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January 14, 2003 - January 28, 2003

Tuesday, January 28, 2003
A Warning To Fans - Xoanon @ 12:39 PST
Originally Posted On: houseoftelcontar.com

A web site http://www.fanfestautographs.com/viggo.htm is claiming to have arranged a private signing session with Viggo and is pre-selling autographed photographs for $25.00 plus S&H. Viggo asked me to post the following:

To Whom it may concern:

The offer made by Fan Fest Autographs claiming to be making available a private signing by me, through which anyone willing to pay $25 would receive an autographed picture complete, with certificate of authenticity, is completely misrepresentation. Furthermore, I have never charged money for an autograph, nor would I ever do so.

If you have already paid a single cent for an autograph of mine I suggest you go about getting your money back and or contacting the appropriate authorities immediately. Even Fan Fest has now acknowledged that I have never had any contact with them, much less ever endorsed any such venture. Fan Fest has agreed to immediately remove this offer and cancel any and all sales related to me. The person or persons who initiated this scam are morally reprehensible..

Viggo Mortensen

Monday, January 27, 2003
Andy Serkis At ArcLight: Report II - Xoanon @ 12:55 PST
Cimorene writes:

On Saturday, (January 25th) my daughter ran into my room yelling, “Mom, Mom guess who will be at the ArcLight tonight? Andy Serkis, can we go, can we go?” After a few minutes of sorting details with my husband, he hopped on the computer and we were fortunate to get front row – almost exactly center tickets! So off Shiara and I went on to an unexpected and thoroughly delightful evening.

At 8:05 p.m., Mr. Serkis came out and greeted the audience and asked us if any of us had seen the movie yet. We all laughed and he said, how many times? And then said (in response to “multiple times!” from the audience) “You people are insane!” very humorously. After the movie (my second viewing and Shiara’s fourth) and a chance to stretch, Mr. Serkis came out and sat about 12 feet in front of Shiara! We felt so lucky!!

Early on during the Q&A, someone asked Mr. Serkis how his voice was done in the movie, computer generated or what, and he shook his head no, and said, “I want to tell you, it was my voice.” Someone shouted, “Do it for us!” That generated a laugh, and the commentator said, “Oh come on folks” (we were very well mannered, by the way), but Mr. Serkis very generously nodded in the direction of the voice and said, “I will a little later.”

Shiara had wanted to ask Mr. Serkis what was his inspiration for the voice of Gollum, but someone beat her to it. He told us that he had 3 cats, and laughingly asked the audience, have you ever seen a cat cough up a hairball? And described how the cat goes into this convulsion and hacking to get rid of it. He went on to say that his visualization of Gollum is that the burden of guilt – for killing Deagol to get possession of the ring – is physically centered in his throat. Very interesting.

Mr. Serkis went through the whole process of the filming of Gollum’s part for us – describing the three separate processes of filming, the white unitard and blue suit he wore, and the sensors used to track his movements. It was very interesting. When asked how he kept fit for the role – especially because he spent so much time crawling on all fours, he mentioned that he is a rock climber. And how did he preserve his voice? With Gollum juice – lemon, honey, ginger and other stuff – gallons of it every day!

At some point someone asked how he had auditioned for the role, and this brought up the story that when his agent first called him about it, he was told that it would be for a 3 week voice over project. And he said to his agent – Lord of the Rings, it has such meaty parts, can’t you do any better than that? But he thought about it and put together a tape and sent it off to Peter Jackson. Then when he finally met with Jackson, it turned out the part was broader.

When he got to New Zealand, he was overwhelmed with the scope of the filming process – and said that working with Peter Jackson was phenomenal – it changed his life and it changed everyone’s life who worked with him. The production involved so many different people, and was so detailed, and there was no hierarchy at all. He was in awe of the complete attention to detail – by the armory and all the different aspects of filming. So many people were involved and everyone contributed their bit.

I believe it was at this point that he mentioned that someone had told him that Peter Jackson was interested in having Serkis for the part because he looked like Smeagol – and he told a very funny story – he got there and there were all these heads of Smeagol and they did indeed look like him! And he went on to say that they had certainly gotten his gene pool down. He can see Smeagol in his 4 year old son – especially when they are in a store and leaving and he wants something (and he mimed being pulled by a rope!), and certainly his dad looks like Gollum. It was very funny.

Sometime during this part of the session, while discussing how Gollum evolved, and about receiving the Gollum/Smeagol scene from Fran Walsh (and it was so well written that he said, Thank you after he had read it) that Andy Serkis without a shred of makeup, transformed himself into Gollum and Smeagol, and did a bit of the dialog. Computer generated voice? I’ll say NOT. It was truly awesome to watch him.

Did Mr. Serkis have any regrets about taking this role? Well, he said yes, sometimes it was very dark. At the end of filming with Elijah and Sean, he knew that they would go home, they were done, but he would have to do it two more times. And his son was born 2 ½ years ago. But, he told us, it was a great opportunity. He so clearly enjoyed doing this project, that perhaps he had doubts, but wouldn’t say no if asked again. (Someone said would he like to play Gollum if they filmed The Hobbit, and he said yes, the riddle scene is wonderful.)

By the way, if anyone is interested in reading about his body of work, Mr. Serkis discussed his training a bit in response to a question, he has a web site up now, www.serkis.com.

Naturally, the conversation turned to whether or not he should be nominated for an Oscar for best supporting actor (YES! We think so!!), and he talked about how this role transcended doing the voice-over for a CGA character.

After the Q&A, he did sign autographs (and was passing out a wonderful picture of the transformation of Andy Serkis into Gollum). I was sad that we hadn’t brought a camera because Mr. Serkis allowed people to take photographs with him. All in all, it was a truly wonderful evening. He is so intelligent and articulate, and was so in tune with Gollum’s character. No wonder he stole the film. I so wanted to thank him when we finally made it to the front of the line, and all I could do was smile broadly and say, Thank you. I do hope he understands what a gift his time was to us all.

Yours in Fellowship, Cimorene

Roger Corman Q&A At Archlight - Xoanon @ 00:28 PST
From: Dennis Michael, my good friend and host of "Hollywood's Master Storytellers"

Long before Harry Potter, and not all that long after Gandalf and Saruman, (Not to mention Radagast) came on the scene, Richard Matheson and Roger Corman created Drs Scarabus (Boris Karloff) Craven (Vincent Price) and Bedlo (Peter Lorre) for the Poe Spoof "The Raven." Some minor actor named Jack Nicholson is also in the film.

We're going to show this exceptionally rare film on Feb 4 at the Arclight Hollywood...part of the Cinerama Dome complex...as an episode of my show "Hollywood's Master Storytellers." Interview and Q and A session with Roger Corman follows, full details in the press release below.

Feb 4, 7 pm in our home screening room, Number 10 at the Arclight on Sunset Blvd, behind the legendary Cinerama Dome. [www.arclightcinemas.com]

Andy Serkis At Arclight Report - Xoanon @ 00:09 PST
My family and I attended the showing of TTT with Andy Serkis at the Arclight last night. Andy was great. He did a lengthy Q&A after the screening, and stayed to sign photos, for hours afterwards. He offered some great insight into his work on the films, especially his drawing from the experiences of drug addicts to depict how the ring has tortured and ruined Gollum. He also treated us to a brief reprise of the debate of Gollum and Smeagol, demonstrating how he can go from one to the other in the blink of an eye.

He gave out a few teasers, notably, he does think the scene with him as Smeagol and the murder of his cousin when he finds the ring will be in ROTK. He also talked about a gag film they did with Gollum being interviewed Entertainment Tonight style, that hopefully will be on the DVD release.

Thursday, January 23, 2003
LA Tolkien Toast Pictures - Xoanon @ 16:51 PST
Ringer Spy Rebecca sends along these pictures from the Tolkien Toast pictures from LA. Take a look!

Tuesday, January 21, 2003
Dourif At 'Collectors & Celeb' Show Report - Xoanon @ 11:58 PST
Deb writes: Brad Dourif (Wormtounge) was at the Hollywood Collectors & Celebrities Show this past weekend (Jan 18-19) at Beverly Garland's Holiday Inn in Studio City, Calif. signing autographs. He was there on Saturday, signing pictures, posters, whatever (along with a plethora of other celebrities). He even signed his photos "Wormtongue" if requested. When not signing or interacting with fans, he was signing a pile of "Wormtongue" photos.

A Fan's Eye View of New Zealand - Tehanu @ 06:38 PST
Ringer Spy Lee has been a frequent Ringer spy for a while now. Recently Lee went to New Zealand on what was meant to be a non-LOTR-centred tour...but hey, LOTR stuff was just everywhere, and too good to pass up. Lee's story follows:

Long before Peter Jackson ever thought of taking on the epic project of adapting LOTR for the cinema, I started imagining how wonderful it would be to visit New Zealand. Misanthrope that I am, I couldn't resist the idea of a country with 3 million people and 70 million sheep--that's my idea of the proper human/animal ratio. But it wasn't until "Fellowship" came out, and linked my passion for undisturbed nature with my even older passion for Tolkien, that I got off my butt and on a 747 bound for Middle Earth.

What follows is just a snapshot of the LOTR-related aspects of my journey. I deliberately did NOT make my trip an LOTR-only affair; I wanted to experience the country for itself, not just as the location for the movies. Plus, my travelling companion is not a fan, and it didn't seem fair to inflict too much LOTR on her--although by the end of the trip we taken to calling each other Frodo (that's me, dark-haired and the leader of the trip, plus having the Ring around my neck) and Sam (she being blondish and feeling the need to look after me even when I don't need it.) Some of what follows is just for general interest; some may be of use for those planning their own trip. I urge everyone who can go to do so. New Zealand truly is Middle Earth!

NORTH ISLAND: I blush to confess it, but we didn't go to Mata Mata, and I didn't miss it--because most of what we saw of the north island looked just like Hobbiton anyway. NZ south of Auckland to Rotorua, where we headed first, is all green and rolling hills and, well, Shire-like. Funny that we should start our journey in the Shire, as do the hobbits. . . .

WELLINGTON: Our first big plunge into LOTR-NZ fannishness came when we detoured for a four-hour stop in Wellington--just long enough to hit the LOTR exhibit at Te Papa, the National Museum. Others have written detailed accounts of that exhibit, so I won't go over old ground. What was most cool about the whole day was just the feel of being surrounded by Things LOTR--posters in the Wellington airport, as well as a storefront running TTT trailers continuously on a large screen; museum exhibit posters and banners all over town; and a large exhibit of LOTR artifacts as real-seeming as the findings from a medieval archaeological dig. (See below for a bit of "dirt" on the exhibit itself.)

NELSON, Part I: Having just bought the LOTR Guide Book the day before, I was delighted to read that Hans Jensen & Co, the makers of the One Ring, were located in Nelson. I planned to stop in--and was even more delighted when, as we strolled around town on our first night, we rounded a corner and ran smack into the shop! It was after hours, but I still ogled in the window and read the promotional material they'd put up outside regarding their involvement in the films. And of course I did stop in, the morning of our departure.

Thorkild, son of the now-deceased Hans and himself a Ring-maker, greeted us. I figured he probably thought we fans are all pretty loony, and I think I was right; we had a good time joshing about that. I showed him what I referred to as my "inferior imitation" of the One Ring--actually a very nice Harmony Gold 18K ring with beautiful script, sized to fit me. He said, "Oh, I've got one of those" and trotted out one he'd been sent by Harmony, with the request that they send him one of theirs. "I think they just want to make a mold of mine," he said scornfully.

I asked Thorkild how he felt about all the fuss and publicity; he made a face and then announced that he'd been interviewed for Swedish TV the day before, as if this were entirely weird. It probably is, so I just joined in the laugh. I asked how his father would feel if he saw the results, and all the attention that the shop was getting; he said he thought his dad would have thoroughly enjoyed it. I think Thorkild enjoys it, too, even if he does act as if we're all nuts.

I told him we'd been to the Te Papa exhibit and seen the Ring on display there, and asked if he'd made it. Here's the "dirt": "Yeah," he replied, "I only made that one about 3 weeks ago." So now you know--the Ring hanging in amber in Wellington wasn't actually used in the filming. Oh, well.

Thorkild also trotted out the several prototypes that the shop had made when they were first hired to do the Ring--several of different shapes and thicknesses. It was pretty cool to see what hadn't been chosen. PJ made the right choice--the others weren't as impressive.

What was impressive was the "replica" Rings on display, and available for purchase. I held one of the larger, 18K replicas--it felt heavy in my hand, as it must have felt in Elijah/Frodo's hand when Gandalf gives it to him after heating it in the Bag End fireplace. Not feeling able to afford that Ring, I settled for ordering a 9 carat version, sized to fit. Credit to Thorkild as a businessman: he told me to expect it at the end of January, but the shippers called and it will apparently be here two weeks early. And in the meantime, he gave me a more authentic chain to wear with my Ring, as the one I had on was all wrong. He was right: it looks much better!

NELSON, Part II: Our B & B hosts in Nelson happened to be fans, and mentioned that Stonehurst Farm, well-known for its "horse treks" (Kiwi for trail rides), owns several horses from the films, including "Percy," who had been Liv Tyler's mount in her shots with Asfaloth. (A different horse was used for the real galloping scenes--Percy, who is very staid and mellow, was better for the horse-phobic Liv.) So, thinking to combine my longtime love of horses with more fannishness, I booked us a ride the next day (right after our visit to the Ringmaker).

What luck--one of the guides on our ride, Callum, was mounted on none other than Percy, a large and pretty docile grey gelding. Once Callum learned that I was an LOTR fan, he was delighted to talk about the horses and the movies. According to him, when filming started a great call went out for horses to buy, as well as people to ride their own horses. After filming, many of the bought horses were available, and Stonehurst purchased six to use as lesson horses. Percy, according to him, was both Liv's quiet version of Asfaloth, and the grey ridden by Theoden at the beginning of TTT. (I had to see the movie again after this to confirm that Theoden rides several different horses in the movie, including a bay after the Warg battle, and a chestnut in the final battle at Helm's Deep. But Percy's in there early on!) Somewhere my "Sam" has a digital photo of me with Percy, a lovely boy.

QUEENSTOWN: As you know if you have read the LOTR Locations Guide Book, much of the movies were filmed around the Queenstown area. Again, I spared my non-fannish friend a stop at every known shooting location--although I did force her to start reading the book, which she read aloud in the car while I drove. (You'll see below why I didn't read to her while she drove!) But frankly, the whole place looks like you've dropped straight into the movies. I kept saying to myself, "I'm in Middle Earth."

From Queenstown you can also do several "trilogy trail" type tours, many offered by companies involved in the filming. We chose Glenorchy Air, which operates small planes and now uses the motto "We flew cast and crew." The story, as our pilot gave it to us, is that Robert, the company owner, called Three Foot Six and told them he could fly them in anywhere (as well as the helicopters) at a much lower price--and as a result, got a lot of work for his company. Now, they offer several "trilogy trail" tours, mostly by air, including a 5 hour trip that features the locations for Edoras.

Fannishness apparently outweighed my good sense; I booked us onto a 3 hour tour (extended by a non-LOTR flight out to see Milford Sound), despite my propensity towards motion sickness. Let me just say this: if you share a strong tendency to get sick in small planes, this trip is not for you! Despite taking a dramamine, I was thoroughly sick. But I also got to see where they filmed the Ford of Bruinen, the landing at Amon Hen, some shots of the River Anduin, and the like. And the best part involved some time not in the air at all (for which my stomach was very grateful).

Nathan, our very nice pilot, landed us in a farmer's field--not just any farmer's field, but the farm used for several LOTR locations. He claimed that the mountains to our right are some of the peaks seen in the opening shots of TTT, but it's hard to tell, as PJ takes different location shots and digitally edits them together to create new landscapes. More recognizable was the copse of woods to which we walked: it was the point of entry for the Fellowship into Lothlorien, when they first run into the trees, and also the basis for some of the shots at Amon Hen. The whole farm was so beautiful, with its lush pastures framed by mountains, that I would have loved it even if it hadn't been a key location. But it got even better once we were airborne again, and Nathan pointed out that "Dan's Paddock" (the field below) was the location that surrounds the digitally created Isengard. I saw it at once, including the long road down which Gandalf rides to meet Saruman.

There were more locations visible from our air tour--and some can be seen on foot, for those wise enough not to book a flight. I didn't think I'd much care about seeing locations, but frankly, it was a real joy to feel that the places that are so vivid in the films "really exist."

A bit of Queenstown/LOTR gossip: we stayed at a lovely B & B, Trelawn Place, that is just out of town, and like many, part of a farm. Our hostess told us that the farm had just been bought up by someone associated with LOTR, for $2 million NZ dollars, twice the government valuation of its worth. So LOTR millionaires are making their mark. I didn't think it polite to ask who was the purchaser, and doubt that she'd have known in any event.

We did and saw many other wonderful things in NZ, and met many kind and interesting people. But I have to admit, the best parts were those associated with LOTR. I hope other fans who want to will have the chance to visit Middle Earth for themselves.

Ringer Spy Lee

Saturday, January 18, 2003
Ben's LOTR Tour Diary: Part 2 - Tehanu @ 03:14 PST
This the second part of a Tour Diary from Ben, who included the recent 'Premier' Red Carpet Tour of NZ LOTR locations in his extended world trip.

Day 88 - The Day I Lived in Wellington Airport ------

Today was just a day set aside to transfer from the North Island to the South Island. When I got into Christchurch I was immediately grabbed and dragged out for dinner then into a showing of the Two Towers. I knew it'd not be the same atmosphere as the showing after the premier and it gave me a very different view of the film to see it without the adrenaline pumping. It's still a very good film but I missed the atmosphere of the premier a lot, even though I was able to concentrate a lot more on the subtleties of the film. It was also a good chance to spot all of the locations we had visited since the premier.

Day 89 - The Day I Entered Edoras ------ Things I learned today: 1) Crossing streams in your boxers makes you look a fool on camera 2) I need more practice at following maps 3) No matter what age you are, climbing trees is still fun

Among the most dramatic scenery in The Two Towers is the grassy mountain valley in which the Rohan capital of Edoras is built. Almost no computer graphics are used in the creation of the town. Even a significant proportion of the city itself was constructed atop the rock hill that makes up the centre of the town. The only buildings that were computer generated were the houses at the base of the hill to the left.

Sadly none of the buildings remain but you can make out the locations for the royal burial cairns and the path leading up to the gate. Exploring the site was a bit like doing some archaeology, having to try and locate clues to the existence of different structures and line up terrain features to the few photos and memories we all had. The hill itself was easily recognisable from every angle but we all wanted to know exactly where the walls and halls were.

It was a bit like something out of Indiana Jones to actually make it to the top of the hill too. It's in the middle of a valley high up in the mountains and the coach can only get within a few kilometres of the hill, although it is visible for miles around. To get over the location itself we had to jump fences and streams, dodge thorn bushes and wade across ice cold rivers. We were faced with that eternal decision... to wade across the river without shoes and risk sharp stones or walk around squelching in ice water filled shoes all day. I chose the former, opting to save my jeans as well my paddling across the stream in my boxers instead. I'm sure I've ended up half a dozen photos like that and am more than a little worried about them ending up on the internet somewhere!! :) Once we got to the base of the hill it's a steep hike up to the top but once you are there the adrenaline buzz is amazing as it's one of the most recognisable places we've been to. I must have used an entire roll of film in the couple of hours we were there.

On the trip away from Edoras towards Twizel, our home for the night, we stopped for photos at two aquamarine lakes called Tekapo and Pukaki with views of the 12,000ft Mt Cook on the distant side of the lakes. These were beautiful in themselves but nothing today could compare to Edoras and its valleys. We also visited the site of the Battle of Pelanor fields from the third film but this was obviously hard to recognise since that film won't be released for another year (oh God a whole year to wait till the next one!).

The drive onto Twizel travelled along mountain valleys where the roads were lines with stripes of multicolours lupins. Sewn by a bored wife years ago to bring some colour to the valleys these flowers are actually, amazingly, classed as weeds and programs are in place to remove them. We couldn't really understand why as the stripes of pinks and purples in dozens of different shades look fantastic against the grey rock, green grass and yellow flowered gorse. Again, plenty of photo were taken there.

In the evening a few of us hired bikes for a sunset cycle and went around the town, through some small pine woodlands and down to the stream just as the sun had set. Some of us climbed the trees that hung out over the river whilst others huddled on benches beside it. All references to hobbits and elves shall dutifully be ignored....

Day 90 - The Day I Got Snapped Playing Horsey ------ Things I learned today: 1) Beware of impromptu photo opportunities 2) I make a frighteningly good prancing pony on camera 3) The Kiwi Experience bus is following me

This morning, after a photo opportunity at the clay cliffs, we drove up into the mountains to explore the pine woodlands used in the Great Chase scene from the first movie. Stepping out of the bus was like stepping out into a "Touch Œn Fresh" commercial with the scent of the pine trees hitting you straight away. Although we didn't see the exact route that the chase took (one pine tree looks very much like another), I could quite happily have spent all day walking through the woodlands. The trees were spread out enough so that there were a lot of pinecone strewn paths running between them and after a while the trees thinned to form small clearings and eventually fields with yellow flowers and swaying grass which were dotted with pine trees. In the far distance you could see a few grey triangular mountains with white snow on the caps. Any minute I expected some spinning brunette to come along the paths singing about the hills coming alive with the sound of something or other.

Far too soon (but with a slight delay to find a member of the party who'd gotten too enthusiastic and wandered off a bit too far) we headed off to our next meeting. This was meant to be a 15 minute meeting with a guy called Ian Brodie who wrote what has become our Bible (or at least out guide to the Bible) on this trip, the Lord of the Rings Location Guidebook.

He was such a nice guy though we ended up spending over and hour there just talking to him and looking through his collection of photos of the sites. He's got quite a few contacts inside the film companies so we were all subtly (and not so) trying to get hints about the 3rd film and any inside gossip. I was trying not to stare jealously at his ticket to the premier screening of the film which was hung on the wall but which I had last seen hung around his neck as he walked down the red carpet into the movie theatre. He also had a full size reproduction on Narsil, the ancient sword which is shattered in the first film. I've got to admit that I had more than a little trouble putting it down when I got to play with it! I wants it.... my precious! ;)

We had lunch at a gorgeous lakeside town called Wanaka. It could have been lifted right out of some of the nicest ski resorts in the Alps (in summertime of course!). There was a brief stop at a fruit farm where I pigged out on raspberries reminding me of a very happy time when I did that in the UK (stomach cramps and all!!) then onto one to the prettiest towns I have ever seen. Arrowtown is by a river running over shallow shalestone bordered by trees and filled with mature oaks and ash. It looks like one of those perfect towns you see on American films, usually the type which get wiped out by fire, flood or volcano shortly afterwards.

Of course, there is a Lord of the Rings reasons for stopping off here. The river was used for part of the scene where Arwen defeats the nine riders by causing the river to rise and wash them away. Although there was so much computer trickery in this scene it was hard to recognise the exact spot it was still familiar and a very nice place to visit. There was another local reporter to avoid but she only really wanted to interview the most dedicated fans so I was happily able to slip away to explore a while until we had to catch the bus to Queenstown.

This is the last hotel stop on our tour, but we get to spend 4 nights here which will be really nice to be based in one place for a lot longer than normal... I can unpack!! Top priority though when we got into town was food and then a really nice walk along the coast and into the parkland beside coloured fountains and white bandstand right out of a cheesy romance. Not that I'm complaining of course!!

Day 91 - The Day I Was a Warg ------ Things I learned today: 1) Cinema makes everything seem bigger 2) I‚m very glad I‚ve never been to an adult cinema then! 3) The rafting grading system makes no sense, even to people who grade them

This morning we took a coach up a very steep and twisting road clearly marked "no coaches allowed." Since we made it back down in one piece I can still call Vic our tour guide sane, and can commend the coach driver's skills at getting round hairpin bends.

The purpose of this seemingly irrational drive was to get us up a steep hill in the middle of the river valley leading up to Queenstown to visit Deer Park Heights. This was where 2 of the very recognisable scenes from the 2nd film were shot: the scene where the refugees from Rohan walk around a lake and the scene where the Roharrim cavalry fends off the Warg riders (like a giant dog) before they get to the refugees.

The lake was instantly recognisable, as were several of the shots from the cavalry battle. The strange thing with these sites, as with many of the others from the film, was that they all appeared to be much smaller than they did on the cinema screen. You can get a good impression of it though if you persuade some poor souls to pretend to be refugees and limp badly around the lake whilst others take photos.

Since I got to take photos of the "refugees"I somehow ended up having to recreate another scene from the film: that of the Warg scout silhouetted against the grey sky on a rock ridgeline. How it is that I get compared to a Warg and orc rider I'm not sure... but then again I haven't really looked in a mirror in a while!

The hilltop itself was quite bleak itself but gave stunning views of the surrounding terrain. A blind man could take good photos in New Zealand it's so much like kicking swinging cats in a barrel (or something like that). It's not surprising many people are getting through a roll and a half of film a day. I'm glad I have all the extra memory for my camera too.

The afternoon saw the start of many of the optional activities so people in the group separated off according to preferences. 4 of us chose to go white water rafting, mainly for the activity itself but we chose the particular river because it goes right past the site of the Pillars of Argonath, which was really recognisable once we got there (even without the computer generated pillars).

This site was right at the beginning of the raft, just before the bridge from which the original commercial bungee jump still operates. We got the rare opportunity of seeing maniacs get dunked underwater using an elastic band with big aspirations from the opposite end of the drop to usual. I'm still not so sure of it myself.

For almost another hour the rafting went quite sedately. I was the only person apart from the guide who‚d been rafting before but even that one experience didn't totally prepare me for these rapids (although I was embarrassed when she was explaining the various commands that I found myself jumping to obey them even when she was just saying their names because it had been so well drilled into me the last time! :P ). Whereas the grade V listed Tully River I was rafting on last time had little water in it and a lot more rocks, the grade IV listed Kawarau River which I was on this time was a very fast flowing, deep river that was 15C cooler than the tropical Tully.

According to the ratings system, this river was one grade safer than the last one I was on. It certainly seemed it, with fast flowing but clear water along almost the entire length. It gave us plenty of time to practice and we were even allowed a swim down on of the rapids where a few of us linked arms and formed a daisy chain as we raced along that section of rapids.

As usual with my writing though, the "almost" in the above paragraph is the all-important thing. The reason we needed all that practice along the 50-minute smooth sections of the river was because the last section of the rapids is very different indeed. Instead of fast flowing but smooth water, this final section called "Dog Leg" has very fast flowing white water. Not white water like on the Tully either which is mainly formed by water flowing against rocks, but white water formed because the waves are 2-4 metres tall from trough to tip.

We rounded a corner into sight of these rapids we‚d been warned about for nearly an hour and all emitted a nervous/excited laugh. They seem to start abruptly, going from smooth tranquil water to big white foaming waves. One second we're sailing along pleasantly psyching ourselves up to hit these rapids, the next we're on a rollercoaster ride paddling like crazy and bracing ourselves for each rush down the other side of a wave and the jar as we hit the crest of the next.

I was tempted to not mention it, but all the practice we‚d had didn‚t quite pay off and somehow we managed to beach the raft on a tree branch at the edge of the middle bend in the rapids. The guide was absolutely cringing as she realised what a ribbing she was going to get from the other guides later on. To be fair to her I don't think it was her fault, or anybody's in particular, but we all had to struggle to push ourselves off the branch and back into the rapids. All part of the fun though... at least it made the rapids last longer!! :)

In the evening I bowed to group pressure and went to see the Two Towers again to spot more scenes. It's strange but so many people have been quoting lines from the film in jest whilst we‚ve been on the bus that when they are delivered in the film they seem wrong somehow! :D

Day 92 - The Day I Finally Got Flight Sick ... Very Flight Sick ------ Things I learned today: 1) My stomach is not invincible 2) Another scenic flight is not just another scenic flight 3) Don't ask the waitress to choose a wine for you without checking price!

Of all of the trips the people on the first half of the tour had talked about from when they visited the south island on their own there was one which stood out above all of the others: the scenic flight. Now I was a little sceptical since my last scenic flight had been little more than a pleasant but expensive way to spend 15 minutes but the recommendations were so strong that I didn‚t think I could pass up this 2 hours trip around (or above) about a dozen locations from the film.

I'd actually have to locate the pamphlet to remember all of the ones we flew above (whilst taking in a lot of the other scenery as well) but all I can say about the flight is... WOW! (Wonderful Or What??!) The problem with the Fraser Island must have been the lack of 2 dimensional features and the blandness of the terrain because this flight had none of that.

Huge mountains jutting out of the green valleys with snow on their 10,000 foot peaks, their grey chasm valleys filled to an even level with dark green fir trees, were separated from each other by narrow gorges with gushing white water flowing between their yellow cliff walls. The field in the valleys were cultivated or covered with the small fluffy white dots of hundreds of grazing sheep. Only 5 of us went on this particular tour but the small Cessna planes were so tiny that it still took two of them to get us all into the air. It was quite fun to be able to see the other group a few hundred metres away in the other plane.

The first leg of the flight took us along the river valley I rafted yesterday, above where the Pillars of the Argonaths were added, before banking the plane 450 degrees and flying between 2 giants peaks into the valley used for Isengard and its dark tower. Just for comedy effect, there's a sheep barn almost exactly where the tower should have been. :)

We did a couple of flybys to chase the sheep off the field that was to be the runway for the mid-flight stop and landed right in the middle of the valley. It's easily recognisable from the film but would have been worth the visit even without such a major location being located there. I've taken some of the best photos so far, with more snow capped mountains, green forests, rolling hills and running blue streams per square inch than any other photo so far. I'm sure there should be a law against standing in such beautiful scenery. The farmers who work there would never be able to complain about their lives if it were not for the "brisk" breeze blowing off the mountains carrying the scent of snow on them which would become a mild discomfort in winter.

Along the edges of the paddocks is a forest. Not just any forest though, but the forests of Paradise itself. In these aptly named, moss carpeted green woodlands scenes from Lothlorian and Amon Hen were filmed. There's one patch of ground you can almost picture Boromir speaking his last words on. Sadly we couldn't explore the woodlands but just walking along the edges with the mountains (and sheep!) all around me was wonderful.

The second leg of the trip took in many more sights but I have to admit that I wasn't able to crane my neck to look at them that well. The wind had picked up considerably, as it had on the rather messily ending flight the day before that many other people from the tour had been on, and Casper (no hallucinations and no friendly ghosts but another pomme on the trip with me) and I were getting ready to fight over the one "emergency flight illness receptacle" on board. We both admitted on landing that if the flight had gone on for another 2 minutes it might have had to come to blows or we‚d have had to work out some kind of joint custody arrangement for the bag.

We did however fly over the location for Gandalf's ride along the ridge line going to Isengard, the site where the Roharrim attacked the Orc camp and Fangorn Forest. There were others and the pilots were able to give us some great stories about when they ferried the cast and crew around between the locations. I think someone on the tour could easily publish a book of them all as most have never been told to the main audience.

When we got back from the flight Vic drove a few of us out to 3 more locations from the film which are close to Queenstown. We saw the location for the ruins atop Amon Hen where Aragorn fights the Uruk Hai for the first time. This was really easy to spot despite the fact it was clear a lot of computer graphics had been used and there were obviously none of the ruins left atop the hill.

The other two locations were harder to recognise because we don‚t think they appeared in the 2nd film, although they may be in the special edition. The Twelve Mile Delta was used in some of the Ithilian camp scenes and we found the spot some of the publicity shots were taken in although none of us could remember them from the film.

The final site is unknown even to Ian Brodie, author of the Lord of the Rings Locations Guidebook (although I'm sure he'll be finding out what was filmed there very soon). There was apparently some kind of metalwork on site that used to be covered in polystyrene until someone tried to cut the metal with an acetylene torch whilst the polystyrene was still attached (giving a wonderful bonfire but little else). It'll be interesting to find out what was actually filmed there as it's a very scenic valley and could fit several locations from the books. I'll definitely be trying to spot it in the next film or the special editions.

In the evening many of us (eventually) gathered in quite a posh bar along the waterfront to spend the rest of the evening together. It was quite a flip from last year's antics on Christmas Eve involving a hairy Welshman, an inflatable sheep and most of my childhood friends. Not necessarily better, just very, very different. If you'd told me this time last year that I'd be sat in a New Zealand waterfront bar exactly a year and thirteen hours later I'd never have believed you. In fact, I'm still not sure I believe it.

Day 93 - The Day I Spent My First Christmas Away from Home ------ Things I learned today: 1) Santa doesn't come when you aren't at home 2) Buying yourself presents always seems to work 3) It doesn't really feel like Christmas

It's a very bizarre feeling. For almost a month now I've been having to mentally block the sight of decorated Christmas trees on the same grass verges as palm trees, and pretend the Christmas carols playing in malls are just very bad elevator music, but now that Christmas day is finally here I'm not having a problem because it just feels so far away from the Christmas I'm used to at home that it doesn't really feel like Christmas at all.

Everyone else is saying the same thing. Being separated from old friends and family, without the build up towards Christmas that everyone usually has to deal with, and with the distractions of a holiday in a foreign country in summer means none of us really realises what we are missing at home. Which, as far as we're all concerned, is great. I don't think anyone really wants to think about being away from home at Christmas, especially because for most of us this is our first Christmas away from home. I think the situation would have been very different if we hadn't bonded as well as we have as a group and today's Christmas dinner is more like a good meal to finish off the trip with. It's a really nice way for things to end.

It was always shaping up to be a bizarre Christmas. This morning's jet boat ride was cancelled because of the freezing storm that was raging further up the valley but we got a nice coach tour through the countryside. Afterwards a group of us relaxed in the hotel bar until we took the scheduled gondola (cable car) ride up to the mountaintop restaurant that looks out over the town, lake and surrounding mountains. We'd been looking at the restaurant for days wondering how odd it was going to be being up there on Christmas day instead of being at home. I think the best surprise for all of us was that it wasn't really hard at all. Being surrounded by what for many has become an extended family, eating a good meal and enjoying spectacular views which were revealed after the clouds lifted showing us that they'd deposited a layer of fresh snow around all of the mountain tops.

After the meal we relaxed by an open fire in the bar before moving to the comfier sofas in the lounge to make all the goodbyes we'd all been dreading. Although the tour officially breaks up tomorrow, tonight will be the last time we are together as a group as many leave for different places early tomorrow morning, including myself.

We finally had to make to move for the gondola ride back down to the town. People hung around in silence, not knowing really what to say but not wanting to go their own ways. A few of us must have hung around at the bottom of the hotel stairs for at least an hour, not talking about anything in particular, just reliving the trip and enjoying what little we had left of each other's company.

I'm very, very glad I chose to take this tour over Christmas and hope to meet up with the people again and again. Many are talking about the "Return of the Tour" next year. Anyone care to sponsor me for a return trip?? :P

Ben ( benwielgus@hotmail.com )

Friday, January 17, 2003
Viggo & Jude Booksigning Event Report II - Xoanon @ 19:06 PST
Arwen writes:

And so it begins. The first LOTR booksigning of the new year (at least to my knowledge) was held on January 16 at 3pm at Booksoup (“Booksellers of the Great and Infamous”) on Sunset Blvd, and featured Visual Companion author Jude Fisher, and our very own Aragorn son of Arathorn: Viggo Mortensen (also known in some circles as “the barefoot prince”).

It was a gorgeous day in Los Angeles: crisp, clear blue skies and golden sunshine, very reminiscent of the land we have come to identify so closely with Middle-earth, New Zealand. It was 2pm by the time I arrived and there was already over 150 people in line. So much for trying to make this a low key event by scheduling it in the middle of a week day! The first person in line had been there since 9:00am! As usual at this type of gatherings, I was glad to recognize among the fans many friends of old, and to discover numerous strangers from distant lands as well. Then started the longest wait in the slowest moving line in recent memory. Photographs were not allowed, but everyone got the opportunity to get up to four items signed. This, combined with the fact that Viggo likes to take a moment to chat with each fan and personalize his autograph, probably explains the excruciatingly slow pace of the line.

The bookstore staff was gracious and supportive, with a great sense of humor, much needed to keep the crowd’s spirits high and guide them through what seemed to be an endless, at times hopeless, wait. By the time I finally made my way out of the windy street and into the store, it was already 6:30pm. One more hour would pass before I finally found myself in front of Viggo and had my copy of the Two Towers’ Visual Companion signed. Jude Fisher, still smiling and gracious after over five hours of signing, started to go down the line, stopping by every fan to sign their books. All the way in the back of the store, standing behind a counter, was Viggo. He was wearing the “cowboy” hat he’s been sporting on many recent pictures, as well as a beige “political” shirt which inscriptions (obviously home made) read “WAR IS NOT THE ANSWER” in the front, and “SUPPORT OUR TROOPS – BRING THEM HOME” with the drawing of an American flag underneath, in the back. He was, as always, a perfect gentleman, taking his time with each fan, answering questions, even posing for the occasional photo request – in spite of the studio’s veto -. He recognized me from previous events I attended and told me in French “I remember you…”. He graciously signed my book as I thanked him, we shook hands, and I was off.

While the wait had seemed to last forever, eventually it was totally worth it. Both artists showed extreme kindness and respect for their fans and worked hard all afternoon and into the night. When I left, over 100 people were still in line, and no doubt Jude and Viggo stayed at least until 9 pm. Lord Of The Rings’ fans are the luckiest people in the world: these movies star the most patient, dedicated and crowd pleasing artists.

Report from Viggo and Jude signing in Hollywood - Xoanon @ 11:59 PST
Garfeimao writes:

Earlier today, when I was going up to Hollywood for the Viggo and Jude signing, I hadn't really planned on writing a review for it. Then I ran into the guys from Houghton Mifflin and Harper Collins and realized that an almost immediate review was not only expected, but was actually anticipated. So, after finally getting into the store, then having some dinner, then the long drive home, here is my review.

I got up to Book Soup rather late today, arriving just as the event started at 3:00pm. The line snaked down the street, around the corner, down the hill and into the back alley. Luckily, I knew loads of people in various spots in line, but opted to line up with my boyfriend. Good thing too, as I had all his books in my car, so he would have had to buy a new book or two if I hadn't gotten there. The first person to have gotten inside to get Viggo's signature was Renee Zeilweger (sp?), who stopped by before heading to a special event for Chicago. How cool is that?

Anyhow, back to us normal people. We stand in line for a few hours, I go feed the parking meter gods twice before getting inside, and the sun goes down while we are still outside. Thank the heavens this was Los Angeles and we had a mild Santa Ana wind condition. It was nearly 80 degrees today, otherwise this could have been a very miserable afternoon. So, with the nice weather, and the nice friends to chat with, time passed peacefully outside for several hours. Around 6:30pm, we finally get to the head of the line outside, and just need to wait a few more minutes before we can go inside and get out of the wind. It was at this point that one of the bookstore employees mentioned how very strict West Hollywood can be on parking enforcement. We found out that two people in our party had parked on a street that will end up with their cars towed at 7:00pm, precisely. He promised to hold the spots for those two so they could go move their cars, and for that, we are very grateful. Thanks Booksoup, we really do appreciate the way this signing was run.

We finally got inside the store just before 7:00pm, and were given little sticky notes to put our names on, so the books could be personalized. We were told that there was a limit of 4 items, but it seemed everyone was on the honor system, as no security or store employee really seemed to be enforcing this. Then again, it had been 4 hours by the time I got in there, they may have just been too darn tired to deal with it. We were also told that there were no pictures, but I saw one person take a photo shortly before I got to the desk, so I got my camera out as well. No one else was taking them, so I figured it was a rather casual, case by case instance on yes or no with a picture.

Before we got to the desk in the back of the room, Jude Fisher started walking down the line to sign, as she was having to leave early. She seemed like a really nice lady, and was glad to meet some of the fans of the film and the book she had worked so long and hard on. She is actually out here, along with the Houghton Mifflin and Harper Collins people, to begin work on the Return of the King books. Woohoo, more cool stuff to look forward to later on this year.

7:45pm, and I finally get to the desk to see Viggo. I had decided to challenge Viggo and have him sign my name in Chinese, which he did. Kudos to Viggo for attempting it, there are some very complex characters in my Chinese name. I also asked him to sign a postcard for a friend overseas, which he did. And because I wanted her to know he was really signing it, I asked if I could take a picture of him signing it. He said yes, and so that is the only picture I got at the event. I didn't want to push my luck with the security guys, so no other pictures were taken. Now, because it was the first shot on the roll, it will be a little while before I get it developed, sorry I can't add it now. I can describe what Viggo was wearing, which was another one of his homemade shirts with a political statement written on it. Similar, but not the same, to the shirt he wore on the Charlie Rose show. He also had on his cowboy hat, and was looking rather bohemian, as usual.

So, once I was done, our group went out to eat, while my boyfriend went to the second book signing the store was hosting that night. He joined us for dinner later on. For anyone who goes to a signing at Book Soup in West Hollywood, I now highly recommend Mirabellas for food. It's rather expensive, but after 5 hours of waiting, it was nice to spoil ourselves with some quality food. All in all, it was a very pleasant day, what with the gorgeous weather, good friends to hang out with, and Jude and Viggo before a good meal.

The LOTR Locations Tour: Ben's Report. Pt. I - Tehanu @ 02:41 PST
This is part of a Tour Diary from Ben, who included a the recent 'Premiere' Red Carpet Tour of NZ LOTR locations in his extended world trip.

Day 83 - The Day I Started My "Pilgrimage" ------ Things I learned today: 1) My budget is not infinite 2) Hotmail is as bad as I have always believed 3) Themed tours are the way to go

Today begins the tour that I have been most looking forward to, and in a way most apprehensive about because it could easily go either way from very good to very bad. Back when I first decided to go travelling I knew I wanted to go to New Zealand because of the stunning scenery. When the first film of Lord of the Rings came out it kindled this desire because it showed the landscape all over New Zealand in its best light. I thought that since a film would use the best locations possible then anyone wanting to see the best New Zealand offered would go to the same locations as the film was shot in. It was also an appealing idea to go see the locations for a film I really enjoy in real life (kind of like a soap fan making a pilgrimage to Coronation Street, Albert Square or Ramsey Street, or a football fan visiting the home ground when there isn't a match being played).

When I was researching travelling options I found a few tours that offered visits to some of the locations (usually one or two) until I stumbled on the one trip that seemed to offer dozens of different locations along with lots of activities and a long tour that would give me chance to get to know the group I was travelling with. I realised I had the perfect opportunity to go on a special, once-in-a-lifetime tour with the operator (Red Carpet Tours) that took in the premier of the 2nd Lord of the Rings film called The Two Towers (of by now you are unaware of this film you must have been living with your eyes and ears covered underneath a very large rock that has just been dropped on you from a very great height!)

The tour runs for 12 days over the Christmas period which has the very important added benefit of allowing me to spend the Christmas period with a group of people (hopefully friends) I've had the chance to get to know for several days instead of being in some hostel somewhere with a group of people I've only known for a couple of days (if not hours). It was always going to be a strange first Christmas away from home but being with a group who probably had similar interests would make it a whole lot more enjoyable (I hoped).

The tour officially begins tomorrow but this afternoon I was picked up by Vic, the organiser of our tour, this afternoon along with a couple of other people who I'd met just a few minutes before when they came up and introduced themselves (somehow they picked me out from a group of random people as someone else who might be on the tour; this concerned me a little! :P )

The hotel we were dropped at seems palatial compared to all of the hostels I have been in. Just to have nice, soft, white towels provided was a luxury I'd rarely had over the last 3 months! I had a while to use the rooftop swimming pool with its view of the skyscrapers in the CBD of the city on the horizon and some of the other hotel facilities before nervously going down to the bar to meet the rest of the tour group for drinks and dinner.

I was nervous because I'd never been on anything like this before; no roadshows, no conventions, no movie premieres and certainly no themed tours like this one was. I (naively) kind of expected the people on the tour to be all very similar and a lot like the stereotyped sci-fi or fantasy geek. I'm very pleased to be able to say (especially because a lot of them may be reading this) that I was proved very, very wrong. I always try not to pay attention to stereotypes since I've been stereotyped before and know how wrong they can be. A very good friend (and unofficial teacher) of mine keeps pulling me up whenever I do it to other people and was I'm always glad for more proof that stereotypes are usually inaccurate.

Instead of the group being largely male, late twenties and very pale as expected, I was thrilled to discover that there were people from all over the world, from a wide range of backgrounds and ages and there was actually a lot more women on the tour than men. It's also a much larger group than I was picturing with just under 40 people joining us for the first half of the tour around the North Island and around 20 of them staying on for the second half of the tour which continues on to the South Island over Christmas.

Now I've been a fan of Lord of the Rings for many, many years along with the whole Fantasy genre as a whole and would say that I know my stuff but talking to a lot of the people on this tour reminded me of the rule 'there's always someone who's better than you." On this tour I think a lot of people knew their stuff better than me. In fact the only people who didn't were probably the friend who didn't like Lord of the Rings and was just accompanying his friends and the husband who'd been dragged along under some unknown threat! :P This was good though for me as it gives me the opportunity to learn more from the people around me rather than us all knowing the same things and having nothing to talk about.

Before we sat down to the very, very appealing smelling buffet dinner in the hotel Vic introduced us to a Kiwi actor called Bruce Hopkins who plays Gamling, King Theoden's aide in the film. Since I'd been avoiding any and all publicity for the film so as not to ruin it for myself, I actually didn't know at the time who he was (I definitely do now though Bruce! :P ) but it was still extremely entertaining listening to his stories about being on set and hearing a different viewpoint from the publicity materials that are the staple diet of the general public. He had a great repertoire of anecdotes from on set, none of which I'd heard before, and it was clear he loved talking about his time working on the film. It was also very good for us to get chance to ask questions about specific areas of interest.

Some of us got more time to talk to Bruce during and after dinner (I think he was really good putting up with us all and like almost all Kiwis I've met very open and easy to get along with). He'd also brought along a "little" souvenir of his time on set: a book of which only 100 copies were ever made containing mainly unreleased production photos that was given to a lot of the people who worked on the film. Many photos were of the actors playing around on set or had joke comments underneath them for in-jokes within the film. Something that must have been very special to Bruce were the personal messages in the front of the book from the main cast and crew working on the film. The book is a unique piece of history of the film, and probably something that's quite special to Bruce as well, so we are all extremely grateful to him for bringing it and letting us view it.

After dinner things gradually broke up as the weary and jetlagged retired to bed to save up some energy for the upcoming trip but a small group of us remained in the hotel lounge to get to know each other better, the excitement about the upcoming trip keeping us awake until the early hours.

Day 84 - The Day I Saw a Hobbit's Hole ------ Things I learned today: 1) Beware stampeding hobbit fans 2) A common interest will bring people together 3) Book massages way in advance (why does that sound dodgy?!?)

After a great start to the tour last night we headed out along the highway from Auckland through scenery which is startlingly like that in the South West of England with rolling hills and hedgerows with accompanying cows. The goal of this morning has actually been described as the jewel in the crown of the tour so in a way it seems strange that it should be the first destination but since Matamata, otherwise known as Hobbiton, is the first location on our route through the two islands of New Zealand it makes a very good starting point.

As the bus nears the site you can feel the anticipation aboard the bus grow. The surrounding countryside is looking more and more like The Shire. We're all craning out necks out of the window in the hope of a glance at the film location itself, myself at least being unaware that they deliberately located the sets out of sight from the road to prevent spying by the newspapers.

Like almost all of the film locations, this site is on private land and we need permission to get onto just about every one of them. That's another good thing about this tour in that Vic has managed to get us permission to go onto a lot of the sites where we wouldn't normally have permission to go. Hobbiton though is an exception to this rule in that it is the only site to have been turned into a small tourist attraction. Again, being in the tour group has an advantage because we ahve exclusive access to it this morning and are given a guided tour around the site by the farmer who has a lot of great stories to tell about the times when they were building and filming onsite.

So the bus pulls up into the old "car park" and the doors open. Several of the members of the tour begin a stampede towards the sign that says "Welcome to Hobbiton" but curiosly, after the essential photos by the sign, everyone is a little nervous about walking towards the site itself which is still hidden over the brow of the hill. This is the first site we've been to, in theory the most recognisable of all of the filming locations and if this doesn't live up to expectations and it proves hard to recognise the place from the film then the whole tour will have a dark cloud looming over it.

But, in keeping with the sunshine of the day, we're all knocked back as we come over the hill to gaze into Hobbiton itself. It's all there... Bag End, the party tree, bagshot row and over a dozen Hobbit holes still in the hillsides. Although there's none of the set dressing left, no gardens or frontages to the holes, there's still so much more than we were expecting. One thing we've always been warned by Vic is that there are no sets left anywhere and we're just going to look for the scenery itself but with Hobbiton there is still a significant amount of the structural work left behind (saved from the bulldozer only a few hours before it was all about to be levelled) The photo boards near some of the most familiar locations comparing film shots to the actual views we are looking at are just not necessary because we all know exactly what we are looking at without any problems.

Across the lake we can see where the bridge was (all scaffolding and polystyrene in truth) and the pub is clear by a sculpted curve in the hill. Over to the side there's the section of land where Frodo jumps into Gandalf's cart, and a bit further on the path where Gandalf sets of fireworks for the children.

Bag End itself with its rows of windows is the easiest to recognise of all. The inside is made from construction with just a basic hollow in there (the inside was actually shot in a studio) but you can still clamber in and out and pose for photos.

I could go on for pages about the details of the place, facts and figures we've learnt and above all, I could repeat so many of the stories we've been told from construction and filming ...

Choosing specific members of the tour group to film was a TV crew from New Zealand television's Holmes show. I'm quite pleased to say they weren't interested in filming me (I hate giving interviews and seeing myself on camera) but it'll be great to be able to watch the recording of it to see everything again, although I'm a little worried about how they are all going to portray us (it's pretty predictable really).

We got a couple of hours to explore the site and run off rolls of film but eventually had to drag several people away and headed off for lunch at a deer park. Several people marvelled at the irony of looking at all the cute deer and even hand feeding a few of them by bottle shortly before eating some of their relatives who had been barbequed to perfection. This is turning into not so much a world tour for me and instead is a gradual sampling of half the animal kingdom.

We had a few small stop offs at a geothermal power plant and some waterfalls before heading off to Taupo to check into our hotel and get some food. A few of us treated ourselves to a soak in the natural hot spas and I'd hoped to be able to get a massage to try and straighten out the knots in my shoulders from lugging around 30kg of backpack. As in the few previous times I'd tried to book a massage at short notice I didnt' have any luck because they were all full. I should have taken it as a bad sign when I opened the door to the room and one of the three female masseuses immediately threw an entire bucket of nuts all over the room. It was like walking in to a room filled with flying shrapnel. Personally I think it was her fear at the thought of giving me a massage that caused it although for my own sense of pride I'm telling myself it was excitement and anger at being fully booked (although it falls down when I realise they can't have been that busy to have been sat around in reception eating nuts!)

The evening was spent with a lot of us all crowding into a hotel room to try and watch the first film to spot locations but even the most resilient of us only made it half way through before giving into the desire for sleep. It was amazing to see exactly where we had been walking around today in the film.

Day 85 - The Day I Used Gandalf's Toilet ------ Things I learned today: 1) Clouds can roll in very fast on a volcano 2) Gandalf uses a toilet like any man 3) Some women get too excited being on an actor's bed

We woke today with fantastic views out over Lake Taupo, among the largest in New Zealand, and the massive snow capped mountains on the far side. Our first place to visit today is the Tongariro National Park where many scenes from all three Lord of the Rings films were made. Mount Doom lies within this park as do many of the shots used for Mordor because of the bleak, desolate volcanic slopes (when they're not covered in snow during the ski season).

We drove right up to the top of the road, near the start of a large relay of ski lifts and the bottom of the snow field at this time of year then walked a few hundred metres to a sheer cliff that plummets down into the clouds below. We know that several parts of this immediate area were used in the second film but since no one has seen it yet it's hard to place at the moment. We can make guesses but I'm not particularly concerned because it's very dramatic scenery even without the film references.

One very recognisable area just down the hill from the cliff's edge is the site of the big battle at the start of the first movie. Although most of the battle was computer generated the landscape itself seems to have been shot up here. We were hoping to take a close look but clouds rolled in very quickly and we had to head back to the bus when visibility went to less than a few meters. All I could see was Vic's very concerned face because he hadn't a clue where his tour group had gone!! I guess it would be pretty easy to stumble off a precipice with that kind of white cloud surrounding everything. As far as I know we didn't lose anyone.

(I know after having watched the film that this location was used for several scenes, including those where Sam and Frodo are lost at the beginning of the film. The lines "We've been here before" and "This all seems very familiar" getting a big laugh from our group because we had actually been there earlier on in the week and it did all look very familair!. There was also the scene where Sam and Frodo capture Gollum and there's a photo of me stood right below the cliff without even knowing it.)

On the way down from the mountain we stopped for food near a replica of a French Chateau that is used during the ski season. For the third time in a few days I spotted a Kiwi Experience bus. I was getting a little worried that I'm going to be following a very similar route on this tour as I will be when I join Kiwi in a few weeks' time. I've decided not to let it bother me though since I'll be doing different things on each tour and the scenery is so dramatic I don't mind seeing it again.

Next stop was Mangawhero Falls, which run over stone cobbles for a hundred meters before plunging at least 40m off an overhanging rock layer into a deep pool. You can stand at the top of the falls and look out for tens of kilometeres into the valleys or you can walk around the cliff to a promontary that looks back on the front of the falls as they fall ice white into the pool kicking up spray into the air. Several of the Ithilian camp scenes from the second movie were shot here (and now that we have seen the film we all recognise the top of the falls as the places where Gollum chases a fish along the stream bed as Sam and Frodo look on).

Ohakune is our stop for the night. The group stays in two hotels: My hotel, The Hobbit Lodge (named long before the crew shooting the film actually stayed there) and the Powederhorn Chateau. Built purely from red timber many of the cast stayed here during filming. Several members of the tour got rooms and beds used by the cast including Elijah Wood (Frodo), Ian McKellan (Gandalf) and ... *scream* ... Orlando Bloom (Legolas). I can't honestly see the attraction myself but several of the girls were going crazy when they got to bounce on his bed. (Amusing blackmail photos to follow I am sure, and as for the video tape... ;P ) I don't know who was actually in that room that night but am avoiding any and all slander as to possible strange acitvities...

Not that I was totally immune from acting bizarrely. I've gotten to know many people on the tour very quickly (it feels like a lot of us have known each other for months already) and had a chance to nosey around Ian McKellan's bedroom as I visited the girl staying in there. Having just been to the bathroom she pointed out to me that I'd just used Gandalf's toilet. Very wierd!! Had to take a photo to complete the bizarreness. No... I don't plan on framing it but I wanted proof I'd actually seen Gandalf's porcelin throne and no... no photo proof that I'd actually used it.

There's also a guest book in the hotel signed by many of the cast and crew plus photos in the bar of when they were there mixed in with the other customer photos. A long day but one in which we got to explore terrain I'd never been in before and go where no photographer had been before.

Day 86 - The Day I Went to My First Premier ------ Things I learned today: 1) Bungee jumpers are crazy 2) Autograph hunters are crazier 3) Women after actor autographs are crazier still

Tonight was the night the tour has been building to. Seeing Hobbiton might have been the Holy Grail of location visits but what many people have been looking forward to most, in most cases for the last 12 months, is the first showing of the second film in the trilogy. Last night we (well mostly me to be honest) kept annoying each other by reminding each other exactly how long it was till we were to be sat in the theater watching the continuation of the story that was put on hold 12 months ago..

We were up early this morning for the race into Wellington and the wrestle to the front of the viewing corridor to try and get the best positions to spot the stars as they went down the red carpet. Star spotting has never really been anything I've been into but since I'd never been to a film premier before I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

On the drive down to Wellington we stopped off at one of the locations for the River Anduin montage and a couple of members of the group decided to throw themselves off the bridge on a tattered bit of elastic. Strangely out of character I was suddenly overcome with a desire to maintain my overstretched budget and didn't volunteer to risk overstretching the elastic itself. I'm saving myself for later I think.

Had a quick lunchstop to literally shovel food in as phone calls kept coming in from contacts in Wellington warning us that there were already big crowds at the premier (10 hours before the start) and that the city council had screwed us over by not holding a special section for our tour, going against what they had preagreed. I can't really bitch when they gave those seats to charity and the most deserving cause of all: the corporate sponsors.

Dashed into the hotel for little more than throwing the bag onto the bed then rushed out to meet everyone in the lobby. A few members of the group were really getting into the spirit of things wearing intricate and stunning costumes. Two of the girls in particular looked so much like Arwen and Eowyn it was pretty unnerving. I've never seen anyone get stopped so much for photos as when they walked down the street. I think it was all a cunning plan to attract the TV cameras really though... media hogs ;P

Walking along to the premier itself there were crowds of people everywhere, all heading towards the same place and you could see straight away when we'd got to the right place because suddenly there was a solid wall of people forming a horseshoe around the carpet itself.

Now comes the unpleasant bit of the afternoon, the jostling for position around the carpet. I'm probably a little bitter because I lost out. I just didn't have the motivation to throw small children out of my way (or even to stop myself stepping back to let them through) in order to get a position nearer the fence, and I didn't have the anatomy to be able to shriek crazily to get the stars' attention.

I found myself stood, quite by accident, by the gateway through which all of the other guests were entering the red carpet. This meant I didn't get chance to relaly see any of the major stars but I did talk or see a lot of the other actors (including a particularly embarassing incident where the actors for Lurtz and Sauron where stood side by side and my lack of knowledge showed me up by calling them by each other's name.... oh the shame!). The highlight had to be meeting up with Bruce again and getting to chat with him for a while. He actually offered to try and sneak myself and another guy onto the red carpet to see how far we could get but the security was vice-tight and we kind of stood out from all the tuxedoes guests (for reasons that shall go unmentioned).

After they had all entered it was time for the rest of the cast to turn up in the cars. Since they were all being let out close to where I was stood I got glimpses of heads but couldn't relaly recognise a thing but they spent so long signing autographs and responding to crazed fans (I'm not naming anyone ladies (and gent! :P )) that I had time to walk down to nearer the cinema to try and find a different spot to see them all pick their way over a mockup of Mordor into the cinema.

Once the stars had entrered the cinema (and quickly ducked out a back door, unwilling to watch their own film it seems) the crowds quickly broke up and the group reassembled itself. One good thing about having such a large group is that there ended up being people all around the area so we got photos from different places and of each other meeting the stars. Some girls had scored big time by perfecting the screaming technique and got autographs from Elijah Wood and Peter Jackson plus some fantastic photos of them with the stars. Good for you girls! :)

Still several hours to go till our showing of the film at 12.01 precisely and the excitement of many is flowing strong. Mine is beginning to rise again after the disenchantment of the red carpet ceremony (definately not for me) and I'm really looking forward to getting in to see the film.

The body calls though and a small group of us find a packed little Italian restaurant on the main street to eat dinner in. We find ourselves sat around a table made for half our number with a slightly strange version of Frodo, the beautiful Arwen and Eowyn, 2 people who are brave enoguh to be sat around a table with people in costume and some fool dressed in a vague parody of a ranger. The funny thing (well, one of a great many really) was that we didn't draw a single obvious look from everyone else in the restaurant, even when the girls asked for a non-sloppy sauce for their pasta to protect their costumes and tried in vain to work out how to eat food whilst wearing medieval sleeves which droop 6 inches from the wrist.

Tension is building all through the meal. Can the second film possibly live up to our expectations? Can they catch lighting twice? We can only hope and wait as the seconds tick away.

We meet up with more of the group and someone suggests coffee... a very bad idea given how keyed up we all are anyway. We end up back at the cinema half an hour early to watch the people come out from the New Zealand premier. Cries of "it's very good" and "I didn't understand it" come from some of the people few lucky enough to get in there before us.

Then it's our turn. We've got allocated seats but still get in as soon as we are able. The cinema theatre is alike an old victorian theatre inside, all marble, gilt and dado coving. It makes everything seem much more of an event than going down to the local UCI box. The sound system in the cinema has been set up especially for Lord of the Rings too so we're expecting big things from the music.

By this stage I can't sit still. My fingers are going crazy, drumming against just about anything around me (Frodo in front of me would have been losing his rag had he not been in a similar state as the rest of us!) Then the lights fade and a round of applause rings out. We wait expectantly for the film company logos. As each one comes up the bursts of applause finally gets louder and louder. Everyone can feel the rush of excitement as we get closer and closer. The so familiar music wells and the Lord of the Rings logo comes up... even louder applause and finally we see the opening shots to the movie. Everyone sits there.. stunned it's finally happening.

I can honestly say that I've never been in a cinema showing like it, and fear I never will again. Films are always better when there is an audience enjoying it (think of comedy movies you've watched alone compared to with friends) and this audience was totally into it. Imagine a football crowd cheering the home team and you've got something like how we felt (with the odd exception of the squeels when Orlando Bloom first appears onscreen... men cold never quite reach that pitch without pressure in delicate areas).

There were times when you could feel the whole audience holding its breath, like in the first battle scene at Helm's Deep, and everyone releasing it when they cut to the tranquility of the Ent meet afterwards. Cheers rang out when the giant siege ladder falls onto the crowd, laughs when the injokes are spotted and cringes when the cheesy moves are made. The bset reaction for me though was when our group spotted locations we had been to earlier in the week and people spared a split second to glance at each other to share the wierdness of seeing places we had visited on screen.

I thought I'd get though the film premier in one paragraph, but have ended up using half a dozen and bad ones at that. It's just impossible to describe the buzz in words to someone who has not been there, especially to people who might apply a stereotype and look down on the whole thing, but it is something I'm going to try very hard to recapture again because the feeling of enjoying something so much with a group of friends who are as into it as I am is a rare thing and is worth the effort and expense of doing again.

Those 4 hours in the cinema have nearly made the whole trip worthwhile on their own.

Day 87 - The Day I Saw the Fellowship Broken ------ Things I learned today: 1) Saying goodbye to friends does not get easier with practice 2) I‚'e never been dreading Christmas more than this year 3) I'm very relieved I get to spend it with my new friends

Because the tour spans Christmas it's always been split into two distinct sections, the North Island tour and the South Island tour. This allows those people who don't want to (or can't) stay on the tour over Christmas to only do the North Island portion, which finishes today. Once again I found myself saying goodbye to people I've only known a few days but I count among my friends. It doesn't get any easier with practice and no matter how well you brace yourself for it coming up it still hits you. I'm very glad though that at least half of the tour group is staying on for the Christmas leg of the tour because it means I will be with friends, even if I have to spend the holiday period away from home.

The tour goes on though and we're not even half way there yet. This morning Vic has arranged for us to be the first of the general public to get in and see the lengthily titled "The Lord of the Rings Trilogy: The Exhibition" at New Zealand's national museum called Te Papa. This is the first leg of its round the world tour and anyone who gets a chance should definately try and visit it.

The exhibits are fantastic because they allow you to get up close and personal to a lot of the actual constumes and props. More than a lot of other things they make you realise how much thought and detail went into the whole production. There's also some hands-on exhibits where you get to see the different between the steel, aluminium and plastic swords they use and can take a close look at some of the detail in the armour.

The video footage is equally as good with behind the scenes footage and commentaries from the cast and crew. One of the best sections is Andy Serkis (Gollum) acting out the role with a direct comparison to how they mapped Gollum's facial movements to Andy's face. The matching up is near flawless.

We spent all morning in the exhibit but eventually got driven out by the crowds (and, for many, the need to get in the gift shop!). I'm very glad we had permission to go in there so early. The plan was to drive along the twisting Wellington coastline for lunch at the Chocolate Fish cafe, a cast favourite, but we only got to have the scenic drive because the restaurant was packed.

In the afternoon we went up into Mt Victoria park to look at the site from the first film where the Hobbits find the mushrooms and see the first black rider. It's fairly recognisable and there's a nice view across the center of the city

Since this is our last night with many people from the tour we all organise and go for a last meal together at Viggo Mortensen's (Aragorn) favourite restaurant: The Green Parrot. To say that the meal was memorable would probably be an understatement. Take my dinner for example, which earned itself several photos to preserve its visual image for posterity, with its still kicking steak and fat swimming pasta. No one, least of all myself, wanted to preseve the taste for much longer. We can't quite see why this would be anyone's favourite restaurant.

The next stop was much better: Molly Malone's, an Irish bar (every bar out here seems to be Irish) which was regularly visited by Liv Tyler (Arwen) and Elijah Wood (Frodo). There was a very frantic Irish band jigging away and a few people were clearly fighting the urge to give Michael Flatley a run for his money.

Being the last night out we decided that the hotel bar was the best place to fall back to in the end so we could talk to the people we were supposed to be saying goodbye too, instead of just smiling across a loud bar. Then it's the final goodbyes and off to bed to catch up on some sleep from the excitement of last night.

Tuesday, January 14, 2003
TTT Premiere Report: Taiwan - Xoanon @ 14:33 PST
Lucifer writes: On December 28, Fantasy Foundation gathered over 900 people to enjoy TTT in the biggest theater in Taiwan.

First we watched the blessing of ringers from other country: Forodrim Society from Sweden, DTG (Tolkein Society) from German, Jas from Olando Bloom Multimedia web site in Singapore, and Tehanu from TORN. Ringers in Taiwan are indeed much younger than other place, but we do share the same love with ringers all around the world.

Than, even it's six days earlier, we celebrated the 111th birthday of Mr. Tolkien. Everybody in the theater singed birthday song for him. Thanks for him to create such a fabulous world for us to wander in.......

It's a great event, we promised to held once more this year....^_^

Some other good news about LOTR: The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit are the No.1 bestseller of 2002 in Eslite(One of the biggest chain book stores in Taiwan). J.R.R. Tolkien is the bestselling foreign author of 2002 (also in Eslite).

Hobbit and the Fellowship of the Ring is the No. 1 and No.4 bestseller of 2002 in the biggest online bookstore www.books.com.tw.

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