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There and Back Again: A Geek's Adventures In Middle Earth! Chapter THREE

Now I am where magic is most evident. The blue screen stage L.

Again I took a cab from the hotel.. Today, I’m feeling completely adjusted to my locale and time. Going into the future to talk about the distant Tolkien past is really quite something. There is a period of adjustment.

This adjustment is now done. The cabbie takes me to a location amongst storage facilities. First I had to be taken through the base of Mt Victoria… strange honking reverberating through the tunnel… Then upon being birthed on the otherside, I find myself in an area that feels quite a bit like Burbank neighborhoods… like Toluca Lake.

The driver doesn’t really know where we are going, but as we get about 3 blocks away I spot an assembled army of trucks… Enough to move the furniture from the World Trade Center in a day.

The car pulls to a slow halt up beside the entrance. There is a security guard, a rather nice soft spoken fellow, and as I approach him, I flash the magical neck ornament that removes the anger, the knives and the rather large spiked baseball bats from the mitts of these other security blokes. For the record, I am ORC – 1686. I have no idea what this code means, and when I ask folks if it has some sort of significance, they just laugh at me. But then everyone always laughs at me, so this is nothing new. Hehehe…

The guard says, "You here for PJ are you?" I supposed that this was a fine time to utter, "Yeah," so I did and on about my journey I continued.

I pass this one studio housing a great tree… I know not from when it came, but it really was quite a gorgeous tree, nestled amongst the vegetation.

There is non-stop activity all about… folks carrying large metal poles, film cans… all of that sort of thing. Folks hauling off stricken parts of sets… Prop folks carrying off swords… There is an elf warrior type in full armor getting out of it… beautiful armor, imagine armor plates handled like bird feathers. It really is quite something.

Then I enter the STUDIO L… I see Gandalf, Frodo, Pippin, Merry and Legolas all gathered around Peter. This is my first time to see Legolas and Merry… and more importantly it is my first time to see Elijah in costume as Frodo.

I come over and Ian begins in on my reports online… "You get a bit carried away from time to time don’t you?" I’m the first to admit the purple of my prose, but dammit, I get excited.

Now Frodo has a burnt/cut in like bit around the backside of his neck… this is from the weight of the ring… the chain cutting into his neck… imagine a healing scabby wound with a glistening of clear pus. It’s not exaggerated… this isn’t BAD TASTE… this looks like someone super-heated a coathanger wire… wrapped it about Frodo’s neck and pulled down hard on it. Really hurtful looking.

Legolas does indeed have pointy ears… but not at all like SPOCK ears… they are almost exactly like my sister’s ears (doesn’t help y’all I know) but people that have pointy ears tend to have a roundness to the points… Orlando wanted to take a Polaroid with me, so we went over to the grassy knoll area of the stage and took a shot. We then had a bit of a talk. Orlando Bloom is in a daze. He’s so happy about being in the film. Turns out when he came to the project he was basically fresh out of the ol Drama School in London. He’d had a pair of smaller… basically anonymous type roles prior to this… He’s in it now, that’s for sure. He began remembering being in a valley in an impossibly lost world of New Zealand… he and about a dozen others… the shot was made… and Peter said to him, "Now this is epic filmmaking." The look in Orlando’s eyes as he remembered the majesty of the world around him, the places he’s been on this film. He’s quite a bit stunned that it’s all coming to an end… Sure he’ll be called back for pick up shots… looping… the rest of it… but the great deal of the adventure is coming to a close…. "I don’t want to even talk about it."

Soon though, he and Ian are called onto another set in another location… this other set is the House of Healing in Minas Tirith… and in front of the bluescreen is a gigantic friggin bed… I’m talking the sort of bed that I would look thin on. Anyway… ol Elijah is up there on the bed… and Merry and Pippin come running and hopping up on the bed…

Meanwhile on the screen is all of this composited stuff of the room… Gandalf, Legolas, Aragorn, Sam and Gimli… All right there. Wow. This is so freakin surreal. I mean this is like really really close to the end of the end. An image being put together with multiple plates that I won’t see finished for years and years.

The shot is captured quickly… They have this one down.

As the crew begins moving screens… getting rid of the bed… I begin to see something that is like a defribulator to the heart… THE DOORS TO MORIA. Christ… those are the doors to Moria. That means THE WATCHER OF THE LAKE… that means uber frickin coolness. I ask a fella, "Um, are they shooting the doors today?"

Pray Pray Pray…


Alright! I’m quite excited about this. But for now, I’m off to STAGE K, where Ian is topless laying upon snow or some sort of powder… this is post fight with the Balrog… Motionless against a sparkling pure powder bit of snow. This is shooting on a small part of the stage, the rest of STAGE K is taken up with an amazing recreation of a bit of FANGORN FOREST! I just wandered around the forest, looking for Treebeard… he’s here somewhere, I suppose. I tell ya, exciting times.

Oh Christ. I’m getting really emotional right now… as I type this, Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippen are shooting their scenes at the door… as Frodo’s leg is grabbed by a tentacle or something… from the lake. I’m typing this live as I watch it. Elijah has been rigged to be dragged at a phenomenal rate of speed…. Here we go… rehearsal. Frodo is laying… Pippin, Merry and Sam are behind him… suddenly they have Frodo ripped out of their hands as he is pulled out of shot…

Christ, the doors to Moria. Those of you that know.. KNOW how cool this must feel. For me, in the entire 3 part story 1 book (and that’s how it is) arc… these doors, this first action sequence… lead into the most arm-chair gripping… terrifying scare sequence of them all. I can just hear John Rhys Davies talk about his long lost family member that never returned from this place. The first orcs… the Balrog… all of that, it all starts with these doors, those bloody damn tentacles… This is the shit right here. I’m shakingly excited… on one side of me is one of the make-up effects guys, on the other a CGI Weta Digital Effects consultant flagging things that they’ll need to do… I hear them discussing the intrinsic quality of the tugging of Frodo… "Needs to pull along more horizontal, before the vertical lift" …and I completely agree. They had one take that was PERFECT. I just saw GANDALF THE GREY walk on set… hehehehehe…

Now I understand… many love Gandalf the White… but for me, GANDALF THE GREY is the right on king of em all.

Back to the monitors… Close-up of Frodo on the ground as the sequence begins… Crikey… this is supercool. I really can not express enough how cool it is to be seeing this… Poor Bill the Pony…

Suddenly, Sean Astin is right in front of me… in not quite finished Sam attire. His feet are magnificent! The largest of the 4 pairs of Hobbit feet I’ve seen thus far. I believe, for the record, that Merry’s feet are the longest… but Sam’s the widest and most cool. Both Frodo and Pippen have very similar Hobbit feet in size…

Astin shakes my hand and tells me he has the ability to make me an honorary Goonie. Heheheh… believe it or not, I didn’t ask to be bestowed the honor… I must be on crack. Speaking of GOONIES, I had to instantly ask all about that rumored sequel. Sean hasn’t heard anything about it as of yet, but years ago Spielberg asked him if he’d be interested and Sean basically told him that he would always be willing to do a sequel. I appraised him of what I’ve heard, the script, the domain name registration by Warner Brothers…. He seems very interested. Soon the ‘Feet’ people are over doing touch ups to his feet. Meanwhile the Costume department are adding his water and a pouch… his cape with hood and then his backpack with pots and pans all about.

It should be noticed that Sam is the only Hobbit carrying supplies… And of the 3 non-Frodo Hobbits… he’s the only one that had his sword out trying to hack away at the tentacles which were trying to take ol Frodo to the deepest darkest.

Soon Sam/Sean was called back into action and I once again began typing on this here report.

Next thing I know… Ian McKellen has pulled up a chair next to me and I get my first close-up damn fine look at Gandalf The Grey. The beard is much longer… his hair a bit more wild…. That hat, dear lord what a hat. God I’d love that hat. There is only one head that it belongs upon that is Ian’s. He looks perfect in it.

I begin chatting with Ian in-between takes… he’s quite delighted and my own delightment upon seeing him in the Gandalf the Grey getup. He then wonders how filmgoers will react to the transformation of his character from ‘the grey’ to ‘the white’…. Since most everyone’s general impression of Gandalf is the classic Gandalf the Grey.

Personally I believe everyone has their own favorite versions of characters. For example, I prefer the Luke Skywalker on Tatooine to the black wearing Jedi knight or Khaki wearing knight in training. I love the original Giant Size X-MEN #1 costumes over the later costumes. To each their own. Having seen both Gandalf the Grey and Gandalf the White… I’d have to say The White seems a bit more dynamic… whereas, The Grey is a more interesting, to me, character. The White is the badass Gandalf…. The Grey is the one I love.

And basically that’s what I told Ian… have I mentioned how surreal it is having this type of conversation with Ian whilst he is in FULL Gandalf get up? Well, it is.

To me it was amazing watching the costume people outfitting the rest of the Gandalf garb… and then there was the point where the guy handed Ian that staff… the gnarled twist up top…

OOOooh he’s quite the sight.

Soon them four Hobbits were done with their action scene, and Gandalf had to film his layer of the scene… You see… he come running out of the pit of darkness within the gates of Moria, then he does a bit of battle with the tentacles… he’s pushed up against the inside of the door… knocked down… then screams out, I believe, "Quick, into the mines" though I could be wrong about that… I was distracted with conversation with Astin’s best bud of about 18 years, an apparent Talk Backer and all around good chap.

Later on, the three hobbits (Merry Pippin and Sam) have to do their scene without Frodo… and we have the gigantic version of Aragorn (played by Big Paul I believe) come running out of the mines… and apparently from behind them, Legolas is firing off his arrows… and Gimli is also disembodied about somewheres with his axes. Ahhhh, this will so be a great scene. I can’t believe I’m here to see parts of it coming together.

Ahhhh, later on there was some shooting of some other scenes, basically just plates for more scenes where the hobbits will be placed in the right scale. The last of these, for a scene I’m not sure what was, was the last time the four little fellas will be together on stage. To be sure, there are still some shots with them individually and perhaps as pairs for this next week… but in all tis done betwixt the four.

Champagne was shaking and spouting every which way… glasses were filled and it was at this point that much celebrating was to be had. In fact there was even a party afterwards, and this is where I shook hands with Gimli, not nearly as short as he’ll be upon the screen… but at that moment, I felt like the Monarch of the sea, leader of the Queen’s Navy! Twas a grand moment to be sure. I also met the voice of Gollum, and heard the voice too. Andy Serkis… what a sterling fellow. It seems, at least according to a rumor I heard on set, that Andy will play the pre-Gollum – Smeagol as well as the voice of seeker of the precious. I also had the pleasure of meeting Eowyn, Miranda Otto… thump thump, be still my beating heart. Miranda is an angel to be sure. And then there was Theoden, on top of everything else, it was the birthday night of Bernard Hill, the man that plays Theoden.

I have to say, meeting all of these people is just bizarre. I mean this cast is just amazing. And talking with folks like Sean Astin… for a LONG time about directing and the perceptions one must over come from being a child actor to becoming an adult actor.

This night I got quite wasted with the cast and crew of LORD OF THE RINGS… One week to go and spirits are soaring. Orlando Bloom, well he knows how to party, we all left the official party… Legolas, his good buddy, Gollum and I all headed to the Matterhorn Club and damn… whatever that drink was that I had 5 of…. Whew… Later at the club even more of the Tolkien-ites arrived and soon, my vision began to go… I began stumbling about, being led by the voice of merriment… when suddenly amidst all of the bright lights and pumping techno-music… I began to fade… It was 4 in the A.M. and I decided I needed to try to find my hotel. Soon I was back at the hotel and I thought…. Perhaps I should type up my report. But the bed had a far better argument. It said, "…" and that sounded grand. So I’m sorry for the lateness of this report, but since Sunday was a free of Tolkien’s universe day… I decided I would get this up tonight for you.

Tomorrow is an uncertain day. I don’t know if I’ll be on the 1st Unit shooting… or if I’ll be doing the WETA bit. We’ll see tomorrow. Till then, Cheers mates!

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