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.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Photos of the new Displays at the Weta Cave (and taking requests for more!)

A little while ago I mentioned I would put some more photos up of the new museum displays at the Weta Cave, which for various reasons I haven't got around to yet.

The new layout, as I guessed, retains the ghost dog from "The Frighteners", while they've added Gimli's scale puppet, as well as the huge handgun from "Hellboy". Also, the green and red faces I suspected were from either "Hercules" or "Xena", turned out to be in fact, from "Hercules", so that was a lucky guess.

On top of that, there are now new displays on Narnia's "Prince Caspian", "King Kong", "Indiana Jones 4", and of course, "Lord Of The Rings".

Unfortunately, I didn't have a lot of time the last few times I was there (too busy answering my guests' questions, probably), but I did take this quick snap of one (two, actually) of the displays.

As you can see, the left display features an Elven suit of armour, while the right shows a little chap I've named Elijah Wooden. He was a great horse rider, as well as being an expert boatsman(boatshobbit?). The huge gauntlet behind him was used by the black riders when reaching for the "actual" Elijah Wood.

The Weta Cave has given me express permission to feature some more photos on this blog, so if there's any requests from anyone not currently in New Zealand.

Choices available:
  • More close-ups of Gimli Stunt Puppet
  • More close-ups of Frodo's Stunt Puppet
  • Close-ups of Elven Armour
  • LOTR Weaponry (swords, bows, arrows, etc)
  • The new mini-shields (maybe revealing the brooch-pins on the back)
  • Gollum
  • Lurtz
  • The lovely female Orc (as yet nameless)
  • The Chainmaille display, with the original chainmaille making device
  • Something from another movies?
Let me know, I'll be going in again later this week, so be quick!

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Weta favourite cafe Eva Dixon's gone, replaced by The Larder

It's not been a good period for local Wellington Cafe's - first the Lyall Bay Maranui Cafe burns down, then I hear Eva Dixon's has closed down.

Bit of background - Eva Dixon's is right around the corner from the Weta Workshop, and specifically the Weta Cave (probably more relevant to visitors to NZ). It was often frequented by pretty much everyone at Weta at one time or another. One senior Weta Animator, Jason Schleifer, talked about it as "the Weta Cafetaria".

Originally named after the two streets it was located on (Eva Street and Dixon Street), there's been a few of them around town - including one at the Wellington Zoo, which closed its doors earlier this year. I'm still trying to ascertain whether there's an Eva Dixon's Cafe still open somewhere. None of my phone numbers are being picked up but I may just have called at a bad time.

The good news (for coffee lovers, anyway) - the premises have been turned into a new cafe called The Larder, which also serves lunches (no idea of the quality yet as I haven't been there - expect a report soonish), as well as the prerequisite coffee. The new owners, Jacob and Sarah, are ready to serve the crew again, and have been doing so for the past two weeks or so, apparently!

I'm guessing The Larder will become famous as The Hobbit Cafe in the next year or two. You heard it here first. :)

- Jack M.

Lothlorien update

It's been a pretty quiet sort of a week - not a lot to report. I suspect all the big guns are still recovering from San Diego's ComicCon, and perhaps dealing with the premiere of District 9, which was screened last night at the Park Road Post Production facilities in Miramar, and tonight at the Embassy Theatre (the same place that had the ROTK premiere on Dec 1, 2003) before going on general release.

One thing I did hear though, was that the destroyed bridge at Lothlorien will undergo its repairs starting from next week. It looks like we're going to have an identical bridge again!

As you can see, the support struts are still standing (although a bit crooked), and the offending tree has been completely removed. We have started returning to Fernside (which also doubled as the Gladden Fields) again a little while ago ago, so if you were holding off visiting until it opened again - wait no more, our operators are standing by to take your call! :)

I'll go in next week with a camera when the repairs start, so you can all see the progress as it happens.

- Jack M.