit book, although if the script includes the White Council sequences as widely reported, then we may yet see a return to the tower of Orthanc during the time that Saruman is still a good guy.

There is another possibility - Upper Hutt was also used for various river locations, notably the River Anduin and the scene where Brego rescues Aragorn from the (unnamed) Middle-earth river. There are a few rivers in The Hobbit story, so it might be a completely different location altogether.

If the crew arrives as early as February, they must be building quite a significant filmset, given that Peter Jackson has just announced that filming won't begin until mid 2010. To put that in perspective - Rivendell took almost three months to build, and Edoras took almost eight months. Helms Deep and Minas Tirith took about two months each. If they start building in Upper Hutt in February, and filming doesn't begin until June, that might be quite a major set by the time they're done!

Anyone have any thoughts? Please leave them below!

- Jack M.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Hobbits living in Upper Hutt?

A few months ago we visited Gandalf Crescent in Paraparaumu, while on a tiki-tour around the region on my birthday (my 29th, if you like). My lovely wife Aiko just celebrated her birthday as well (by a staggering coincidence, she's also 29 again), and as luck would have it, we'd found another Tolkien reference on the local map, this time in Upper Hutt (Silverstream). What with us both being rings-geeks, we just can't stand knowing that there's a place out there that we haven't visited yet, so off we went.

Upper Hutt was used quite extensively for the filming of various locations - apart from the studios in the suburb of Taita, Isengard's gardens can be found in Harcourt Park, the Hutt River was used for at least three scenes (River Anduin, River Isen, and an unnamed scene where Brego rescues Aragorn), and of course Rivendell is located in the Upper Hutt Regional Park of Kaitoke. And, again apart from the Taita studios, we visit them all on the fullday tours (commercial plug!).

However, the location for today wasn't used for the movie - it's another local street with a great name: Hobbit Lane.

Unlike Gandalf Crescent, this one looks a bit more established, so it wouldn't at all surprise me if it existed before the movie was made.

As you can see from the map below, it's a small cull-de-sac (which is actually anglo-french for "Bag End", curiously) off a main road in the back of the suburb, nicely against the side of the hill, surrounded by trees and shrubs. Again, as with Gandalf Crescent, there don't appear to be any other LOTR related names in the neighbourhood either.

View Hobbit Lane on larger map

Once again, I am not sure about the details of how it got it's name, so if you have more detail, or have suggestions on where I could start looking, please let me know!

Got anything better? Drop me a line!

- Jack M.

John Howe autograph session at the Weta Cave Sunday Dec 6th

It looks like John Howe is taking a day away from designing Smaug the Magnificent, and will be releasing his new books, Lost Worlds and Fantasy Drawing Workshop, at the Weta Cave next Sunday. He'll be autographing them for all comers from 1:00pm onwards, until about 3:00pm.

If the session is anything like last time though, it may well last a bit longer - John Howe is a very popular artist these days so if you want to meet this amazing man, be sure to arrive early rather than late!

If you have other books with his illustrations in them, bring them along, he signed my collection of Middle-earth maps last time (thanks again Mr Howe!). In fact I expected him to sign the inside cover but he signed all the maps individually!

For more information on John Howe, check out his IMDB page, or else the Weta Workshop website has more details as well.

As an aside, since I'm often in a postition to buy cool stuff that may not be available online, would anyone outside of the Wellington region be interested in me buying for them, and passing it on for a nominal fee (to cover things like packing and shipping)?

For instance, the Weta Cave is unable to send some LOTR related items to other countries for licensing reasons, however I could buy from them as a normal customer and send them on.

Leave me a note here if there is a general interest? I'm sure I can find some sort of mechanism to facilitate it, eg, PayPal or something.

  - Jack

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Second Hobbit location confirmed?

It looks like the second location (after Matamata's Hobbiton) has been leaked by the NZ Department of Conservation - Lake Wakatipu, according to the Otago Daily Times, who interviewed DOC's Wakatipu area manager Greg Lind.

However, Wingnut Films (Peter Jackson's company) is denying any such deal at this stage. Then again, they'd say that in either case, so asking them is like asking the CIA who killed JFK; the answer isn't necessarily going to sway anybody.

I've been trying to get hold of the folks looking after Rivendell (Kaitoke Regional Park, just north of Wellington) but so far they've not heard anything yet. Watch this space!

There is one thing that I've been more than a little curious about. So far, we know two things about the Hobbit movie. First, we know that the Hobbiton set is already being rebuilt in Matamata. Second, we know that the project hasn't had the greenlight from Hollywood yet. So, the question I have is this - who is paying for the refurbishment of Hobbiton - is PJ so assured of success that he's funding that himself? Questions like that leave me feeling very positive about the future!

For the full Otago Daily Times article, read here.

  - Jack M.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Update - "Lovely Bones" Red Carpet moved to the 14th of Dec

Only a few days ago I was reporting that this event was supposed to take place on Friday the 11th of December, only to find out today that they've gone and changed it to the 14th of Dec (Monday).

Wotzon has changed it on their site, and TV3's website is also reporting the new date. However, I've just spoken to the staff at The Embassy Theatre and they weren't 100% sure if that date had been set in concrete yet.

I'm guessing we'll keep our ears to the ground for more details! The TV3 article did say there would be stars, and chances for autographs.

  - Jack M.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

"Lovely Bones" Red Carpet Parade & Greg Broadmore autographs

It's been a little while since the last entry - rest assured I haven't stopped blogging but I've simply not heard anything juicy enough to warrant an entry!

On top of that we've finally moved house, and that's kept us plenty busy here as well. I'm no longer living smack in the middle of the capital but just outside it, in one of the suburbs (Johnsonville). Where we were living under the shadow of a hill before we now enjoy an all-day sunshine and a view of miles and miles of farmlands from the top of a hill. There's also a bit more space for me to spread my LOTR collection around a bit more, and put a few old posters back up that I haven't seen for a few years. Yay!

Wellywood is very quiet at the moment, by which I don't mean that nothing is happening, just that nobody is talking much. I heard that there is going to be a central city red carpet parade for the opening of James Cameron's Avatar but it now appears that the parade is for Peter Jackson's Lovely Bones instead. Date is the 11th of December, according to Wotzon. Details are yet to be confirmed though.

The other event coming up this week - two events actually - is the release of Greg Broadmore's new Dr Grordbort book, simply entitled "Victory" (the last one was "Doctor Grordborts Contrapulatronic Dingus Directory" - do I get a prize for typing that correctly without spellchecking it?).

Among the many cool things Broadmore has designed are a number of awesome rayguns (the ManMelter is still my favourite, although I see the Atomiser has now come out as a miniature!). He'll be signing the new book for all comers on Friday the 20th and on Sunday the 22nd, at the Weta Cave. I might just bring along my three mini-guns as well.

I'm having a few meetings with a few contacts this week, hopefully I'll have some actual news to report on the Hobbit fronts...!

  - Jack M.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Worser Bay School (in Miramar) auctioning off Weta Collectible

Got this information from Miramar Mike
Mike Riversdale said...
As you probably know Worser Bay School here in Miramar is having it's annual fair on Sun 1st Nov (11am-2pm) and along with the circus theme there is a "silent auction". "So?", I hear you say - well, one prize (to be given out at 1pm) is: "King Kong Bookends personally signed by Richard Taylor" Thought that might interest you and your (local) readers :-)
Looks indeed pretty interesting. The fair is always a great affair - I remember that a few years ago one of the ROTK Oscar winners who had a child at the school was offering the opportunity to get photographed with an Oscar for $5 or something like that. Seemed like an excellent way to raise funds for the school!
I'm not quite sure what a "silent auction" entails but if you're local to the area, don't miss this chance to do some good for the community while at the same time running a good chance to pick up a fantastic collectible!

Unfortunately, I'm going to miss it as I'll be moving house that day, which will entail a lot of floor scrubbing if I want to see my bond back. Never mind - maybe next year!

There's more information on the school's website.

  - Jack M.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Stone Street Studio Stage "H" update

Referring back to my earlier post on this - I've heard a few more details through the grapevine - apparently the new indoor soundstage is costing around the $10,000,000 mark, and is currently about two weeks behind schedule, what with the bad weather we had earlier this month.

The front of the large concrete building has gone up, and some of the side wall panels have appeared as well.

I've put some more photos on the original post, and I'll post more as the building comes up. Exciting stuff!

  - Jack M.

Viggo Mortensen back in Wellington again, again?

Heard this one from a close source - apparently Viggo Mortensen has been sighted in Wellington again. The local NZ's newspaper site haven't yet though.
My source indicated that he had actually been back in the country for a few days. I can't (yet) confirm that, but it certainly is excellent news!

More details as they come to hand!

Update - it's been pointed out to me that the article I originally linked to was actually from 2008, which was TOTALLY my oversight. I stand by my source though - I heard the sighting report first, and then found what I thought was a recent article on My apologies for the confusion, and thanks to "anonymous" for letting me know!

  - Jack M.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Star sightings in Wellington - Steve Coogan

Heard this one from a friend - apparently they were sitting in a restaurant right next to Steve Coogan a few weeks ago. I don't know what that means - he could have been on a short holiday here, or he could have been on some other business here.

OR, of course, he could have been in talks with 3'7" Ltd, about a certain height-challenged role in an upcoming big movie. Or two.

Am I spreading vicious rumours here? Hell yeah! I actually know absolutely nothing of why he was here, so I'm gonna let the readers make up their own minds. We don't see that many big stars here for no good reason, so I'd say there's at least a 20% chance he might have been here for talks surrounding The Hobbit.

On the other hand, I didn't actually see him myself, so maybe it was just a look-alike!

  - Jack, having a slow-news-day

Update : Chocolate Fish Cafe has re-opened!

Another "little" item I'd not yet written up was the fact that on the 16th of November, 2009, the world famous Chocolate Fish Cafe re-opened its doors. Or at least, found some new doors to open. The location is at Shelly Bay Airforce Base, as I previously mentioned.

View Larger Map

The relaunch was delayed several times - originally it was to be near the start of October, but that was shifted back to October 9th. On the 9th, however, all we found was a rather large green Thing, ...

...and a sign delaying the opening to another approximate date.

The approximate date thing no doubt was weather related - we've had some pretty horrible conditions in the last few weeks, although it looks like it's fining up again somewhat.

So we drove past again a few days later, but nothing yet - finally on the 17th we were met with success, and had missed the re-opening by a day or so. Oh well, so much for being the first through the doors! :)

The limitations of the place are immediately apparent - there's no proper kitchen so they are restricted for the time being in what they can prepare. Almost all the menu items are grilled or barbecued, and all the coffees are served in paper cups to cut down on dishwashing.

The coffee was great though - I don't know what it is about the coffee from there, whether it's the type of coffee they use, or the way they make it, or that particular barrista, or whatever, but I reckon I could pick out the Choc Fish coffee out of ten random coffees. Even in a paper cup.

And yes, they still serve the little chocolate fishies with selected coffees. They're not Aiko's favourites, so generally I get both of them, which my sweet tooth does appreciate.

Before I go, can I just draw your attention to the awesome chair that I "happened" to sit on? In case you don't recognise it (and shame on you if you don't!), here's the back of it as well...

Make sure you visit this awesome cafe when you're in Wellington next. Once you finish your coffee, there's a movie prop factory/warehouse just 30 meters away, and they do tours there as well, so it's all in keeping with the Wellywood spirit!

  - Jack M.

Update on Lothlorien Bridge - work is completed.

It know it looks like I've been a lazy little blogger these last few weeks, but in fact quite the reverse is true - I've been a bit busy with tours lately (or more accurately, I've been run off my feet with tours lately), and haven't had a chance to do much of anything else at all.

Apart from the already crazy busy week, I got called in for tours from the first of the (expected 52!) cruise ships which came into Wellington last Saturday, so I didn't have much of a weekend either! All good fun though, and I met up with some great folks off the big boat. The weather wasn't great but we managed to avoid the worst of it by strategically rearranging the order of the location stops around the region, and the hot chocolates at the morning tea location certainly helped keep the spirits up!

I do have a quick update to report on the storm-damaged Lothlorien bridge though - it has been completely rebuilt, and all work has been finished.

Unfortunately it doesn't look like the damage was covered by insurance since the bridge was not a "vital structure" (I know a few LOTR fans who would happily argue that point!), but the good folks at Fernside have just jumped ahead and rebuilt it regardless - and a big thanks to them all from myself, and everyone reading this, I'm sure!

  - Jack M.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

LOTR 10th Anniversary, Day One of filming

fter all the discussions I had with the various "official" organisations, the huge 10th anniversary I had hoped for didn't end up eventuating. So instead, a few of us got together for a lovely hobbit afternoon tea (assuming hobbits would eat pizza, that is).

My good friend Brian Reeve called me a week beforehand and announced that since nothing else seemed to be happening, the day should be celebrated in a less formal setting instead, so he graciously offered his Upper Hutt residence for the event. Brian often gives off quite the hobbit vibe, something confirmed by the "Bag End" sign on the side of the house.

 Brian Reeve

I had emailed a few local people who'd been in touch with me in the previous weeks/months about this, and we all headed over there for a beautiful afternoon. Everyone shared a common interest in Lord Of The Rings, and in Wellington in particular. Grant found me through this blog, Erica is one of the good folks over at TORn, and Tyellas is a Tolkien based fan-fiction author I met a few months ago. Erica brought her husband Thomas and baby Charlie the resident hobbit, and of course Brian's wife suzie and son Harrison were there as well - all excellent people.

 Josh, Grant, Jack, Erica, Aiko and Tyellas. (Photo by Brian)

The weather fined up unexpectedly, and towards the end of the afternoon we took in a local LOTR sight/site - Harcourt Park, or The Gardens Of Isengard. It so "happened" that I'd taken the precaution on bringing my tour material with me, so I took everyone around the gardens where Gandalf met with Saruman to discuss what should happen to The One Ring.

All in all, a fun day after all. Especially the lunch was great - a big thanks to Erica who baked her world famous 6 minute Chocolate Cake, to Grant who brought a fine drop of wine (which, me being the driver, I always miss out on!), to Tyellas who brought the healthy fruit option, to Aiko who baked her amazing Apple Crumble, and most of all to Brian and Susie who, apart from providing the venue, outdid themselves with the excellent homemade Pizzas.

From now on there will be a number of 10th anniversaries - last day of filming, release of the three movies (one after the other), etc. Let's see how many hobbit afternoons we'll be able to set up!

As an aside, I heard of a few other cities with their own celebrations - New York had one I believe, and somewhere in India, one of my readers known as Eorl the Young organised one as well?

Did anyone else do anything? Leave me a comment here!

  - Jack M.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Stone Street Studios renovating?

I've been hanging onto this story for a little while, to see if I find some more details about it but I've got nothing so far.

In short, I was up on top of a certain hill last week on the 18th of September, and couldn't help noticing that one of the large sheds on Peter Jackson's Stone Street Studios (where LOTR was filmed) has been pulled down, and the concrete floor seemed to be being repoured or something. I took a quick photo of it at the time, and was looking for information about what was going on there, but I've been drawing a blank so far.

This photo faces East, for reference to the Google Map, which faces North

As you can see from the Google Maps satellite photos taken earlier this year, the big white shed was still intact not so long ago.

View Larger Map

It's getting a little hard to ignore though. I was driving towards Miramar today, and saw a rather large crane, parked on what I assumed must be the top of the hills surrounding Miramar but which turned out to be actually at ground level behind the hill, making for a rather large crane indeed. So I drove around the front of the studios again, and here's what I found:

As you can see, one enormous crane, apparently (according to one source) the largest currently in New Zealand. The four struts on the right are large concrete pillars, and look like they will be the support pillars for a huge new sound stage perhaps.

The large concrete building behind the pillars is Stage "K", at one time the third largest sound stage in the world, fully soundproof, and custom built for "King Kong" (which is what the "K" stands for - a smaller one not in this picture is called stage "R" for "Rings").

I don't have any solid facts yet - it looks like vast sums of money are being spent in preparation for a big movie - I'm assuming it's for The hobbit obviously. Perhaps it will be called Stage "H".

Let me know your thoughts - or better yet, if you have the facts, let's have those!

  - Jack M.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Three booksignings at the Weta Cave (possibly four)!

The Weta Cave is going book crazy in the next two months - three new books are being released, two of which will definitely have a proper release day (probably he third as well), and on top of that, a famous NZ author is coming to visit.

First up is the awesome Ian Brodie, photographer and author of the immensely  popular Lord Of The Rings Location Guidebooks as well as a host of others (including Cameras in Narnia).

Ian once served time in the Rohirrim militia, before selling bread at the Minas Tirith marketplace. He has recently left his home in Wanaka and is currently residing in the Shire, possibly in a hole in the ground.

He is coming for a short visit to the Weta Cave on Friday October 2nd, and will sign books for all comers from 4:30pm onwards. Bring your own copy or purchase one at the Cave - or just come and meet the man!

The very next day (October 3rd), Alan Lee will be introducing the world to his new book, Shapeshifters: Tales from Ovid's Metamorphoses to which he has added the illustration.

The book itself was written by Adrian Mitchell. Alan Lee was responsible for the design of all things green, curvy and curly in the LOTR movies, and is currently back in the country doing predesign work on The Hobbit movies. He will be signing the new book between 1pm and 3pm. A number of his other books will also be for sale at the Cave.

One month later (Nov 1st), Richard Taylor himself will be introducing the new pre-schoolers book Champ The Chopper, part three in the series so far.

The series was written by Rebekah Palmer, and this installment illustrated by Weta Workshop artist Chris Guise. Chris worked on LOTR in the miniatures department before designing weapons and armour, went on to the sculpting department, and is now in the design shop. Multi-talented indeed!

I'm hoping either Rebekah, Chris or even Daniel Falconer (who worked on the first two books) will be present for the release day as well. In any case, the session will begin at 2:00pm.

Finally, halfway through November (no firm date yet), Greg Broadmore will be releasing his new book Victory!, which is a followup to the earlier work, the somewhat lengthier titled Doctor Grordbort's Contrapulatronic Dingus Directory. Greg may or may not be there on the day, we haven't heard anything yet. I do know he'll be in Las Vegas at the end of October for a short stint at the Trinity Of Terrors Film festival, organised by Fangoria Magazine. He may be back in time - fingers crossed!

Greg Broadmore's recent work can be seen oozing off the screen in the impressive District 9 movie - he was the head designer. I mean, he was the boss of the designers (although I suspect he also designed the alien heads).

Keep an eye on the Weta page for more details as they come to hand on this one - his previous book was great, and this one should be very funny as well.

In short :

Fri, Oct 2nd @ 4.30pm  - Ian Brodie signs books

Sat, Oct 3rd @1pm-3pm - Alan Lee introduces Shapesifters

Sun, Nov 1st @ 2:00pm - Richard Taylor introduces Champ The Chopper

Mid Nov (not confirmed) - Greg Broadmore's Victory!

 - Jack M.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Update on Miramar's Capitol Court Cinema/Theatre

While I'm updating earlier reports - NewsWire reports that the Capitol Court will be restored, starting (as I mentioned earlier) around January next year. They expect to show their first movie around September 2010 already, which is fantastic!

It's all being driven by Jamie Selkirk, who co-owns it with Peter Jackson and Richard Taylor. Apparently the other two are too busy making movies, so he's taking over the project.

Jamie Selkirk has been working with Peter Jackson ever since Peter's first movie Bad Taste, and has edited every PJ movie since then.

The Capitol Court will be TWO screens (not one, as I reported earlier), and will be renamed The Miramar. There was no mention of any Lord Of The Rings exhibits planned.

Two new partners have been found - Penthouse Cinema and Polo Cafe, who will be supplying the coffee.

Full report here.

  - Jack

Update on Chocolate Fish Cafe, Mark II

Last Wednesday the 16th of September, Wellington's Dominion Post newspaper printed (on its front cover, as the headline article no less) the news that the iconic Chocolate Fish Cafe is reopening its doors.

The new location, as I had earlier reported almost three weeks earlier, is to be at the Shelly Bay Airforce Base. The Barbecue Grill (instead of a full kitchen) is also now confirmed. The new "flavour" of the cafe will be kaimoana, (Maori for seafood) - "[...] barbecued fish, scallops, whitebait, paua, corn-fritters... between two bits of bread". Sounds awesome! (full DomPost article here).

  - Jack M.

Gandalf moves in to the neighbourhood.

I just celebrated my birthday over the weekend (yup, 29 again), and since the weather was beautiful, we decided to go for a nice long drive, up State Highway 1.

The Kapiti Coast is a part of the Wellington Great Region that I don't often visit, for no really good reason. It's lovely there, in fact. The day before was horrible weather, and when the forecast for the day after my birthday showed more rain, we figured that the gods must be smiling upon us for a good reason, so off we went. Apart from relaxing, I had one planned stop to make, that have been at the back of my mind for a while.

The stop was at Paraparaumu, a small coastal town that has been going through lots of new development recently. Online recently, I stumbled onto a cool street name in one new suburb there, and we just had to visit it.

As you can see from the map below, it's a small crescent that comes off the main road - there don't appear to be any other LOTR related names in the neighbourhood either. All the empty section currently on Google Earth have been filled in with actual houses now, btw.

View Gandalf Crescent in a larger map

I an not sure about the details of how Gandalf Crescant got it's name - I know it didn't exist about five years ago years ago since it's not actually on my car's (paper) map, and all of the houses in the street look to have been built within the last five years, at most. If anyone knows more, please let me know!

Has anyone else got LOTR related names on their local maps? I know New Zealand has a few more - there's a Galadriel Creek, and also three creeks named Nenya, Vilya and Narya, although I haven't found them yet.

Got anything better? Drop me a line!

  - Jack M.

Poll 2 - The results for the second poll are here...

Voting for the second poll has closed, and the results are interesting.

Recently I've managed to watch a preview of the new James Cameron movie Avatar, due to be released in December this year. The movie was in 3D, which the industry is raving about, and nobody else is, it seems. I did publish my thoughts about it at the time - as you can see, I'm not a big fan of 3D.

It occurred to me that I might not be the only one - so I thought I'd get a quick survey out to find out what y'all think about it, and I'm very pleased with the results - both in number of people voting, as well as the actual answers provided. I want to thank everyone who took the time to click on the poll. It's only a second of your time but I do read the results - if nothing else it shows me that someone's actually reading this blog!

The question was: 
The best format for The Hobbit movie would be:

And 110 people answered it, with the following results:

12 (11%) - IMAX
01 (01%) - 3D
13 (12%) - IMAX and 3D
84 (76%) - same as LOTR, of course

So more than three quarters of you just want the movie in the same format as the LOTR was - widescreen, surround sound, 2D. The easiest format to reproduce at home on DVD or BluRay.

Just under a quarter (23%) of you want IMAX, and approximately half of those also want it in 3D. I'm guessing that if you're going to play with the normal widescreen format, let's go all the way and extend it in front of the screen as well.

The best result of all was though (and I'm disregarding the IMAX+3D segment), is:


I guess James Cameron must have voted then. Hi James.

I'm kinda hoping Guillermo del Toro is reading this blog too, of course, although he has already reassured everybody that 3D is not even being discussed. If I was a lawyer I might question the potential ambiguity of that statement, but I'm just a hopeful fan, so I think there's no more need to panic - the Hobbit will be in 2D, as it should be.

GdT, if you're reading this, please leave a confirmation that I've read this correctly?

- Jack M.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

LOTR filming Day One 10th anniversary in the "too hard" basket?

Sorry, this entry looks like it's going to be another rant. Originally it was going to be a short account of where things went wrong but it's looking like it's a bit longer than that. If you don't like rants, please skip to a different page.

Still here? Read on...

Despite telling many people about it for months, and attempting to call in more than a few favours, it doesn't look like the 10th anniversary of the first day of filming of the biggest movie ever filmed in New Zealand (if not in the world) is going to be remembered by anyone other than myself and a few hardcore LOTR fans here.

October the 11th was Day One, when the first scenes were being put to camera on Mount Victoria right here in Wellington. The now famous scenes of four hobbits hiding under a tree root, and then running away from a Nazgul are well known to everyone we take to the location - I've actually taken people who haven't seen the movie yet, recognise the scene as soon as we walked in (apparently they recognised it from the trailer or from the posters).

In the last five years, I've personally taken literally thousands of people to the spot, sometimes three times a day. Various tour companies visit the location - I work for Flat Earth Tours but Wellington Rover goes there as well, as does Wgtn Movie Tours, and Hammond's has a few tours that visit it (although they're not actually LOTR tours, it's still a point of interest to most people). Of course, Red Carpet Tours come through every month or so, when they tour the country. And finally, there are a large number of LOTR fans who simply purchase Ian Brodie's LOTR Location Guidebook, and find it by themselves. I've even seen various official roadmaps for sale in NZ that include little golden rings all over the map.

I would estimate that at least 15,000 people visit the location every year. And almost all of them come to stay in Wellington for at least one day, and probably two.

So, figuring everyone would understand how important this would be, I approached a few people about 10th anniversary plans.

First, I asked the Embassy Cinema if they were interested in showing the complete trilogy. Apart from its physical proximity to the first film locations - it's located at the foot of Mount Victoria, and less than a mile from the movie locations - it also has a rich LOTR related history. In fact, it would be fair to say that the building would no longer exist if it hadn't been for Peter Jackson - he was the chairman of the "Save The Embassy" trust, and saved it from being turned into a carparking building.

Once the $4.5million dollars of council money was spent on renovating it, it became the magnificent venue it is now. The first two movies had their Australasian premieres here, while Return Of The King enjoyed its world premiere in the same place - an event that drew anywhere between 120,000 to 300,000 people, depending on whether you believe CNN (300k) or everyone else. Even a conservative figure of 120,000 people isn't bad for a city of (then) approximately 150,000.

At first, the response from the Embassy was positive - they were interested in doing something for the 10th anniversary, and would definitely look into it. Everything went very quiet for a month or two, and after enquiring again I was told we'd "missed the boat on this one", and the day had already been booked for other movies. I wondered if we could perhaps squeeze Fellowship into the day's schedule, but apparently not. An email came back with "there are no plans to play LOTR in October. There are plans for some screenings perhaps during the summer but nothing has been confirmed as yet".

Hmm. Ok. Next. Perhaps Peter Jackson's office was planning something then - I had heard some murmerings but nothing solid. So I emailed Peter's spokesperson, who is sometimes curt but always courteous. His reply was simply "no truth to that rumor, I'm afraid". So that's a no-go as well, it seems.

I floated the idea with Weta Cave staff but it never went further than that - or at least, I've heard nothing of any plans (and they have in fact denied that there are any plans).

So about a month and a half ago I spoke to someone at the Wellington Council, who have in the past been quite receptive to these things, and I proposed a few possibilities, like an early morning hobbit's breakfast on the lawn below the filming location, at Ellice Street (where incidentally also the Dunharrow scenes were filmed for ROTK). It all fizzled out unfortunately, and I've heard nothing back there either.

I figured, maybe then just advertise online that I'd be on the hill by myself if anyone wanted to join me for the day, put on a couple of hairy feet and a wastecoat, that sort of thing. Sort of a desparate "last resort" plan really.

It sounded feasible at first, but I hadn't counted on the power of the council's complete lack of consideration.

Last time I was on the hill, this new sign had been put up, advertising the upcoming mountain bike race. Yes, the date is the 11th of October. Incidentally, the route of the mountain bike track has the bikes riding directly over six of the eight film scenes' locations, making it completely impossible to take tourists to the location during a race.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm all for mountain bikers, and I do think they should have a place to ride - but the Wellington Town Belt is literally miles and miles long - couldn't we exists side-by-side instead of on top of each other? We can't move this (by now) historical site, but they can surely move the track a few meters east or west?

I must admit, I'm close to admitting defeat. If anyone local wants to contact me with good plans, please do. I think it would be a shame if the largest Wellington entertainment project ever had its 10th anniversary skipped through lack of interest. Surely we haven't forgotten so soon? I mean, everyone came to the party in 2003, where are they all now?

Please drop me a line if you live local, or if you have any other suggestions. I had plenty of time to organise something when all this began, but these last rejections came through in the last few days, and we're running out of time.

Alternatively, maybe I'll just get into a few brews on the day. I hear it comes in pints now.

  - Jack M.

Update : Work starting on Miramar Cinema from January 2010

It looks like work may finally be starting on Peter Jackson's old theatre Capitol Court, in Miramar. As I wrote earlier, he bought it originally to turn into a LOTR-themed museum.

My contact has assured me that that is finally now planned for January 2010. Apparently the building will be reconfigured to include one silver screen, so there will be movies playing. On top of that there will also be space dedicated to displaying movie props.

My expectation is that the cinema will hold somewhere around the 150-250 seats.

Watch this space!

  - Jack M.

Work has started on the bridge at Lothlorien (updated)

I visited the Lothlorien location last week and was delighted to see the reconstruction work has begun on the bridge. One contractor estimated that the bridge should be completely finished before the end of September, in fact!

No photos, I'm afraid - I didn't have a camera with me, and it's close to an hour drive. Hopefully later this week (my next visit will be on Tuesday).

Update: It's Tuesday night, I've just come back from (amongst other places) Lothlorien, and although I forgot my main camera again, I did take a lo-res one on my mobile phone. It'll do until I get a better one...

As you can see, the engineer is still hard at work - the struts have been restored, the main beams have been put back on, and the floor is halfway through being restored as well. After this, the bannisters, and a new paint job, and it should be back in no time.

  - Jack

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Tom Cruise won't be Bilbo Baggins (but he might be Guy Gibson)

After all the hype of last week's Tom Cruise visit to Peter Jackson, it looks like the panic has settled down - Tom Cruise isn't going to be playing Bilbo Baggins.

After all, wouldn't he be meeting with Guillermo del Toro instead of Peter Jackson if that were the case? And then the meeting could've just taken place in Australia, where a del Toro production (Don't be afraid of the dark, which is also co-written by him) is being filmed featuring Tom's wife Katie Holm. There would have been no New Zealand meeting necessary.

My sources tell me something else though - Tom Cruise looks tipped for the role of Wing Commander Guy Gibson (played in the 1955 movie by Richard Todd) in Peter Jackson's upcoming remake of The Dambusters. The character of Guy Gibson would be an attractive role for Cruise - if nothing else it would him back to flying planes from Miramar again.

Take a look at these two photos - there's enough resemblance to make it a likely choice.

It'll be interesting to see how accurate my source is - he's been dead-on more than a few times over the time I've known him.

  - Jack M

Friday, 28 August 2009

Son of Chocolate Fish Cafe, Mark II

I received a tipoff last night about the reopening of the Chocolate Fish Cafe, so this morning we decided to check it out for ourselves, by visiting the sister cafe, the Chocolate Frog.

This time, it's real. At least, the t-shirts have been printed already, so it's hard to deny it. The Chocolate Fish cafe is returning, and as I'd blogged at the end of May, it's going to be at the old site of the Shelly Bay Air Force base.

"Chocolate Fish Cafe Mark II Wellington N.Z."

Odd photo, I know. I asked one of the staff, who wanted to stay anonymous, if it was ok to take a photo of the t-shirt for my blog. She did request "but not my face please", so here I was photographing the shirt without the face. Ok, that was a little embarrasing really, especially with my wife standing beside me. Honestly, it's an innocent picture! Look, just read the t-shirt already, would you?

The general gist is that the Choc Fish II will open at Shelly Bay Airforce Base, around October first or thereabouts, and will at first be a reduced version of the original cafe. As the land still hasn't been properly redeveloped yet, there won't be a full kitchen, restricting it to just a barbecue grill. No scooped icecream, but iceblocks on sticks will be available.

The good news is that there will be sit-down space available, although the lunches will probably be served on takeaway plates, since there won't be a lot of cleaning facilities. Probably no toilets in the first bit either. I asked if this will be just for the summer season but the plan is that they will be there to stay, as long as they could get a long term lease (this time!).

I'll post updates as and when they come to hand.

- Jack M.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Female Orc photos - Update : new photo, from last xmas

Just over a week ago, I posted a few photos of the Weta Cave's new displays, and I invited requests for other photos. Apparently my mention of the words "Female Orc" has stirred up a few people's imaginations, so I thought I'd start with her. Technically, she's not one of the new displays, as she's been there since the opening of the Cave, but she's cute enough that she deserves a second look. Click on any of the photos for a larger view.

This little sweety-pie is hanging on by her finger and toe nails above a doorway in the Weta Cave, just above the counter. It's not unusual for people to pay for their purchases and not notice her until the last moment, which is often quite funny to watch.

Why is she counted as a female orc? I'm surprised you have to ask! Isn't she much prettier than, say, Lurtz?

Also, as you can see, she's got several earrings in, so she cares about her appearance. Doesn't sound like a male orc to me.

On the movie set, it wasn't uncommon for the male orcs in the movie to be played by women, however, this particular orc was originally sculpted as a female orc. I don't have any other details on her - if any of the Weta crew is reading this, I'd love to know more!

Next photo set (in the next few days or so), some closeups of various weapons, both Middle-earth and futuristic ones.

Update : I got sent this photo of her, taken last Christmas by Lady Nerd... Note the lovely earrings on her... and didn't Lurtz look great with his santa hat? (if anyone has a photo of that, let me know!)

Lady Nerd : in answer to your query, I seem to remember that the staff have taken to calling her "Snookums" or something...?

Friday, 21 August 2009

Off-topic - District 9 movie and Avatar trailer/preview compared

NB - This entry doesn't mention the Hobbit or LOTR (hardly) at all, so please skip past it if you're looking for that. Weta Digital worked on both these two movies, so I'm counting it as relevant. Really, I just want to vent a few thoughts and feelings that I've had in the last few days, about where I think the movie industry is going badly wrong. In all honesty, this isn't so much a review as a rant. Click away now, while you still can.

This week I watched three items - Tuesday I went to see District 9; this morning I downloaded the new Avatar teaser trailer; and at lunchtime today I managed to get into the special 15 minute preview of Avatar.

In short, District 9 rocked, Avatar sucked.

If you haven't seen District 9 yet - please surf away now - there's may be some potential spoilers ahead. It's one of those movies that the less you know, the more you'll enjoy the movie. District 9 is not your average Hollywood movie. In fact, I wouldn't consider it a Hollywood movie at all - The director is South African, as is the main star, and the producer and the main SFX workshop are both from New Zealand. I'm guessing some of the cash came from the US, but then again they often use overseas investment companies anyway.

District 9 was a total mindblower. Half the time I felt like I was watching an (incredible but) true story. It didn't feel like fiction to me. I saw District 9 on Tuesday - it's now Friday and I woke up still thinking about it this morning. That's pretty powerful stuff. More on District 9 later though.

Where District 9 blows your mind, the new Avatar material just blows. To be completely fair of course, I didn't watch the movie itself as it won't be released till December this year, so maybe (hopefully?) they'll improve today's bits by release date. I'm very aware of the fact that I'm comparing a complete movie (District 9) to a two minute teaser plus a fifteen minute preview of Avatar, as opposed to a finished product.

Mind you, I'm also comparing a 30 million dollar movie with a 190 million dollar movie. So Avatar should by all rights be at least six times more awesome.

It's not.

Here's why: District 9 is a story. Avatar is product. James Cameron has been making big movies for too long, and the standard Hollywood formula has firmly embedded itself. The trailer for Avatar is supposed to be a TEASER trailer, you know - a few images, fade to black, a few more images, fade to black, the words "coming soon", and cut. After watching this so-called "teaser", here's what I make of the storyline (NB - I don't actually know the plot, I haven't looked it up anywhere, so no spoiler alert here, this is just conjecture):

  • Avatar plotline prediction: Wheelchaired guy is sick of his handicapped body, gets a chance at a new (alien) body, goes to alien world, escapes the military that brought him there, falls in love with alien girl, has to fight off her alien suitor, proves himself in battle, gets respect from alien rival who accepts him at his moment of death, while the earth military attacks planet. Guy saves the day, gets the girl. Stuff blows up. The end. Or is it?

Some of this is guesswork, from just having seen too many Hollywood movies. When I watched the preview though, sure enough; there was the alien male love-rival. Let's see how accurate all this is when the movie comes out. I hope I'm completely wrong.

What I also saw in both the Avatar trailer and the preview was "look at all these SFX, we're really cool! Look, explosions! Hey look, dragons and elves, they're pretty popular these days!" Oh, and did I mention it was all in 3D, geeky glasses and all? Yeah, great.

The Problem With 3D
I love 3D - in real life. In a cinema, 3D is a gimmick. You remember those popup books you got as a kid where all these buildings would pop off the page when you opened the book? Great to see, but you wouldn't want to read a novel like that. It's really impressive to look at but it doesn't add much to the story line. Movies are EXACTLY like that.

3D is a solution looking for a problem. You can't take it home - nobody wants to sit in their own lounge with daft looking goggles on. DVD's will be converted to 2D, so whatever advantages might have existed in 3D are lost now anyway. 3D movies are short term earners. Does anyone remember Jaws 3D? Do you have a copy at home? Didn't think so.

What was specifically wrong with the 3D preview today?
(1) Everything was very dark.
No real surprise - you're sitting in a dark room with sunglasses on. As a result, everything felt distant. I didn't feel involved with any of it. Fast motion looked far too blurry - at one stage there were some scuttling alien creatures in the underground but I never really saw them properly, everything seemed a blur. Possibly I'm getting old and my eyesight is fading (it's 20-20, tested annually), but my eyes couldn't keep up with the stuff on screen. Maybe the preview wasn't 24 frames per second but 12 frames? Don't know, don't care. Whatever the reason, I was very disappointed.

(2) Despite what they've been telling us, everything still gets thrown at the screen, either to shock or to impress.
I was sitting there looking at special effect after special effect. The whole thing looked cartoonish. There was something very unreal about the alien world. On Facebook today, I was reading through a conversation between one of the SFX guys and someone else who'd watched it, and he defended the cartoonish look because it was on an alien world, and everything looks different there. That missed the point completely - "cartoonish" means "we didn't believe it". I have a lot of respect for Weta Digital. I believed Gollum, the Cavetrolls, the Nazguls, the Balrog, and of course, King Kong. They were amazingly real. If I hadn't been a guy, I would have cried when the gorilla died (it must have been some dust in my eye). Nothing i saw in the Avatar material made my heart leap.

At the end of the first preview of LOTR, way back in 2001, I remember the audience were yelling and clapping at the end of it, standing up from their seats for a standing ovation. I heard the same thing happened all around the world. They did it again at the end of the actual movies. Today, there was some polite applause at the end, and not much else. Apparently I wasn't alone in my disappointment.

(3) The 3D didn't add anything to the story being told.
There lies the crunch, doesn't it. Adding more SFX to a great story doesn't make it greater - SFX is a tool, not the end product. The original Matrix movie was great, it had a new way of looking of the world ("What if all this isn't real? Is that air I'm breathing?"), and it used a bunch of new SFX we hadn't seen before (eg, bullet-time). The Matrix 2 had some amazing chase sequences but it wasn't as good as part 1. And part 3? "Well, we ran out of money for actual FX so we did it all on a computer". Yawn.

Here's a quick exercise - go up to five of your friends who've seen all 3 Matrix movies, and ask them to answer this question quickly without thinking about it too long - "does Trinity die in Matrix 3?". The answer of course is "yes", but most people seem to answer "no", "yes but she comes back", or even "can't remember". The fact that the love interest of the main character of three major movies dies horribly and nobody remembers it, surely means we didn't feel very involved in the story?

Check these ones for yourself : Does King Kong die? Did Boromir? You get my drift, I think.

What's the hell's wrong with these people?
Hollywood has lost touch with its audience of today. Instead, they spend an awful lot of effort trying to recreate their own glory days. The news this week of the change of MGM management brought that home again - MGM is working on only five films at the moment, amongst which are a movie version of the 1980's TV series "Fame", a remake of "Poltergeist", and another James Bond installment. Not exactly bristling with originality. Don't get me wrong, I like James Bond, but then again he's not from Hollywood, is he.

What I look for in a movie
When I watch a movie, I want to believe. I want the filmmakers to take me to a alien world, or to a distant past, or to some other new situation, and make me believe I'm there, for the duration of the movie. I do NOT want to see a series of special effects designed to show how amazing it all is. I want to hear a story being told, and if the special effects are needed to do that, fine. Spend a billion dollar on them, and you won't hear me complain. If the story is one we've seen a thousand times before, no amount of SFX is going to save it from becoming a very expensive farce. Originality is very important. If we've seen the story before, it gets boring. I don't pay my $15 to be bored for 2 hours.

Ok, I've had my rant. Now for the good news. District 9. In a word - Wow.

District 9
Everything I hated about Avatar's short preview, I loved about District 9.
  1. It's in 2D. Thank you Peter Jackson!
  2. Great story - I couldn't guess the ending. Didn't have time to guess, actually.
  3. I felt it was real most of the time. I was there, for 2 hours.
  4. The SFX? What SFX? You mean the prawn were fake? Wow.
  5. It was all so understated!
Ok, here come the spoilers for District 9. Let me repeat this again : if you haven't seen it yet, stop reading now. You'll thank me for it later.

Actually, I'll try not to reveal too much of the plot of D9. A few things really impressed me though. The gore factor of D9 was fine. The alien weapons had amazing powers, that part was fun and unpredictable. I was never sure when the next surprise would be. Awesome.

At one stage, there was a perfect setup for a "Michael Bay" moment - good guys under attack from bad guys, one bad guy in a crows nest 10 meters above the ground, alien weapon gets aimed at it. Michael Bay would have used a HUGE explosion at this stage, then shown us from 4 different angels, with the bad guy flying off and hitting the ground somewhere. Neill Blomkamp resists the urge, and simply (and VERY effectively) kills him. It was almost a non-event; very impressive in its restraint. Refreshing indeed.

The incident with the cow (sheep? pig?) that I'd heard so much about - I almost missed it. The story was simply moving too fast, although it did make me laugh out loud when it happened.

I loved the Exo-Suit (designed by Greg Broadmore). It looked great, worked as expected, yet wasn't all-powerful either. Again, more restraint.

None of the characters were entirely good or entirely bad - perhaps that's what made it so real - I firmly believe there is no such thing as evil or good. Fictional characters are more well rounded if suddenly shine (bad guys), or reveal that they have flaws (good guys). D9 had both aplenty.

Our hero starts off innocent and wide-eyed, but turns out to be sort of evil when you actually see him at work in the slums (although he's trying to do a tough job, I guess). Yet we feel bad for him when he gets infected. When he realises everything is not going to be ok for another lengthy amount of time, he frustratedly (physically) hits out at one of the more sympathetic characters, and makes a major mistake in judgement, almost causing his own demise (and a few other people's). And still, I felt I might have made the same decision myself, given the circumstances.

The film was dirty, gritty, nasty, smelly - and beautifully told at the same time. I walked out grinning from ear to ear. The ending, although a great ending for the story, leaves things open for a part 2, but I was already wondering which way (of about 3 or 4 possibilities) that might go. As far as I know, there's no part 2 planned, btw, although you'll find me in the front row on opening day if there is.

So yeah, if you haven't seen it yet, go see it soon. And if you have already seen it, go see it again - I'm planning on it at least once more. (btw, if you haven't seen it, why are you reading this? Didn't I tell you not to? Go away!)

Back to the real world though. If there is any sort of justice, District 9 will win a bunch of awards in the gold season. If Avatar the movie turns out like Avatar the preview, then it should win a lot less than District 9, for sure. Mind you, this from the same academy who thought Titanic was the best movie of the year.

I'll go back to writing about LOTR locations and Hobbit rumours now.

- Jack M.