We set out on our trusty steed, Aragorn, aka our tour van for our first stop at Mt. Victoria lookout. It was super early so I was really hoping that Sean wasn't going to kill me. Especially as I find out that he has never read the book. "Well, you've seen the movies though, right?" "Yeah I guess. They were good," he replies. After I found a place to sit down and breathe I realize we've never really discussed this. I'm thinking, 'oh boy are we in for a day'. Luckily, Jack our tour guide and Wellington itself made for an enjoyable day regardless of your Hobbit cross-dressing tendencies.
|Miramar in the background|
As we get to the incredible landscape lookout of Mt. Victoria one of the other guys taking the tour casually says, "oh yeah, I ran up here today." Um, did I hear that right? You ran up here? From your hotel 5 miles from here? He says, "Yeah, I ended up running 24k today. Kinda by accident, I got lost." "Wow, are you training for something," I ask. "Actually, I'm coming down from a 100k race I just did." Holy crap. I've never actually met one of these men in the flesh. I've only marvelled at their craziness in all of the running magazines I now read faithfully. So, including our tour guide who is a member of the Tolkien Society, Wellington branch, and me who is genetically predisposed to not be able to do anything halfway, we are officially on a tour of hardcores. Strap yourself in, Sean.
Mt. Victoria is beautifully located to create 360-degree breathtaking landscapes of Wellington and the surrounding areas.
|Wellington CBD from atop Mt. Victoria|
|Epic New Zealand|
|That strip of land is where all of the movie magic is made, Miramar|
We head to where Peter Jackson shot the first scenes for the movie in the "Outer Shire" on October 11, 1999. In reality it's located in part of the Wellington greenbelt park that overlooks the city. It's truly amazing to see the vision a director must have to turn these locations into the places you see in the movie. Plus, it was super fun seeing that most people were running or walking with their dogs. Jack brought along an iPad to show us the actual clips that were filmed in the places we were standing. I have no idea how Jackson kept everything straight in his head. Between physical locations, CGI, actors being different sizes with different needs, props, I had my head spinning with minute details within minutes.
|Jack is pointing out part of the scene|
|I'm hiding from the Nazgul minus the prop tree and black riders. But I'm in the exact location where it was filmed.|
|"Get off the road! Quick!"|
|I'm pretending to be a scary Black Rider coming from the mist.|
For example, Liv Tyler, Arwen, is afraid of horses. She tried to overcome it only to have the horse she was to ride nip her on the first day of shooting. She decided that she couldn't ride so anytime you see her on a horse she is either on a barrel or it's her stunt double. Did I just ruin the magic? If so, you should probably stop reading now. Ian McKellen, Gandalf, has a great respect for horses but also didn't really want to ride them because of an earlier tragedy in his life. So, it's a stunt double when you see him on Shadowfax. The only times he is on the horse is when it's at a full stop.
So, you have all of these little things about the actors and then you start messing with locations such as one scene moving back and forth between shooting locations. You watch the scene and Jack starts pointing out where it was filmed, "Welly, Queenstown, Welly, Digital Stage, Queenstown, Welly", this is all in one 15-second scene mind you. It immediately made me want to watch the films again because if you didn't think they were good before, wow, they are brilliantly insane!
Now where the other actors all had something they wanted to use "movie magic" on such as horses, swords, makeup, wigs, etc., Viggo Mortensen, Aragorn, didn't use any tricks. Everyone who worked with him or met him said they have never met an actor like him. Viggo grew his own hair out, wore real, seriously heavy chain maille, used a real sword not aluminum, and performed all of his own stunts. When we took the Weta tour, in explaining how Weta had developed a new type of chain maille, he paused to say that we should all revere and give thanks to our true King, Viggo. Everyone loves him as if he really was Aragorn the character. In order to look authentically worn-down he would hike in full regalia to the filming locations. They would put a GPS locator on him and sometimes take a helicopter to get footage of him hiking in remote places. Plus, they would know where he was if he didn't show up on time. Hardcore.
Check out this video of them making chain maille:
While at the Weta Cave we went on their Window Into Workshop tour. An actual employee of Weta gives you a quick tour and explanation of how they work at Weta. It was awesome! They have tons of props and things for you to look at and feel. No pictures were allowed as they included things from movies in progress. They even had two people working on projects in front of us and we were allowed to ask them questions. I hope they are able to continue this even when their next big project starts. The next Avatar project is starting soon and rumor has it that a lot of the new Star Wars films will possibly be based there. Pretty amazing considering that they are thinking of not doing it all at Skywalker Ranch in LA. It's named 'Skywalker' for a reason...hmm, fascinating what money can do.
|Trolls guard the entrance to the Weta Cave|
|Sword props in the Weta Cave|
|Bilbo's feet, the ultimate Five Finger shoe|
|It's not looking too good for me|
We stopped at Scorching Bay for more beautiful views and a great lunch at the Scorch-o-Rama. I had the Salad of Saruman (Spinach and Feta) and Sean had a Bilbo's Little Treat (BLT). It was actually very tasty. You never know on these tours. Apparently you can usually find celebrities eating here on any given day but it's not hard to see why. Wellington is a small place. It kind of reminded me of Nashville in that you can see famous people at the hardware store and it's called Tuesday. People don't seem to care much which adds to why celebrities like living there.
|I'm not excited or anything|
|This is so you can figure out that it was actually filmed here|
|One of my nerdly promo shots in the exact spot where Orlando Bloom (Legolas) shot his epic promo poster shot|
|I have a feeling more of these will start popping up now|
Then we drove past a working quarry that served as both Helms Deep and Minas Tirith. You can't stop because you aren't allowed on the grounds. Also, the town of Bree is now a primary school so that makes it awkward for photos (we thankfully skipped it on the tour) and Isengard is a disc golf course. It was kismet as when we were talking about Gandalf a lady on a horse suddenly appears and walks down the same path that Gandalf used. Jack was speechless and said he'd never seen that happen.
|Best disc golf hole ever|
|...I'm a nerd|
|The path to Isengard|
|I guess I could superimpose Gandalf and Saruman walking here. That wouldn't be crazy at all.|
By the end of the tour we had all come to an agreement that Christopher Lee, Saruman, is either a vampire or the basis for the Dos Equis most interesting man in the world. Here are a few of the crazy facts that make up Sir Christopher Frank Carandini Lee:
- Related to Ian Felming and Robert E. Lee
- Volunteered to fight for Finland in the Winter War of 1939
- Served in the Royal Air Force and was an intelligence officer during WWII. He was in the British Special Operations Executive or "The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare". Seriously, I can't make this stuff up.
- "I was attached to the SAS from time to time but we are forbidden – former, present, or future – to discuss any specific operations. Let's just say I was in Special Forces and leave it at that. People can read in to that what they like."
- Just celebrated his 91st birthday by releasing a heavy metal album based on Charlemagne called Charlemagne: The Omens of Death. This is a part of a trilogy and follows up his 2010 release, Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross. He is also released a heavy metal Christmas album.
- The only person working on LOTR to actually meet J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien told him that he would make the perfect Gandalf.
- He met Rasputin and witnessed the last public guillotine execution in France.
- Has played epic villians Count Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, Francisco Scaramanga, Saruman, and Count Dooku and both Sherlock Holmes and his brother Mycroft.
- He's appeared in more than 250 films and tv productions
- Fluent in French, Italian, English, Spanish and German and can "get along" in Swedish, Russian and Greek
- Was once a scratch golfer and is the only actor that was made a member of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers.
- A Commander Brother of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, the world's oldest order
- Considers his most important point in his career to have been a host of "Saturday Night Live" in 1978 with John Belushi, Dan Ackroyd, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, Laraine Newman and Jane Curtin.
- The Carandini family is one of the oldest in Europe and had close connections to Charlemagne and was granted the right to bear the coat of arms of the Holy Roman Empire.
- He is 6'5'' and holds the Guinness World Record for "Tallest Leading Actor"
- Is rumored to be in possession of the Holy Grail, okay, this one is funny but at this point, who knows?
- When filming the scene in which Saruman is stabbed in the back Lee stopped and said, "No, that's not what happens. Have you ever heard the sound a man makes when he's stabbed in the back? I have." And then proceeded to act out what it was like.
- He has been reading Lord of the Rings every year for over 30 years
And there's much more but instead of inundating you with facts I will leave you with a video of him singing a heavy metal version of "Little Drummer Boy". And a bonus video of Leonard Nimoy singing "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins" just for making it to the end of this post! You're welcome.