There and Back Again: A Geek's Adventures in Middle-Earth conclude with CHAPTER 11!!! ARCHIVED INDEX!!!
Published at: Dec. 27, 2000, 2:01 a.m. CST by staff
This is the last chapter of a rather long journal I’ve kept of my adventures of the past two weeks. The trip took me on total of over Twenty-Seven Thousand Miles roughly… A great deal of flying time… and at the end of it all… A very weary Harry.
Never before have I dedicated myself to such a deadline, written so much so quickly, nor have I had as much fun with both.
At the bottom of this article will be a link adjoining a brief overview of what you’ll find at the other end. This article though has a bit more on its mind.
First, I have to say… though many of you feel you have been with me on this trip of mine… There is so much that I couldn’t put into words… not because I was sworn to secrecy, but because… while I consider myself not half bad at expressing myself… there is just something missing. Touching and seeing and smelling the world of these films… the hands that’ll create them… well, try this….
Imagine, the year is 1976… You are in Northern California at a bar. You have had 3 or 4 beers… You over hear a group of guys you’ve never seen before having a bit of an argument about which is better… DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL or FORBIDDEN PLANET.
Giggling to yourself and knowing these are people of your sort, you buy a round of beers for the table and introduce yourself as overhearing the conversation and you believe… without a doubt that FORBIDDEN PLANET is better!
About half the group laughs and invites you to take a seat, the other half smiles but with death stares. As the evening progresses, everything goes well… The folks at the table introduce themselves as Dick, Kenny, Denny, Phillip, Ralph, Benjamin, John, Richard, Joseph and George.
Over the course of the evening, you ask them how they know each other. Turns out they are working on a film called STAR WARS… They have a passion when they talk, a belief that it is going to be something unlike anything anyone has seen before. You find out that this George fella directed AMERICAN GRAFFITTI, which you really liked, but he hasn’t really done anything else… and this hyperbole with which everyone speaks… sounds like fanboy pole stroking to ya. So you say, "Best of luck, but you’ll never beat Kubrick’s 2001 or STAR TREK!"
They get a little belligerent… So you tell them to show you. To your surprise, everyone gets up… and with a few beers they take you over to a rundown warehouse… On the outside you laugh… They had finished principal photography, but there are all these miniatures… masks and props… they show you a few dailies… and as George tells you what he’s planning, your mouth drops… you begin to believe… you can’t believe that noone you know knows a thing about this. The production design isn’t like anything you’ve seen… There is this new computer controlled rig called a MOTION CONTROL CAMERA and as it is explained to you… you realize, this is a hive of genius spawned geeks. You have them sign a script page laying around… You tell all your friends about what you saw… most don’t believe you… some say the acting will suck…. And it feels like forever till the film is out… but in all that time, this has become your baby. It hits and changes things forever.
You look back at the autographs today and you now know the names and careers of everyone at that dinner… Their names were: Rick Baker, Ken Ralston, Dennis Muren, Phil Tippett, Ralph McQuarrie, Ben Burtt, John Dykstra, Richard Edlund, Joe Johnston and George Lucas… and you laugh because at the time… they were nobody. Just enthusiastic film fans trying to show the world that something new could be done with the realm of science fiction.
Alright… it’s a nice little fantasy… I’m sure you’ve often pondered a situation much like that… what it would be like…. How surreal it had to be to move past that point of introduction… How the project’s success and complete saturation of culture… well it feels like your thing. Because you knew before. You had seen things that noone else had… and you believed in the passion of the people that were making it.
Today it is easy to get cynical about the way things are… how people end up in a place at a time and see the things they see, but whether or not you believe me, well, frankly, I don’t care. I know what I have seen, read and felt. And it is my belief that these films are going to be huge in a way much like the STAR WARS series.
Well, I’ve seen some of you Talk Backers over the last 2 years talk about how "They’ll never make a movie that is better than your imagination when reading THE LORD OF THE RINGS," and ya know… you may be right. But one designer on the crew postulated, "What if we make it better than Alan Lee’s imagination?"
That is what is going on here… Take a look at the Alan Lee illustrations… the John Howe illustrations… imagine them being more faithful… imagine all the tiny details that his brush missed, but that a set dresser elaborated. You have read the book once maybe twice maybe two dozen times… But can you imagine what the Tolkien fan sitting next to you thought? Imagine being able to plug into the head of one of the most creative people in the world, and see what they see when reading these books. Imagine having $270 million dollars to realize it…. Imagine your nation’s army being at your disposal to reenact the fights in question. Imagine the greatest sculptors, leather-workers and metal smiths working to accomplish that vision. Imagine having the actors that are in this film at your disposal… Imagine having new technologies created… things like MASSIVE and a new form of RENDER software which reportedly makes RENDERMAN extinct. Imagine having one of the best cinematographers… great stuntfolks and the entire country to shoot. Lawmakers change the laws to allow you to do things the way they must be done to make it all work. Imagine having the nation’s economy at an all time low so that the money you have becomes nearly triple in value.
The above is what Peter Jackson has at his disposal right now in New Zealand. The names of the artisans, the make-up folks, many of the actors and the behind the scenes folks are anonymous to you.
By the time this is all over, their names will be legend. Names like Peter Jackson, Grant Major, Kirk Nicholls, Brigitte Wuest, Nathan Hall, Tony Marrow, Heather Kilgour, Virginia Lee, Paul Lasaine, Alan Lee, John Howe, Matthew Mellor, Andrew Lesnie, Peter Owen, Jose Perez, Jeremy Woodhead, Lenore Stewart, Kerryn Toberts, Debra Ashton, Vivienne MacGillicuddy, Margaret Aston, Alex Funke, Geof Murphy, Randy Cook, Ramon Rivero, Richard Addison Wood, Charlie McClellan, Richard Taylor, Michael Asquith, Jamie Beswarick, Shaun Bolton, Daniel Falconer, Marjorie Hamlin, Warren Many, Steve Unwin, Ben Wootten, Andy Serkis, John Noble, Karl Urban, David Wenham, Orlando Bloom, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan… among many others you do already know… like Christopher Lee, Ian Holm, Viggo Mortensen, Cate Blanchett, Sean Bean, Sean Astin, Ian McKellen, Hugo Weaving, Mirando Otto, John Rhys Davies, Brad Dourif, Elijah Wood, Liv Tyler and many others.
The names you do not know will become known over time… Through CINEFEX and STARLOG and CINESCAPE… through sites like mine and Patrick’s and Garth’s and Nick’s.and Xoanon and the great legion of LORD OF THE RINGS sites….
At fan conventions there will be a new influx of new blood… folks not dressed like Stormtroopers or Boba Fett or Spock or Kirk or Picard… Folks that are not Jedi or Klingons or Runners or Sandmen. There is a new age of fandom on the rise, and I’ve been fortunate enough to look into the palantir that holds the vision of things to come. I have had that beer at that bar with that group. I have had the conversation about what was the best of type and how this compares… They took me to their shops, their sets and their parties… and I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe… sorry, couldn’t help myself.
Today on THEONERING, there is a shot of Stone Troll behind Aragorn. I not only know what that is, but I’ve seen the other two… and I know the correct scale of that thing. It is HUGE! The Troll could easily squish me in it’s hand. The detail is a bit fuzzy in that pic, but in the cracks plants and moss have begun to grow… They were cracked and aged by the elements of a century or so… however long it had been since flesh became stone. One is cowering low, the other turning away… one frozen while picking a dwarf by a leg and shielding his eyes from the terror of the breaking sun. I was the size of Bilbo. If you have been to the Smithsonian’s AeroSpace Museum in Washington DC… These statues could stand, barely, in there.
The most disturbing thing I’ve seen in the talkbacks recently has been the anger of STAR WARS fans that LORD OF THE RINGS somehow is going to replace STAR WARS or the place in the hearts of fans for Spielberg or Lucas.
This is absurd. The only thing that LORD OF THE RINGS threatens to do is become a new thing for us to love. When LORD OF THE RINGS comes out and we are awestruck by its sheer size and quality, we will use as our collective reference terms like… "I haven’t felt this way since I was a kid and saw Empire or Star Wars or Raiders, etc…" We use those terms because that is what so many of us know… and fans love hyperbole… "This is better than that by a mile" But the fact is… it is different.
LORD OF THE RINGS doesn’t threaten to get rid of EXCALIBUR or CONAN THE BARBARIAN or 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD or JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS… It threatens to be something new to add to that list.
It is my belief that LORD OF THE RINGS will do for Fantasy film, what STAR WARS did for Science Fiction…. Make it bankable and culturally significant on a grand scale. It will be among the rare ‘Genre’ films that gets nominated outside of the technical awards for things like screenplay, directing, picture and possibly acting awards… if the whole is on par with what I have seen.
As for the question, "Outside of Geeks nobody cares about LORD OF THE RINGS?"
Well, that is actually completely untrue. On my way back from New Zealand this Holiday season, I sat next to many anonymous strangers… on the 5 planes I occupied and the 4 airports I was trapped in. I was wearing my WETA cap with the Eye of Sauron symbol on the front… and nearly everyone would ask what a WETA was… a rock band?
I’d tell them that a WETA is a scary friggin New Zealand bug that terrorizes the nightmares of KIWI children… and that it also is the name of an effects company in Wellington, New Zealand that is currently making THE LORD OF THE RINGS.
To which the typical response was, "They’re making movies out of those?" Which I would affirm, then they would comment how they read the books in High School and liked them. It seems a whole bunch of folks have read this book… Word has it that 50 million LORD OF THE RINGS books have sold… How many have been checked out of a Library, assigned at schools… Passed on from Grandparents to Parents to kids of today? How many saw the Rankin Bass animated film for kids?
My Grandparents that I just spent Christmas with… They are not geeks, they are career military, go to church and never see movies… But they knew what LORD OF THE RINGS were.
The books are not a generation thing… they are known across generations and oceans and borders. If NEW LINE decides to follow through with their One Day One World release into 10,000 screens world wide… And if New Line lets all those people that know of the books, that read them long ago when they still dreamed of being astronauts and archeologists, know that the films are happening… WELL, this is going to be huge.
January 12th will be the first time that many ‘regular’ people will be exposed to their first glimpse of LORD OF THE RINGS. Then we have the SUPER BOWL and the OSCARS… Then we have the big event at CANNES… Then there are the new trailers… the special advance looks by critics and journalists… the covers of magazines, the inevitable tie-ins… the One Hour special "making ofs" that will be airing on one of those cable channels… the half hour special that will inevitably appear on a network broadcast near you.
NEW LINE publicity has their work cut out for them, but the best thing they can do… the best thing that Ordesky and Shaye and DeLuca can do right now is listen to Peter Jackson. They’ve seen his dailies and know that he is delivering the goods… But like George Lucas and like Emmerich & Devlin…. He knows exactly how to sell the movie too.
They should be breaking new ground with these films… Like, right now there are 12 months till the release of FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING. Each month have a new elegant painted poster of a scene from LORD OF THE RINGS in theaters. On top of being a cool thing to look forward to each month… They could sell the posters at their NEW LINE STORE like pancakes.
Don’t cut the trailers with a ‘Mr Voice’ narration…. Have Ian McKellen voice the trailers as Gandalf.
Nimziki (Head of Theatrical Marketing at New Line) knows what these films mean to the studio… but right now Joe should listen to Peter and work hand in hand with him on the Marketing of these films… because after LORD OF THE RINGS, Peter is going to be able to go anywhere with any of his ideas for films… and Peter is going to become one of the most recognized filmmakers in the world with these movies. New Line, having the advance look at this work should know that and make sure Peter is the happiest fellow on planet Earth with these films.
Now, there was another question that came up during the TALK BACKS that I saw that wondered if I had seen anything negative about the films while there. Well, they had these sausage rolls, but the sausage had the texture of a sponge and the taste of liverwurst… I didn’t much care for that. But seriously… in regards to the actual film itself… and what was going before cameras… No. Simply there was nothing negative to see.
Watching McKellen deliver his lines as Gandalf was perfection, but beyond his performance was the lighting by that gruff of a man named Brian Bansgrove… quite a character, "Do you want it all bright and sunny or dark and interesting?" I believe that was how he put it. "If we don’t put a light down in there it’ll be as dark as Eartha Kitt’s clacker" not that I know what a Clacker is, but my imagination believes it to be… um… politeness requires hesitation and silence. …but the lighting on his was always spot on… his robes always more than just a color. The white robes of GANDALF THE WHITE were woven in a gorgeous pattern, that only the light exposed… same with the GANDALF THE GREY robes. His costumes were perfect… His sword? Glamdring? A beautiful blade from the Goblin wars… His staffs… the first old and gnarled, the second pure white and art nouveau… but not cheesy. As Gandalf the Grey there was a weariness to Ian’s manner…. As Gandalf the White there was a strength and power to behold. The make up. His nose strong and wizardly. Perfectly blended to his own features. The beards? As White is was shorter and more firm… less wispy… as the Grey… long and wispy.
You see, this was more than JUST IAN… several departments were spot on. The same goes for everyone in this film. All the way across the board there was this sort of attention to detail. I guess I’m sorry to say I turned up no ugliness down there. Through all the time spent… looking at all the shooting on the 4 or 5 monitors a day while with Peter… watching the footage during the Bloopers… all I could say was that it all looked great. The make-up on Andy Serkis on his decent from Smeagol to Gollum was terrifyingly human and tormented. Not like things I’ve seen before. Saw a bit of Elrond on a monitor acting with Ian… but I couldn’t hear what was being said… but Mr Smith looked really cool… the footage was on the satellite monitor meaning it wasn’t running at full frame rate and video quality… unfortunately.
The weaponry was exquisite… the costumes perfect… the orcs and uruk hai and goblins? Scary and creepy and violent. Each race and creation had it’s own individual or societal look. The Rohans were different from Gondorians… as the Goblin’s armor was different from the Uruk Hai. Each had their own styles. Even the animatics that I saw… Mines of Moria and Eagles at the end… were pretty.
The greatest aspect of all though was the mental state of those making the films… there was no mental slothfulness in place here…. They knew what needed to be done and the order it needed to be accomplished in. There was good cheer, and people were not sick of each other, with a possible exception of their feelings for me… hehehe…
Now, to bring this all to a close for the time being… let me end saying this.
I’ve been a fan of film my entire life, this is well known. I love fantasy films and literature and have long wanted to see the ‘Star Wars’ of fantasy. Something that made it mainstream… that the rest of the world could latch on to. Right now in fan culture we are in a weird place. STAR TREK has been slowly dying for years now… The JAMES BOND films have become lacking in vibrance… Even EPISODE ONE divided the enormous fandom for STAR WARS into two groups… those that continue to believe (me) and those that could care less (see below)… This year we have a whole set of fantasy films… THE MUMMY RETURNS, SHREK, ATLANTIS, HARRY POTTER and LORD OF THE RINGS (just off the top of my head)… and by the time it is all done, the genre should be nice and strong. Even a film like SPY KIDS has very strong fantasy leanings.
As a fan, this is a time to hold one’s breath… hope that it works, that it comes together and ends with a gigantic exclamation mark drawn by Peter Jackson.
So, for those in school realize that it is only two semesters away… For those at work, it is less than 52 weekends away… The time will fly till the final month, when suddenly the moments will tick by like geologic time.
Till then though, I will be going back to New Zealand… I’m determined to do so. This was that much fun for me, and at some point I’d like to do a series of articles about the post-production process as well.
It has been my pleasure as a geek and a writer to take you there and back again, till later my friends….
THERE AND BACK AGAIN: A GEEK’S ADVENTURES IN MIDDLE EARTH
Harry’s 2nd day in Minas Tirith, Faramir goes off to battle as Gandalf warns him of the futility, learn about future website plans for Lord of the Rings, Discussion with Peter about Howard Shore, Faramir filled with arrows!
Harry visits BLUE SCREEN STAGE with Fangorn Forrest, Door to Moria, House of Healing… First encounter with Frodo and Sam and Legolas, the affect of the ring around Frodo’s neck, First look at Gandalf the Grey! The last time all four hobbits are together before cameras! Partying with Hobbits and Elves and Gollum!
Harry accidentally visits the Production Office, STAGE O where Peter is shooting in the Tower Hall in Minas Tirith with Lord Denethor and Faramir, ‘Scouring of the Shire’ question answered, Treebeard seen, the language and accent guide to Middle Earth! Plus Faramir and Eowyn’s wedding!
Harry watches the filming of the last time Frodo and Sam and Elijah and Sean are in front of the cameras… Meets animation god, Randy Cook…Harry meets VELMA!!!! The motion control shrinking of Hobbits… and Harry visits the WETA WORKSHOP and learns about the WETA sculpted line of toys, miniatures and much more!
Harry survives an earthquake, spills his own blood at Minas Tirith before the Tree of Gondor, Gets wasted with those crazy geniuses at Weta Workshop, Harry meets Arwen, begins to get book autographed! Plays with Anduril, holds the one true ring, meets Strider!
Harry returns to the Tower Hall of Minas Tirith, watches Elijah’s last Peter Jackson directed scene, Staff continuity, A conversation of Ian McKellen, Gandalf’s beard and its adventures in chocolate, a wonderful scene with Pippin and Faramir.