Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Weta Cave to change displays?

It's been a bit quiet here in Wellington. It seems there's a calm before the approaching ComicCon storm of information maybe. (Completely irrelevant to this blog, but I gather even the super-awesome Miyazaki Hayao is going to attend the San Diego event this year - he rarely comes out in public at all!)

I haven't heard much in the way of juicy rumours and gossip, but I did hear this one a couple of times this past week - apparently the Weta Cave is looking to close its doors for a few days towards the end of July or so, to change all their museum displays around.

Apparently the only display to stay in its place will be the ghost dog from The Frighteners - it's very fragile, and they don't want to move it ever again, by all accounts. The story goes that Weta Workshop Manager Tania Rodger (who is also, incidentally, Richard Taylor's wife) moved it in to the cave personally, and wouldn't let anyone else move it again - if it was going to get damaged, she'd rather she was to blame herself.

I'm hoping we're going to see more Hero stuff - main characters clothing perhaps. Also, I sincerely hope they're leaving both Gollum and Lurtz in place - they're just too awesome to put into storage! Actually, what would be REALLY nice would be Minas Tirith - the 5.5m tall miniature of the 7-tiered city! I last saw that at the travelling LOTR exhibition, back in 2006, I think? Unfortunately there isn't much change of that since the ceilings aren't 5.5m tall... :(

*sigh*... there's so much cool stuff yet to be seen - I heard Richard Taylor himself state at an Australian convention that there were about 45,000 props made for LOTR, and that in 2005 they still took up 249 fullsized shipping containers! It seems crazy to me that it's in containers when the world so desparately wants to see it all!

In the meantime though - the message to anyone out there who hasn't seen the Cave up close yet - come quickly before they change everything - and then come again AFTER they've changed everything!

- Jack M.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Alan Lee Autograph Session at Weta Cave

Another great day! The third autograph session here in Wellington at the Weta Cave in about a month! First, the designer of all the bad guys in LOTR (generally speaking), John Howe. Next, Guillermo del Toro, who will lead us all back to Middle-earth one more time, and finally, Alan Lee, the designer of all things good under the Middle-earth sun. One of his favourite places in Lord Of The Rings was Rivendell, a place I now have the pleasure of visiting on a daily basis. I don't think I'm speaking out of place when I say that Alan Lee's designs hold a very special place in most LOTR fan's hearts, whether they know his name or not.

I was a bit rushed off my feet getting the day organised, what with picking up my good friend Mark Fry from the railway station, dropping my son off at soccer practice before the game, getting to Alan Lee's session in time before the crowds showed up, and getting back in time to watch the second half of the soccer game. Still, it all worked out in the end, quite nicely in fact. As a good parent, I'm supposed to say that the best part of the day was the soccer game, of course. Rain and (almost) sub-zero temperatures or not.

So call me a bad parent - the game was a close second, but it was great meeting Alan Lee (again). These meetings are always too short but he'll be here for another year or so, so I fully expect (read: hope) to meet with him again before he leaves. Just in case though, I'd brought along my first edition Children Of Hurin, as my LOTR and Hobbit books already had his signature in them.

Also, I brought along another special item - the original hand painted sign of Rivendell that was up at Kaitoke Regional Park, before they were replaced by the new boring ones, the official Department Of Conservation routed timber signs. If you have a copy of Ian Brodie's LOTR Location Guidebook (not the extended one), my sign is on page 50. Keep in mind it's about 2 metes long.

The sign came to me via a kind forest ranger who mentioned it was getting replaced, and the old one was probably going to make it onto the bonfire after the DOC barbecue later that weekend, some three years ago. I rescued it, with kind permission of the ranger. I like to think of the coffee and muffins I brought him as my appreciation, rather than a distraction ruse while I ran off. Either way, it's mine now :)

I had it signed by Richard Taylor the same year, at a Wellington book signing event at Dymocks Bookshop. Richard laughed out loud when he saw it, and asked me somewhat redundantly where I'd got it from ("Rivendell, fairly obviously"...).

Alan had the same question today, but was also more than happy to sign it.

There's a few other signatures that belong on it - I'd love to add Hugo Weaving to it, and perhaps a few other designers. Daniel Falconer springs to mind (Daniel, if you're reading this, I'd love an invite! The staff at the Cave know how to get a hold of me). Ideally Peter Jackson, of course, but he's not well known for attending public events, especially Wellington public events (Peter, a private event would work for me - name a time and place, and I'll be there with coffee and muffins!) :)

Eventually, I'd like to own a house so I can call it Rivendell, and stick the signs outside (the signed one inside, obviously!)

As an aside, leave me a comment if you've ever named a house, or a pet (or a child!) after something from Professor Tolkien's worlds... I know Carlos from the Weta Cave has two cats name Merry and Pippin, for instance... anyone else?

- Jack M.

PS - if you're wondering why the arrow in my sign points right, and the one in the park points left - there were multiple signs. Yes, I have the others too. Feel free to make me an offer for the other two :)

Sir Ian Holm as The Narrator?

Although this rumour has been around for a little while (since at least July 2nd, 2008, in fact), it seems that the idea is still alive and well - Sir Ian Holm, who by now is 77 years old (by my calculations), would be difficult to cast as the young Bilbo for The Hobbit. However, one idea was floated a year ago that he might narrate the story to some degree.

He's got a fantastic voice, and has certainly done his share of voice work - not least of which was the BBC dramatised audioplay version of Lord Of The Rings, where he voiced Frodo.

So, I was talking to someone today while while at the Weta Cave, for the Alan Lee autograph session (Alan Lee wins my personal "biggest smile on an artist" award, btw), when my unnamed contact (well, they had a name, but I won't mention it here for obvious reasons!) happened to drop Sir Ian Holm into the conversation as though it was all cut-and-dried, a matter-of-fact that Sir Ian Holm wouldn't need to return to NZ since he could do his voice recording anywhere on the planet

"Ah... and what voice work would that be?", I asked, to which they responded in a slightly puzzled tone "why, his Hobbit Narration voice work, of course? You did know, didn't you?"...

Erm, sure... well, I do now, I guess. My contact has been very often spot-on over the last five years, and I have no reason to doubt him this time.

So it sounds like Sir Ian Holm is at least as official as Hugo Weaving... ;)

Does it mean The Narrator is Bilbo? Yes. No. Who knows. Wait and see..!

- Jack M.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Exclusive! Name of The Hobbit production company revealed!

A very interesting piece of news I heard a few days ago, and had confirmed by at least two people tonight at the Guillermo del Toro book signing event at the Weta Cave - the name of the production company that has been set up by Peter Jackson in order to create the new movie.

To explain that a bit better - as I understand it, production companies typically make one movie and then disappear. If the movie is a bomb, the film maker can go on to make other movies, while the company that made it goes under. It's essentially an accounting trick - the company owns nothing, as everything is rented to them; and nobody works permanently for them, as everyone is contracted to them.

Usually, the company name is a slightly frivolous one, often only obscurely significant. King Kong was filmed by "Big Primate Pictures", Harry Potter was filmed by "1492 Ltd" (1492 being the year that Columbus sailed the oceans blue, and the movie directed by Chris Columbus), while Lord of the Rings was made by 3'6" Ltd, being the average height of a hobbit.

Film canister from Lord Of The Rings.
Sometimes you get lucky in local second hand shops.

And the new name for the production company that will make The Hobbit? Drum roll please...

3'7" Ltd.

Ok, a bit boring perhaps, but at least you heard it here first. :)

- Jack M.

Guillermo del Toro signing

What a great evening! Guillermo del Toro, on the brink of being known as "The Director of the Hobbit movie", while still basking in the afterglow of being the "Hellboy and Pan's Labyrinth Director", found yet more time in between film projects to publicise his new book, The Strain. I had the evening set aside for the event, together with Mark Fry who until recently was the Book Buyer at the now defunct Wellington Dymocks Bookshop in Lambton Quay.

The official times for the autograph session at the Weta Cave tonight was to be from 6pm to 8pm, so we went to the event 45 minutes early, to make sure I could park somewhere. Only just in time, it seemed - we started queuing only just still inside the door, as the cave was already full of people lining the shop. By the time we left later, the queues went halfway around the block outside.

Also, there were still at least two or three TV interviews to be done, and a few radio ones as well, and finally I saw a newspaper guy there also - watch their websites for their reports. I'll post them here if I see them first.

At 5:50pm, Weta Cave's Tim Launders announced that the interviews were over, and after a loud round of applause, Guillermo began signing books.

Since Weta had done some actual advertising of the event this time, there were a fair few people at the Cave. I estimated about 150-250, but I left before the end of the event. I suspect the official numbers for the night will be much higher.

To compare - there was fairly minimal advertising done for the John Howe event a few weeks ago, who as far as I could tell had no more than about 50 people show up for his autograph session. Even the official numbers were no more than about twice that - it should have been in the hundreds, for an artist of his calibre!

Guillermo seems to be a genuinely nice guy. He appeared to be very happy to meet the public, and press the flesh. (NB - I did hear one amused fan wondering if this was the perfect way to spread swine-flu - get a Mexican guy to go around the world for two weeks shaking hands with everyone... hmmm...)

He said he's loving being in New Zealand, and mentioned he had penguins living under his house at the moment - possibly just rhetoric but actually a real possibility here in Wellington - there's plenty of places where Little Blue Penguins nestle under people's houses on the coastline, especially in Wellywood itself (the Miramar peninsula).

I must admit I did not buy his new book, however, he did gracefully sign my illustrated copy of The Hobbit (which already had Alan Lee's autograph in it). I offered to take him on my tour with his family if he ever felt like a bit of local sightseeing (GDT, if you're reading this - that's a freebie, of course!!! Call me!).

As I walked out of the shop, I got lucky one more time - Richard Taylor had also made an unscheduled appearance, and had been cornered by a small group of fans, for more picture and autographs. Pen still in his hand, he was quite happy to sign my hobbit book as well, leaving me a very happy hobbit indeed.

I ran into a few other people I recognised in the queue outside, among them the lovely Allison and Ian Jack, who decided to come live in Wellington after taking my tour a number of years ago. Ian now works at Weta Digital, proving that nothing is impossible here in Wellington, if you set your mind to it.

Ian has carefully built up a reputation with me of pretending to know nothing, denying everything I say, and faking enthusiasm when I reveal local rumours to him, and then pretending he hasn't already heard them months ago. I know for instance that he saw a 20 minute Tintin showreel by Weta Digital, about 2 years ago, when it was all still rumours and speculation. Even to this day he won't tell me what was in it. What good is a contact at Weta when they actually ABIDE by the confidentiality contract!! Sheesh, Ian! :/

Anyway, I have heard plenty of stuff from other sources, so there's still a few goodies to come.

In the meantime, I'll be at the Weta Cave again this coming Saturday, for the Alan Lee autograph session. I have a lonely Children Of Hurin 1st edition sitting on the shelf that desperately needs a signature in it.

- Jack M.

Pre-Production On Hobbit To Start August

The (unofficial) word on the street is that pre-production on The Hobbit is officially due to begin around August. A fairly large number of people are expected to be hired soon on contracts, to companies like Weta Workshop and Stone Street Studios.

By all accounts it couldn't have come at a better time for many - the last big project here in Wellington went completely belly-up ("Kingdom Come", a recently cancelled project about the life of Jesus Christ), and the recession was hitting people quite hard.

And of course, everyone's rearing to get back to Middle-earth!

- Jack M.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Lothlorien open again, but...

The Lord Of The Rings filming location of Lothlorien, located just outside Featherston in the Wairarapa region, has reopened again after the storm damage has been assessed (see my earlier post on Sunday May the 17th).

The bridge, after the movie but before the storm

Apparently the tree that has crushed the bridge has been removed, and the bridge remains crushed but they're working hard on repairing the damage. Things aren't quite back to normal but at least the safety of our guests can be maintained again.

Not a lot else to say since I haven't seen it myself yet, but I'm due to visit with a group this coming Sunday the 14th of June - I hope to get a better idea of the situation, and possibly some photos then.

NB - although the location has been reopened, the privately owned location is not open to the general public. The best way to see it is to take Flat Earth's full day Extended LOTR tour, which visits it.

- Jack M.

Viggo visit last month, update

After my earlier entry regarding a sighting of Viggo, I came across some more info. Yesterday I picked up a copy of a free local newspaper, the Capital Times, which had a photo of Viggo on the cover, with the rather gaudy headline "Here Viggo Again" (puh-lease!).

The interview adds absolutely NOTHING to my store of knowledge, except that Viggo likes Old Gold chocolate, which was actually already mentioned in the Saturday May 30th Dominion Post's Indulgence supplement interview, a much better read. (NB - The Dominion Post headlines the article "Good Fella", which is pretty bad as well, but the subscript on the sidebar was "Hobbit Forming", which is just as sad. Do we really need ALL the headlines to be bad puns?). I won't scan it here unless there's call for it? Tell you what - if I get three signed requests, I'll consider it.

Although the interview was just abject rubbish, I thought I'd scan the photos here for the interest of some who doubted that Viggo was ever in New Zealand. The cliche way of doing it is to photograph yourself with a local newspaper in your hand, and make sure the date is showing. Lucky for me, that's pretty much what he did.

Here's a closeup of the date of the paper he's holding. Seems pretty conclusive to me, but just in case it's not clear enough on the scan, it says "Mar 11-18, 2009 - Vol 34, No 18".

Take the date of the paper this was published in, June 10th, 2009, and that means he was here after mid March, and before mid June. I trust my source when he tells me Viggo was later during that period but I don't have an exact date.

I feel all defensive now. :)

- Jack M.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Movement at Miramar Cinema finally?

Back in 2003, Peter Jackson and Jamie Selkirk got together and bought up an old Cinema here in Wellywood called Capitol Court, which is a 1920's Art Deco building. The word around town was that it would be developed into a LOTR related cinema, possibly with a Rings museum attached to it.

Fast forward to a year ago, June 2008, and the cinema had still not been used or renovated. Richard Taylor set up the Weta Cave, with its own little mini-museum. The whispers at the time were that the LOTR museum would be at the Cave instead of at Capitol Court. Everything went fairly quiet for another year or so.

From a Lord Of The Rings Museum perspective, the Weta Cave is distinctly unimpressive - a little disappointing even. The mini-museum is little more than a single small room (about the size of my small kitchen, in fact), and although it's crammed full of goodies, the LOTR stuff shares precious space with earlier Peter Jackson movies, and other Weta movies - which is, as it should be - after all, this is the Weta Museum, not the LOTR museum.

In regards to the Capitol Court building - every so often there are little news items published in the local papers about how the Miramar residents would like still the building restored to its former Art Deco glory, and how nothing seems to have been done, etc.

When the papers consult either of the owners, generally "things" are reported to be happening in the background but quotes from either Peter Jackson or Jamie Selkirk invariably state they are "in progress", "in talks", or "under discussion". And invariably, things die down again soon afterwards.

However, there appears to be some recent movement at the cinema itself, and I've also heard from a number of sources living in the area that there may well be some light on the horizon. I understand that in the next few weeks I may have some more definite news, but apparently the go-ahead on the redevelopment of the cinema has been given.

Of course, this does not (yet) mean that we're getting a "proper" LOTR museum - but if things are moving in that direction, perhaps we will at least get a proper little venue to watch The Hobbit on, in time for release date! Only time will tell.

Watch this space. Again.

Vague rumour - Spielberg in town?

This one is no more than a vague rumour - apparently Steven Spielberg has been spotted in town in the last week. I've heard mutterings from at least two people at this stage, but only one of them is vaguely reliable.

It could quite possibly be true since he would probably drop in to the post production facilities at Park Road Post from time to time, to see how Tintin is getting on. However, I've not got any quotes from anyone, nor any indication of when he was here exactly. The problem with Peter Jackson's studios is that they are about a 5 minute drive away from the Wellington Airport, and he could come and go without ever seeing the open air (except for the carpark at the studio, for all of 30 seconds). If he wanted to NOT be seen, it would be very easy to do.

So (as always), in the event of it not being true, pretend you never read it here. :)

What does this have to do with LOTR of The Hobbit? Um, nothing really. Just thought I'd mention it.

Rivendell Location News

Eight of us Flat Earth LOTR tourguides had a training day today, which is something we like to do from time to time to refresh everybody's stories a bit, and perhaps to share some new ones we may have heard since the last meeting.

Personally I think there's no more demanding audience than fellow tourguides - everyone's always correcting everybody else, and it's often difficult to get a story out over the din of people joining in! Oh, and did I mention I was being filmed for our training DVD? Gooood fun!

(From left to right) Tony, Tim, Phil, Steve, Andrea, Todd, and me. Missing (taking the photo) is Bryn.

It was a fun morning at the Kaitoke Regional Park ("Rivendell") though - I took the group through the location in much the same way as I would on a normal day. There were some new stories to tell, and a few to correct as we've heard new information from more reputable sources, or someone's stumbled across a new photo that disputes earlier tellings of the same stories.

One location in the area was used for a famous Orlando Bloom's publicity photo, and if you came on a tour here in Wellington, chances are you have a very similar photo of yourself in that very spot.

We had actually stopped taking people up to the tree, as the tree was showing signs of damage from the thousands of people (however carefully) standing on its roots. Steve (the local forest ranger) had requested some months ago to give the tree a little rest, which we'd all been adhering to.

However, I was talking to Steve a few weeks ago, and he was planning on doing some renovating to the area, redefine the paths, and put up a small platform for people to stand on while they took the same photo. It looks like that's become more than planning since my last conversation with him, as the platform has just appeared!

This photo shows the platform in the centre, a short path leading up to it on the left, and the "Legolas Tree" on the right.

Standing on the platform allows for the best photo opportunity.

Compare the tree with this publicity shot of Orlando at the exact same location (photo by Pierre Vinet, (c) New Line Cinema).

Now that the platform has been put into place, the tree should be fine again, and all the Legolas fans can have their favourite photo taken again.

- Jack M.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Hobbit lunch

((The following entry isn't much of a rumour, it's more of a diary entry of my weekend. Totally Rings related though, so bear with me.))

On Sunday the 7th of June 2009 a small group of Tolkien fans met up at the home of Brian, Suzie and Harrison Reeve, to enjoy a nice lunch of homemade pizza and pumpkin soup.

I convinced my wife Aiko and my son Josh that it wasn't just a geek outing, and our good friend Mark Fry travelled with us there as well. We were later joined by a friend of Brian's named Wayne Underhill.

From left to right - Josh, Aiko, myself, Brian, Mark, Wayne, and Suzie.
Mark, and Wayne are carrying elvish blades. None glowed blue, so all was safe.

Wayne Underhill (his actual name, I should add!) had just been exploring some LOTR locations at the North Island's central plateau, where the Mount Doom scenes were filmed amongst the volcanoes, Mounts Ngaurahoe, Ruapehu, and Tongariro. We had some photos to compare, as Josh and I had just visited a few locations in the South Island. Wayne was (among other things) a Gondorian soldier in Minas Tirith, in the Return Of The King. I suspect his name helped him get in.

Mark Fry had until recently been working at the Wellington Dymocks bookshop, which closed its doors suddenly a few weeks ago. Apart from being in the Fellowship Of The Ring (an extra in the village of Bree's bar scene), Mark had been instrumental in supplying the Wellington region with an astounding collection of LOTR and Tolkien related books and merchandise. He's also a big Tintin fan.

Brian and Suzie are possibly the two nicest people I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. I would best describe them as a pair of true hobbits. Brian is meticulous in his note keeping, where Bilbo write the Red Book all through his life, Brian has collected scrapbooks from local papers and other sources on various subjects. His LOTR collection is now up to 22 (large!) volumes! His Hobbit scrapbooks are coming along nicely as well.

I should point out that my wife and I met through LOTR - I met her as one of my tourists back in 2005, and we got married earlier this year. In many ways she's as big a fan of LOTR as I am, although she hasn't changed her career for it yet - I used to work in IT in various guises for 18 years. Going to the rainforest location of Rivendell every day is SUCH a better job!

It was a lovely meeting, and although more than a few rumours were shared, I can't reveal any of them here as the source would be too obvious. And no, I won't divulge them in the next few weeks either, unless I hear them from other sources as well. Time to do some digging!

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Heh! I wonder if fame will change me...!

Awesome! Looks like my little blog has been picked up by TheOneRing.net... :) Apparently my rumours were more detailed than their rumours...

When all is said and done, of course, they still remain rumours. The fact is, Viggo spoke to my contact, but does actually mean that he will appear in The Hobbit? The comments on my earlier post talk about scenes that were filmed for LOTR but never made it into that movie - there's always a good chance that new scenes filmed by Viggo Mortensen won't make it into The Hobbit either.

As a good friend of mine once remarked, "nothing is certain until you're sitting in the cinema watching it". And of course, even that's not true, what with PJ's habbit of making extended versions!

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Guillermo del Toro book signing at the Weta Cave

It looks like the Weta Cave is finally realising the importance of having their stars making appearances at the top venue in town. On Wednesday evening the 17th of June, Guillermo del Toro is signing his new vampire book, The Strain, as well as a range of del Toro related miniatures.

Del Toro is quite the collector himself, by all accounts. Take a look at the photo of his earlier visit to the Cave on the Weta site, on December 9th last year. I think he bought every Kong skull he could lay his hands on, plus a Dalek to boot!

NB - For a quick giggle, compare my uncut version of the same photo, and check the guy on the left side of the photo. Now I know how Christopher Lee felt when Saruman got cut out of the Theatrical release of Return Of The King... :(

Oh, the harsh reality of the cutting room floor...

Monday, 1 June 2009

Hobbit Photo on Mt Victoria

A few days ago I received a FaceBook Friend request from Mallory from South Africa, who's been on one of my tours. At one point during the tour (on Mount Victoria), I used her camera for a cool technique called (among other things) "forced perspective".

Basically, it's the same technique Peter Jackson used to turn Elijah Wood (5'6") into Frodo (3'6").

I don't usually get to see the result of the photo I take (since it's always on other people's cameras), so it was nice to see the picture on her FaceBook Gallery. I thought I'd post her photo here (after checking with her first, obviously!).

The photo was with about 30 seconds preparation, of two people who didn't really know what I was doing, with me using an unfamiliar cameras, and with no digital enhancements afterwards (ie, it's just as easy to do it with a 35mm film camera).

Tintin on hold?

The local papers may have put a nicely positive spin on it (unusually!) but I've heard from a number of actor friends recently that they have been told not to expect to be hearing about any Tintin roles coming up for a while, as the project has been put on hold, apparently. No idea for how long at this stage.

Let's hope it's not another "Kingdome Come", the locally produced film that seems to have fallen into a huge hole. By the time the $1,000,000.00 set was being dismantled a few weeks ago, it wasn't looking promising.

Still, Tintin has Spielberg, Jackson, Serkis, and Weta's names attached to it (not to mention Herge!), so at least the sheer momentum might keep it going yet. Go Tintin!

Watch this space!