📓 Entry #13 — There And Back Again

For many people, New Zealand is synonymous to mountains, waterfalls, cliffs and epic roads.

For other people, it means only one thing: The Lord of the Rings.

If you didn’t know, The Lord of the Rings movies were entirely shot in New Zealand. All three at the same time. In only one year!

Suck it, Weinstein!

Peter Jackson (now Sir Peter Jackson) initially partnered with Harvey Weinstein to create the movies. The plan was to make two movies, and they had a budget of 75 million dollars.

They wrote the scripts, planned everything. Then Miramax sent a producer to New Zealand for four mouths, to scout of some locations. The report came back, saying that the movie was likely to cost around 150 millions dollars — Miramax couldn’t afford this.

With 15 millions dollars already spent, they decided to merge the two films into a single two hour movie. The Weinstein brothers suggested cutting Bree, and the Battle of Helm’s deep, Saruman, merging Rohan and Gondor, shortening Rivendell and Moria as well as having Ents prevent the Uruk-hai from kidnapping Merry and Pippin.

If you love the Lord of the Rings as much as I do, you are cringing right now. If you have no idea what any of this meant, that’s ok, I love you anyways (but we’re gonna have to work on this, come on).

Upset by the idea of cutting out half the good stuff, Jackson to call it a day, break the partnership with the Weinstein’s, and start over from scratch.

Jackson then met with New Line Cinema, who asked why you’d make only two movies when the books written as a trilogy. The result became three movie with a budget of nearly 300 millions dollars, which went on to become one of the highest grossing movie series of all time.

Suck it, Weinstein.

A Hobbit’s Tale

Peter Jackson started scouting for filming locations across New Zealand in the best way you could imagine: by flying over the country in a helicopter. They were looking for a tall tree near a pond that could live up to the Party Tree described in the books, someplace that could become their Hobbiton, the Hobbits’ town.

Flying over the rolling hills of the North Island, they found a spot that was perfect. It was a farm in Matamata.

They landed and went to knock on the farmer’s door. Said they were working on a movie, and were interested in his farm. His answer?

“The rugby’s on — can you come back later? And close gate so the sheep don’t escape when you’re finished.”

Yeah. So came back later they did, and they closed a deal to use his farm as Hobbiton.

The film set for The Lord of the Rings’ Hobbiton was made of polystyrene and plywood, and was torn down after the shooting was done.

But when Jackson came knocking many years later, saying he was shooting a movie called “The Hobbit”, and wanted to use their farm again, the farmers were now much wiser: you can use our farm, but you must make the set permanent, and allow us to open it up to the public afterwards.

Jackson agreed, and they rebuilt Hobbiton. And you can now visit it!

The now-retired farmers aren’t messing around — they perfectly maintained the movie set. From the man-made pond (the big tree was that good — the lack of a pond didn’t stop Peter Jackson) to all the Hobbit holes, it’s all there exactly as it was used during the shooting. And you get a tour guide who’s a total Lord of the Rings geek, who can definitely beat you in a Trivia contest.

Jackson asked the New Zealand government for funding. The government said, you know what, the Army isn’t really busy right now. So the New Zealand Army came down to the farm to build the roads and help build Hobbiton and also played the Orc’s in the epic battle scenes. When your country’s army doesn’t have much to do, it must mean you live in a good country.

On the right, Bilbo’s house

The Hobbit holes are actually just a facade — all the indoors scenes were filmed in a studio in Wellington. The insides only have enough space to fit in a cameraman to shoot the scenes where the point of view is inside the house.

Jackson went to insane lengths to get every single detail right.

They built the set months before the shooting, so that plants had time to grow.

The farm had over 13,000 sheep on it. But their white face didn’t quite fit perfectly, so Jackson had them removed from the movie set, and brought in black-faced sheep.

The Hobbit holes have two different sizes. The ones you see Hobbits in front of are built to be 90% of a human’s size. The holes you’ll see Gandalf walk in front of are built to be 60% of a human’s size — that’s how they created this effect of the Hobbits being short.

Small doors & big doors

In Tolkien’s book, he describes a gorgeous plum orchard. The farm had apple trees. So Jackson had all the apple trees removed, and plum trees planted in instead. During shooting, Jackson decided that the plum tree looked too tall compared to the hobbits, and had the apple trees put back in, because they look shorter. But the leaves weren’t quite right… so he had his team strip all the leaves, and wire in fake leaves and fake plums to the trees so it would look perfect.

The Party Tree where Bilbo has his 111th birthday

After all this work, the plum orchard never even made it to the final cut.

The farmers were actually thinking about cutting the tree down to make firewood, which apparently is very common here with this kind of tree, a few years before Peter Jackson came knocking on their door. This would have been a crucial mistake, since the tree turned out to literally be a gold mine.

Samwise’s house

In the closing scene of the final movie, Sam comes back to the Shire to find his family, after a long adventure. What actor Sean Austin didn’t know, as he was walking up the hill in Hobbiton, filming the final scene of the movie, is that Peter Jackson secretly flew in his 4 year old daughter he had not seen in almost a year, to play Sam’s daughter.

As he walked up that hill, his daughter ran into his arms, and the movie crew was there to capture the authenticity of the moment, and this is what gave us this magical ending to such an epic movie trilogy.

In the end, although this is widely labeled as the most overpriced tourist activity in all of New Zealand (and I agree), it still remains a must do. I don’t know of another movie set that is preserved in such a pristine state, so if you’re a true fan of LOTR, you’ll likely have the same reaction I had: Shut up and take my money.

See more on our website www.alittledetour.ca🌏✈️👫