We made it to 2019! And what better way to kick off the year than to do the one thing Scott was most looking forward to in the world but visit Middle Earth. That’s right, it was time to go to Hobbiton.
The Lord of the Rings is by far Scott’s favorite series of films, and he has seen all of them umpteen times. Me? I struggle to stay awake during the fight scenes, so of the several times I’ve tried watching the series with Scott, I’ve seen some scenes many times and more or less seen the whole thing once. I got the gist.
We drove about an hour from Rotorua through beautiful farmland and made our way to the place where our tour was beginning. Everyone taking the tour hopped on a bus, and we were taken on another 10 min (give or take) drive to Hobbiton itself.
We began with a buffet lunch in the Shire, and then our tour guide walked us around from view to view giving us all the details about the location, the sets, and some behind-the-scenes stories.
Sam’s Note: First I’d like to say I’m sorry but this is one of the few places where we ate a meal where I haven’t taken pictures of the food. Anyway, our Hobbiton tour came with a lunch-- it was wonderful-- which we actually ate despite our recent meal. The more coherent version of what I just said was that we ate a big breakfast just a few hours before so everyone wasn’t all that hungry when we arrived. Of course that did not slow us down because while in Hobbiton you must do as the hobbits and eat way more food than possible for our very human bodies (not Patrick of course he is as I call him a skeletal demon→ he can eat twice as much as my dad and yet only weigh ten more pounds than me and I’m several inches shorter).
I’m writing this about six weeks after we visited, so I crowdsourced the memory of our trip. Here are some of our collective favorite takeaways from the trip.
Location - When Peter Jackson, the director, began planning the filming of Lord of the Rings, he sent out an aerial crew who found a privately owned farm that looked just as JRR Tolkien had described The Shire. From the Party Tree to the rolling hills to the idyllic pond… this place was it.
They built the set for filming, filmed The Lord of the Rings, and then tore the better part of it down. When random people started showing up on the farm to get a glimpse of where the films were made and Peter Jackson returned to begin filming The Hobbit trilogy, the farm owner and Peter Jackson went into business together to build the movie set as it stands now that would be open to the public (as long as you’re on one of their guided tours, of course).
Hobbit Holes - For those who don’t know, the hobbits live in the side of hills with colorful doors for each home. Most of the “homes” are only comprised of the doors since this was simply a set. For the few that had doors that opened, they only had a couple of feet dug out - just enough to enter and then the filming within the home was completed from a stage at the Weta Workshop in Wellington.
All of the doors were built to different scales (100%, 80%, 60%) so that whoever was visiting a home could appear larger as necessary. For example, if Gandolf (the wizard) was visiting, he would be filmed in front of a 60% door so he would appear much larger (and they wouldn’t have to mess around with film tricks).
Different hobbit holes, since they presumably belonged to different hobbits, had different “personalities.” For example, the town drunk had a home that was overgrown with weeds and had many empty bottles strewn. While the local beekeeper had honeycombs, and the fisherman had fishing poles out front.
The last hobbit hole we saw belonged to the character, Sam, played by Sean Astin. Not everyone knows that in the final scene when he’s coming back home to his family, his own real-life daughter runs up to him, and his “wife” comes out of the hobbit hole carrying her own real-life child. So sweet.
More Filming Tricks - As much as possible, the director worked with optical illusions vs. having to create computer animation or other tricks. When filming the opening scene, Frodo sat a couple meters behind Gandolf to make it look like he was much smaller than he was.
When the characters were watching the sun set over Hobbiton, it was really the sunrise they were watching. They tried reversing the film, but the birds flying backwards were a dead giveaway.
The iconic tree on top of the hobbit holes was once real, but now it’s fake.
Peter Jackson wanted a plum tree for the film. People spent months removing apple tree leaves from a tree, replacing them with realistic plum tree leaves… all to have any film of the tree end up on the cutting room floor. Apparently you can see a glimpse of the tree in the background of an extended version of the film.
During the scene at the Party Tree, the director wanted the two trickster hobbits to be authentically startled while being chased by a dragon, so (unbeknownst to the actors), they set off firecrackers as a giant fake dragon chased them. Their shrieks of surprise were real.
Overall - This was a highlight of the trip for all of us, but particularly for Scott since he’s such a big fan. He said it was like stepping into his imagination, and it was his favorite excursion for our whole trip so far.