Thorongil from the chatroom Barliman's has had a lucky trip to NZ so far.
On our way down the North Island on Thursday we happened to take the western
route round the three great volcanoes that make up the Tongariro National Park.
Thor was a little surprised when I screeched to a halt shouting "Jamb! Jamb!"
because on the side of the highway I'd spotted one of the yellow signs that the
film company uses to point the way to its sets.
We drove up a side road to
Whakapapa Village, a ski resort that's usually deserted at this time of year.
Not now though, because the circus is in town, and there are dozens of trailers,
tents, vans full of props and equipment, and marquees for meals and makeup.
Extras came and went by the busload, and there were 4WDs and quadbikes scurrying over the
scoria tracks. Security guards with radios range the heights and growl at people
with cameras, though they only get heavy if they see a telephoto lens. Hence our
tiny photos, which show you the landscape (Mordor) but not much of the action.
The mountainside around Whakapapa is a riven landscape of lava, scraped and torn and
flattened by vanished glaciers. Sharp rocks and shattered lavaflows poke up between
the scrabbly grass. A score of ski-chalets, chairlifts and apres-ski bars cling to one
ridge like a bad idea. From the road we could hear distant shouting, and we soon
spotted a mass of cloaked warriors partly visible beyond the ravine below the road.
We moved out onto a rock promontory below the top carpark where a few other spectators
were standing (amazingly never more than half a dozen at a time) and met Dernhelm
Elf-friend, whose partner was being one of the Elves fighting across the ravine
from us. She lent us her binoculars, and we could see warriors in earthy greenish-gold
tunics. There also seemed to be warriors in black, but I never got a close look at
them. Most of the warriors had bronzy full-face helmets. Somebody appeared to bear
a black standard, but I could not make out the device, as it wouldn't unfurl. The
White Tree? The Eye? The sun flashed on swords as they rose and fell in quick,
fierce engagements that would last a few seconds each time. There were a few tents
near them, and a sail-like yellow screen, either diffusing the very intense light
or acting as a 'blue'-screen so they could put in other stuff later. Like, maybe
Barad-Dur, or Sauron himself. Further up the mountain was a sheer rock wall and a
team of mountaineers was setting up ropes and practicing climbing and rappelling.
The cliff was exactly like what I would imagine Sam and Frodo descended from Emyn
Muil. Completely bare rock. We guessed that they were setting up for that scene.
Filming broke for lunch, and we bought our own lunch and sat in the sun drinking
beer while the extras walked down the gully below to their seperate messhall. Some
actors and crew walked around a top path to where they could take a chairlift down,
(we watched an orc do that in full costume) or be picked up by minders in fourwheel
drives. That was the difference I noticed between High Elves and the others: High
Elves get driven to lunch. Thorongil was closer and noticed more: The ordinary Elves
were bloodstained and helmeted and had fabric chainmail under their tunics,(they left
their helmets back on the set so we didn't get a look, and covered up their costumes
with green cloaks) but the two VIP Elves he saw had bare heads with hair slicked back
and given a kind of silvery sheen, and a some kind of makeup that gave their skin a
very different quality, like a glow. These two actors (who were whisked away very
fast) looked to be in their thirties.
General chatting and questioning has confirmed
that we've seen a bit of the LOTR backistory being filmed, perhaps the Last Alliance
where Elrond and Gil-Galad fought Sauron and Isildur took the Ring. Elves, fighting
in Mordor. We think that we saw Elrond himself and Gil-Galad. Thorongil thinks it's
Hugo Weaving he saw, when he got a look at him in Matrix a few days later.
The next day we were in Wellington and met up met up with Bree and Eowyn who showed us the
Rivendell set. It was in a thickly forested valley, very magical so close to evening,
with the low sun and the trees exhaling a light mist.
Rivendell itself was mostly gone and a crew was at work dismantling the remains. 'Work' is maybe too strong a word -
if anyone had actually been at work on the set I couldn't have walked in unnoticed and
taken a photo before being shooed off. Eowyn said she'd seen Galadriel's Mirror there
a few weeks ago, of white stone with the face of Galadriel carved on the sides in bas
relief. That was gone. All that was left was some arhcitectural detailing, like bits
of entwined arches or something. Some people have described it as Celtic. It also wouldn't
look out of place on some of the graceful, organic-looking buildings of Gaudi, who reworked
the forms of old Gothic cathedrals in a lighter, more living form. One correspondent who's
been on the Rivendell set when it was being used has described it as one of the experiences
that gave him a great deal of faith and the film, and he described the set as beautiful.
Our affable and talented Breelander took the others to see the studios, where they spotted
some statuary, but I went back to our lodgings and stared across the bay at some new house
by one of NZ's leading architects. No doubt it's won awards and is touted as a leading
exponent of some style - Post-modern Neo- Brutalism or something. The neighbours dearly
hope that the salt southerly gales will rust the unpainted zincalume walls as soon as
possible. It's serious architecture, and as ugly as sin. Meanwhile, nobody takes the
architecture of mere film sets like Rivendell or Hobbiton seriously. Nobody even asks why
the public would rather live in things like Rivendell, given the choice. I wonder if that
will ever change.