I am spending half of my day with Wellington Movie Tours, tracing through the various film sites Peter Jackson had used for this Lord of the Rings movies, and our guide Ted is giving us a lesson in acting.
“C’mon Frodo! Get your legs up a bit more… that’s it. Now suck on that pipe! Now Sam, you concentrate on your cooking, don’t look at Frodo, they don’t look at each other in this scene, but don’t look too stern… and Frodo, put that leg back up the trunk!” Ted had been shouting instructions behind the lenses for ten minutes now, not a single picture had been taken and I find myself twitching with impatience.
“I am way too tall to be a Hobbit!” I shout back as I shake off the tree bark that had found its way inside my pants. At least I wasn’t forced to dress up as well.
“You know, sometimes we get people dressed up when they come on our tour. Once a German tourist dressed in a complete Gandalf outfit and people were stopping him along the way to take pictures with him,” Ted says as he finally took our photos, “you too, could be famous for five minutes!”
I was drawn to Wellington by Sir Peter Jackson, whose three major studios are located here. The premier of his next movie The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was recently announced, and more than 200,000 fans as well as some of the casts are expected to attend the event in Wellington. I expect it would be the time to do some star spotting.
On tour, I learn that most of the film scenes were completed in studios rather than the outdoors, so after a few more shots of pretending to be Hobbits that fall off a cliff and hiding from the black rider, it is time to visit where all the magic happens at Weta Cave.
What started in a small back room of a flat became the second largest special effects company in the world. Golem greets me with his suspicious eyes at the door of Weta Cave. I walk about this small treasure cove mesmerized with my mouth half dropped. The life-sized figures of Tin Tin and Captain Haddock dominate the current exhibition while ‘The Ring’ made from 24ct gold is locked away in a glass cabinet nearby.
There are also creations for other films such as the undead dog in The Frighteners, figures from The Waterhorse, aliens from District 9 and King Kong on display. Due to licensing and copyright reasons, the rest of the Weta Workshop cannot be opened for public viewing, so I satisfy myself with a video introduction by co-founder Richard Taylor showing glimpses of their work. I have to say I am a little disappointed that there weren’t more celebrities involved on my tour, however I’ve definitely had a glimpse of a day in ‘Wellywood.’ A 2004 survey found that around six percent of visitors to New Zealand claim The Lord of the Rings as their number one reason to visit the country. With its next big event just a few months away, how is Wellington going to cope with the world coming to its shores?
“We are working on that,” said Jo Heaton from Tourism Wellington, “but we’ve managed with the premier of the last Lord of the Rings film, I am sure we’ll be able to manage it this time too.”
The premier of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will be at the Embassy Theatre in Wellington on the 28th of November with the release of the film to follow on December 14. Some of the main cast are expected to attend.