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Last Alliance Trip Report Tehanu and Thorongil

NZ Exclusive Listing
 NZ Exclusive home
 The Jafas Have Landed
 Tehanu's Second Trip to Hobbiton
 Tehanu Goes to the Auditions!
 Non-Industrial Light and Magic
 Hobbiton in Spring
 WETA Closeup for Technophiles
 Waltzing Around Wellington
 Tehanu’s set visit: Hobbiton
 The Y2000 Mordor Walk
 Last Alliance Set Report
 Looking for Weathertop
 Shadowfax and Other Famous Horses
 One Year of Filming
 Kiwis in Middle-earth
  more coming soon


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.

Ruapehu 1

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.

Ruapehu 2
Emyn Muil

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.

Ruapehu 3

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.

Rivendell in pieces

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.

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