There And Back Again: A Geek's Adventures in Middle Earth CHAPTER NINE!!!
I’m now 50,000 feet above New Zealand headed East across the Pacific on a 14,000 mile trip back to my own little shire in my own little world.
The plane is like a diamond mine at the moment… various glistening jewels of talent all around… None of the actors mind you… but the folks that will be bringing Gollum to life… that helped make the CG a bit more real than we’ve seen before… the painters of Rivendell and Helm’s Deep… Oh yes… they are glistening.
For many of them this is their first trip back to the United States since last year at this time… Days on in and out… making the R&D move forward, hoping to strive towards perfection.
And then there is me. I’m the Waldo on this trip… the Bilbo Baggins with his little share of memories that he takes home with him… This has been one of those trips that I will never ever forget.
However, why don’t we revisit…
When last you heard from me I was headed to get ‘pissed’ as they say back in New Zealand… ‘Snookered’ as they say in Baylor County…
The wrap party to end them all I called it. My date was the lovely Anthony Timpson, the fantabulous figured fellow behind THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE FILM FESTIVAL… Anthony is the same Kiwi Whippersnapper that flew in with a pair of fantastic films for BUTT-NUMB-A-THON, and my way of repaying him was to give him my spare ticket for THE PARTY.
He came in from Auckland and was quite jazzed to have a ticket… he had planned to kill a friend of his locally and make off with his ticket, so I knew my good deed this Christmas season was to temporarily save Ant’s immortal soul… and a reprieve for one stranger’s life… perhaps my own?
Before arriving at the party I was tired… emotionally exhausted… Every take, every moment I was intensely focused on as I wanted to take this final day with me. My day had started quite early… but as I slipped on Dorothy Parker’s UNIVERSAL MONSTER dress shirt she made for me… donned my black suit jacket… freshly pressed trousers and my Michael Jackson glove shoes… I knew that I was going to have to be charming and cool… and simply take in one last event with these people of middle earth…
Three Thousand plus artists of one sort or another… each one responsible for a part of what you’ll see over the period of the next 3 years. And here… for the first time, they were all gathering for the sole purpose of getting three sheets to the wind… enjoying letting their collective hair down… and becoming insane… for just a night (and perhaps a morning).
Again I was to play the part of the outsider looking through the bedroom window of a family at Christmas… three babies on the way… extended aunts and uncles… grandfathers and grandmothers… cousins and attached significant others all in tow.
Three of us grabbed a cab from my hotel… headed to the secret location (YEAH… RIIIIIIIGHT! What with all the tracking spotlights bouncing off the low laying Wellington clouds!) where only the coolest filmmaking team on the planet were gathering.
I begin melding into the crowd… prepared to venture forth into the masses… ultimately bottlenecking into a security gateway where the ticket holders and the attempted buccaneers would be separated. As I saw the television cameras and the newspaper cameras… I was hoping to get by without answering questions or talking to anyone about what was going on… This wasn’t my night, but the crowd’s around me. I was merely the tourist.
Sure enough… without fail… as I neared the gate, the lights on the TV crew’s cameras lit up… OH JOY, I thought…. And the guy with the microphone begins arming it towards me as I hear him announce to his collar mike…. "And here we have Peter Jackson…. Peter a few words please…"
People with me begin roaring in laughter… ME? DEREK? Hahhahahahahaha…. Maybe in a bizarre Irish genetic lab, but certainly not in New Zealand.
I look dead into camera and say, "You’ve got the wrong guy mate, try again!" and delightfully walk through the gates.
Oh splendid! I wonder, did they think Peter was being a snotty bastard? Did they ever find the real Peter? What if an assassin thought the same thing? What if a BABE thinks the same thing? Hey, this had potential!
I enter the party… this old vintage waterfront building… exactly like the place that Spider-Man corners the criminal that killed Uncle Ben! Only lit as though Joel Schumacher were directing it in 1997. Large small town mall theater sized screens hung forty feet in the air… slides of various production moments and contributors flashing on and off… when Rock-n-Roll was on stage… they converted into gigantic projections of the action on stage.
After walking 30 feet in… I ran into my first barrage of LOTR – AICN fans… Literally everytime I turned around there was a new WETA Digital reader of the site… I must’ve been told at least 400 times that EVERYONE in this department or that reads the site. And they would begin talking about their favorite Cartuna animation… their theories that Moriarty was a woman (He is)… then there were the folks that were reading this series… the THERE AND BACK AGAIN series…
At one point John Noble (Denethor) embraces me and thanks me for what I wrote about him. This is damn odd… You see, all I do is offer a recollection of a reflection etched into my mind… his was the image and sound that my stylus recorded… and with him, as you will all see, is where the praise will lay.
Another problem/blessing was immediately evident… Everybody was bringing me their favorite New Zealand beer… for a 3 hour track of time… I constantly had a beer in each hand that I was working on…. Quickly 2 six packs of heavily potent Kiwi brew festered inside of me… I began to walk a bit like Karloff’s IMOHOTEP but with a wicked Cleavon Little exhausted swagger.
Peter Jackson’s Assistant (I believe) a fellow by the name of CARTER, was set to perform on stage so I made my way up to give a listen… called CRUMB and their song BRING IT HOME rocks hard!!! And ya know what…. This was the Jack Black in HIGH FIDELITY moment of the night. Here’s this geeky guy… film lover of the umpteenth degree… taking the stage in front of his heroes… the folks making LORD OF THE RINGS… singing with every trick and move he had. And ya know what… He and his band rocked pretty damn hard! One of the Producers and fellas helping to run the BLUE SCREEN unit… Rick Porras was down front… getting into it with his lovely wife (who witnessed my downfall the other day) My knee was bum, but I was trying to cause a minor quake myself. He played about a 30 minute set and I really wanted to hear more.
Then Dominick (MERRY) took the stage with his band… Dom became lead singer and did covers on many many classic tunes… this is when the crowd really began to get packed here… Beside me was Richard Taylor, Grand Poobah of WETA WORKSHOP, who was wearing Knight in shiny armor boots… probably was going all out to beat my shoes dammit…. I lost badly!
After about 30 minutes… The stage filled with the principal actors from LORD OF THE RINGS… they were attempting to get Peter Jackson on stage… and when he didn’t immediately arrive… They called all of the ‘Stunties’ to the stage… The ‘Stunties’ are the League of Dangerously Imperiled! They are the stuntmen that bring Helm’s deep to life… that fly from horses into trees… that leap to battlements from siege towers and fall to their deaths on every take. They are the men and women that bring the Uruk Hai, the Goblins, the Orcs and the men, elves and dwarves to endangered glory!
They have shot a million nights at Helm’s Deep lit by firelight… in full body Weta Workshop prosthetics! They spill their own red blood amidst the squibbing delight of BLACK BLOOD! You have got to love these guys and gals…
When they take the stage they leap in single jumps… they vault… climb and fall off again… Their entrances or grand! Two or three even scale me to the stage!
Before they do their bit though… Peter arrives and Elijah and Sean and the rest of the cast present to Peter on behalf of the cast and crew of LORD OF THE RINGS… a glorious garage kit created by a wonderful artist at Weta Workshop, who I saw working on this just the other day! It is of Peter, shrunken to Hobbit size… with over sized ears and oversized feet… standing before a gigantic director’s chair.
Peter being the collecting nut that he is… IS OVERJOYED at the gift. This is the sort of thing that all of us geeks want… yourself as that which you dream to be. In this case, Peter is a Hobbit! He has the exact same look on his face as when Flesh Gordon handed me my Harry Action Figure he sculpted… or when Cartuna handed me the Harry PEZ that he made (mint in package)!
Peter takes the mike and attempts to begin to try to thank as many people as he can think of… and at one point he says something to the tune of…. "I’ve always said that nothing is perfect… all we can do is try harder each day!" and that was when I began choking up… I turned from the stage to look at the crowd… nearly all people literally bringing this film to life… all of them looking at Peter… in tune with Peter… Believing in him and his vision for these films. A powerful thing bringing dreams to life… I meet several people that have all been given their first chance at filmmaking in some department or another on this film… Each one a teeming film geek that so wants to be a part of something that all geek’s want to love… THE LORD OF THE RINGS.
Quickly, the presentations end, with Peter getting a very cool wall hanging of a quilt of film from LORD OF THE RINGS back lit by a gigantic lightbox created especially for it…
The next thing we see is the beginning of the LORD OF THE RINGS blooper reel!
Christ, I wish you folks could have seen this… while there were many moments of hilarity… including Ian kissing Shadowfax, as this legendary stud sports a three foot horse cock! Or Merry and Pippin with a blowup doll…. Or Arwen’s amazing ability to fire an arrow… hehehe… Or Merry seeming to give Frodo a blow job while he is in the bed at the House of Healing and is being hugged by Pippin on the otherside (this was footage looped back and forth… and I was on set when I saw it!) Gandalf in his first costume fitting, walking seductively from the trailer… parting his robes and showing us his gorgeous long legs and briefs covered ample groin!
But while you saw that sort of stuff… you would also catch AMAZING STRIDER moments as he waded through waves of Uruk Hai and Orcs… his sword cutting in deep and spilling Lone Wolf and Cub amounts of black viscera! There was the brief clip of Andy Serkis as the Smeagol/Gollum halfway point… where he is well on his way to becoming the CG Gollum we will come to pity and despise. Those teeth… ewwwww…
Another shot which seemed to be this same stage Smeagol/Gollum beginning to climb into the cave where he won’t be found by Bilbo for some years to come!
Moments of flyovers in the high New Zealand mountains of the Fellowship marching ever forward on their trek.
Various line flubs… Gandalf and an umbrella… Frodo and a coke… I would attempt to remember more, but I can’t. Not because I wasn’t trying… You see there was this really cute girl from Weta Digital that was hugging me and telling me how much she loved the site and how great it was that I was there and how, can I have a picture and you do know you’re a god and Does Peter Jackson know he’s a God and on and on… It was really quite cute, but a bit distracting.
I really wanted to see the BLOOPER REEL again… I thought I saw what might’ve been some Mines of Moria stuff… but it was all flashing so damn quick, that my breath was taken away… and well… there was the girl…
After that, I decided to attempt to find a chair and a corner where I could disappear and sit drunk and silent for a bit…. But this was not to be… as folks continued to offer great conversation and bright cheerful faces… I tried to be as accommodating as I could be… but the booze and the lack of proper sleep and the ol weakening legs and knee injury were beginning to kick in…. after about 5 hours of the party, I finally found a seat… Elijah saw me and decided to also try and hide with me… as did Philippa Boyens. We had… maybe 10 minutes. The party was great… just on such a huge scale though….
I mean… the talent… Right here is the guy that created MASSIVE… the program that is going to completely redefine on film epic battle! Over here the lady building the computer model for the Balrog and TreeBeard (tight lipped as you’d expect) and then there was the fellow that is putting the skin on the Balrog (when asked he responded, "Shadow and fire") ARGH! I KNOW THAT DAMMIT!
Well, at one point I was nearly dead… about to piss myself, taking this to mean I was pissed… I made my way to the bathroom… where I sat in a stall for about 10 minutes in silence… just composing myself… trying to shake off the effects of toooooo many great beers… and upon leaving the potty trucks, I made my way back into the party… only to be deflected by more conversation and good will… and when I looked at my watch, I realized it was perilously close to 4am… and I had to be packed, checked out and on my way to Peter’s house to join him for morning tea and a bit of play about his toys!
However, that will be one last story… There will be 10 chapters to THERE AND BACK AGAIN… I hope you don’t mind… as Peter’s pad… the House of Derek… It is it’s own story and epic. Perhaps when I wake up I’ll compose it for you! Till then… this is Harry with his pony and his sacks… journeying back home across perilous waters and mean evil shark country!
No worries mate!