Middle earth again … The Hobbit

Gandalf itching to return to Middle Earth

11 Nov 2009 ( this from a press release – not written by the kiwitravelwriter .. however, read here what she says about a Lord of the Rings Tour)

Sir Ian McKellen, who played Gandalf in the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy, is itching to revisit Middle Earth after reading the script for the first of ‘The Hobbit’ films.

It’s been over a decade since McKellen donned Gandalf’s robes on the ‘Lord of the Rings’ set in New Zealand.

And, while he’s sworn to secrecy over ‘The Hobbit’ script, the veteran British actor says the part has his name on it and he’s longing for production to get underway.

To be directed by Guillermo del Toro, the script for ‘The Hobbit’ movies has been co-written by New Zealand producer Peter Jackson with long-time ‘Lord of the Rings’ collaborators Fran Walsh and Phillippa Boyens – and McKellen says it’s very attractive that the Gandalf part has been written specifically for him.

“As Peter has said, they loved writing Gandalf for ‘The Hobbit’ because they knew who they were writing him for. The other Gandalf was written for, well, just as Gandalf. There’s lots for me to enjoy, in all sorts of ways. And I couldn’t be happier. But I’m sworn to secrecy. I’m not to say anything at all about the script,” he said.

Unexpected Hobbit script
McKellen said he hadn’t been expecting to receive any pages of ‘The Hobbit’ but the script arrived out of the blue.

“I was sitting in London and a courier arrived from New Zealand, which is the other side of the world, bearing the script of ‘The Hobbit,'” he said.

“It was tied around with so much Scotch tape that even with two pairs of scissors, I only got into it half an hour later.”

He said the script had his name on every page with a warning that each page was encrypted, so if it appeared on the internet, it could be traced back to him.

“And I’m not to discuss it with anyone, any colleague, or friend, or family member or pet. I may not write in the script, I may not remove it from its plastic folder, and when it is taken from me by the courier, it will be shredded under supervision,” he said.

Production details
Although he has read the script, McKellen hasn’t yet been signed and details of ‘The Hobbit’ production are still sketchy.

‘The Hobbit’ story will be told in two films to be shot back-to-back with a predicted budget of NZ$474 million. New Zealand-based fan website theonering.net reports that the first six months of filming in 2010 will take place in the studio.

Work has begun at Hobbiton near the North Island town of Matamata with hobbit holes and hedgerows appearing on the farm site.

Scouts looking for filming locations have also been reported in New Zealand’s South Island, and it is rumoured that a creative team is already hard at work on visuals for the two movies.

Although it is thought that other actors have seen the scripts, McKellen is the only one to have spoken publicly.

“Gandalf is a fantastic part and I long to do it,” McKellen said. Both he and Peter Jackson preferred the earlier Gandalf the Grey version to his later, post-resurrection incarnation, he said.

“He was more humane somehow. He was the guy who liked to hang out with the hobbits and drink too much and smoke too much.”

20-plus takes
McKellen said he didn’t, however, always prefer the 20-plus takes Jackson often required on set to get a scene exactly as he wanted, and he wondered if Guillermo del Toro might spare his actors such lengthy repetition.

“A slight shiver went through me just then,” he said (smiling), “because I thought perhaps Guillermo might be a little quicker than Peter, but maybe he won’t be. He’s a bit of a perfectionist. But this script plays very much to his strengths and I can see where he’s put his mark already on the script.”

Although sworn to secrecy, McKellen promised a resemblance between ‘LOTR’ and ‘The Hobbit’ in both look and feel.

“Peter Jackson is still a hands-on producer,” he said. “Guillermo del Toro comes in not as a wild card but very much respecting it all.”

Jackson and del Toro
Jackson and del Toro speak the same language, McKellen said.

“They are the same person. They were separated at birth. They’re twins. They have the same attitude. Neither likes working in Hollywood. They’re both brilliant storytellers in very much the same way,” said McKellen.

“And I think the script, because I have read it, plays very much to Guillermo’s strengths, as I’ve seen them. I have seen his other movies, and people act very well in them. So I think it’s all fine. And Peter will always be there,” McKellen said.

McKellen said that the role of Gandalf changed his life forever. “I can’t believe it’s 10 years for me,” said the actor, who first played the wizard in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring – film one in the trilogy that began principal photography in New Zealand in 1999.

“I remember being told by a friend in Hollywood that ‘your life is going to change,’ and it has. Gandalf is an extremely famous character, and I quite like having him around the corner. He’s very popular.”

More information:

The Hobbit moves into Wellington

Hobbit fans eye up Middle Earth

Builders start work on Hobbiton

Kiwitravelwriter takes a Lord of the Rings tours

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2010 book  says (pg35)  “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, and last time we checked the land of Maori and hobbits certainly didn’t need repairing. Once again New Zealand has been put in the top ten countries which you ‘ought to put on your agenda in 2010”

Having Middle-earth right on my doorstep, it seemed I too needed to drop in on the land of the hobbits and check out the Lord of the Rings Edoras Tour (www.hasslefree.co.nz) to see what all the fuss is about.web i want to be in the cast

And here, I have to confess: until this trip I was a LotR virgin! True. As shocking as that may seem to some, I have not read the books nor seen the movies – it was almost a shameful secret – but now I know a little and I’m willing to share it with you. And, it seems these tours deep into Middle-earth are becoming more and more popular as time goes by.

The tour starts in Christchurch, and shortly after I was picked up in Cathedral Square, Rex, the driver and guide for the day, pointed out the school attended by the teenage murderers depicted in Heavenly Creatures

NZ has a great tradition of great movie making – The American Film Institute has called the New Zealand film industry “one of the wonders of the world… an unparalleled success story” see more here

It was appropriate to point out the school and site for some  of the shots used in the movie as that too was one of Peter Jacksons great pictures and Kate Winslet started her career in Heavenly Creatures:

As we drove out we watch a DVD about ‘the quest for the ring’ which gave someone like me a background to the day and the film. I also learnt Tolkien was born in South Africa ( to English parents) and that, as well as having to create a road to get to ‘Edoras’  and  the ‘rocky outcrop beside silver streams’ that Tolkien described in his books, Rex also tells us “the village took months to build, they were there filming for 3 weeks, then it was dismantled.”

So on we drove, past trout-filled lakes, through little country villages, over the Canterbury plains and glacial-formed braided rivers, passed tussock covered hills until we emerged in the ‘secret valley’; home of Mt. Sunday, 95 metres (over 600ft)  above sea-level and which was transformed into Edoras, capital city of the Rohan people for the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

As dramatic music soars in the vehicle we are welcomed: “Welcome to the Kingdom of Rohan in Middle earth” – our guide makes it a momentous occasion. read the rest of the article here

web we stop for a coffee on the wayNote: Hassle-Free Tours (www.hasslefree.co.nz ) also run Christchurch city tours, and an Alpine Safari which includes a jet boat, 4×4 vehicles and the TranzAlpine train so check their website for up-to-date information.

by the kiwitravelwriter,  Heather Hapeta

Hot air ballooning makes me fall in love

“When the wind blows in your face, something different is about to happen,” we’re told. It’s true and when the wind blows on our faces we change direction during the best morning I’ve had for ages. In fact it is so good I’m in love – in love with hot air ballooning. It is such fun even clichés fail me.

At 4 30am I was woken with a phone call. “It’s on, the weather is perfect, and your transport will be at your door in 20 minutes. It takes an hour to reach Methven, (1025 ft above sea level) home of Aoraki Balloon Safaris and close to Mt Hutt ski fields – and also on the Lord of the Rings route, a nearly a New Zealand-long-trail. Meeting with others who have driven from Christchurch or stayed overnight, we’re given overshoes, have our names and weights recorded and divided into two groups. A short bus ride takes us to the Methven Show grounds where we’re to be launched upwards.hot air balloon over village

Already the excitement is building and our group of eight or nine strangers are talking freely with each other. We’re all virgin balloonists and are anticipating a great time. Unlike many tourist ventures, on this we get to assist with the preparations. Some drag the traditional wicker basket (willow cane and rattan) from the trailer while I help unfurl the colourful giant balloon from an impossibly tiny bag: even the basket seems too small for us all. The balloon is now stretched out on the ground, a Kiwi and Swiss traveller hold open its mouth and two huge fans begin blowing. Slowly the multi-coloured nylon takes shape and our excitement continues to grow. We are all taking photos – recording the time for future memories – and finally it’s full – so full in fact that there is around eight tons of air in it. Now to heat it – apparently this is what makes it rise – and guess it’s why they call them hot-air balloons. Our pilot directs the roaring jets of flames into the mouth without burning it and shortly the balloon is moving. It rolls slightly to the right, back to the left, centres itself, then as we let go it leaves the safety of the ground to do what a balloon does best – it flies.

As it hovers above the creaking basket, so evocative of ballooning images, we climb aboard, are given safety instructions for landing (facing forward holding the rope handles and bent knees,) and, after being given the chance to bail out, and no one wants to disembark, the heat is turned up and off we go. Actually it’s up we go. Magic. Cool cool cool. What else can I say? It is at this moment, as the ground falls away below us, that I fall in love. I’m having a natural high and I know I’m addicted with this first rush. Although I watch the other balloon, I am too preoccupied with my own experiences. web hot air ballooonThe world looks very different from up here; it’s quite different to a plane because of the lower altitude and speed. A local is taking a photo of us from her terrace but it seems most of the other 1000 villagers are still asleep on this crisp clear spring day. A dog is barking, magpies are chortling, hares and sheep flee, cattle stare, and the Swiss traveller breaks out some genuine Swiss chocolate to share. Perfect. He, like many of the others flying today, was given the flight as a birthday gift: one couple were celebrating their wedding anniversary.

The South Islands’ snowy-backbone, the Southern Alps, provide a perfect pristine backdrop for our 360°views. New Zealand’s highest mountain Aoraki-Mt Cook can be seen in the distance along with beautiful braided rivers. Across the productive, but dry Canterbury Plains, the port town of Timaru and the Pacific Ocean are clearly visible. I click my camera frequently: the rest of the time I’m awe-struck. No wonder parts of this scenery was used in the Lord of the Rings ( And, am I the only person in the world not to have seen the movies?)

All too soon the gas is getting low and it’s time to land. We have been watching the chase vehicle following us and our pilot points out the landing spot, and reminds us of the landing position. The lower we get to ground the faster it seems we’re going. Then, cattle staring and even following us, we skim over the final fence, more air is vented and we land in an empty field. One little bump, back up into the air briefly then we land. As if in slow motion the basket gracefully falls on its side and the journey is over. We burst into laughter as we gaze, from our backs, up into the sky that only a moment ago we were floating in. Although we have landed, the adventure is not quite over. The farmer and our chase vehicle are driving towards us and we have a balloon to pack. With more laughter we roll our bodies along it to expel the air, and then squeeze it back into the very small bag. It fits. The traditional ballooning breakfast: a glass of good kiwi bubbly or orange juice, coffee, croissants, jam, cheese and fruit.

The farmer gets a bottle of bubbly to take home. As a child lying on my back, and watching clouds drift by, had whetted my appetite for flying like a bird. This, surely, is as close as one gets.

Facts and figures The balloon is 81 feet in diameter – 93 feet highHolds 245, 000 cubic feet of airThe air is heated with LPGBalloons always fly east to west, the circular direction of the world’s major weather patternsThe balloon and basket were made in South Dakota, USA

now to roll it up
now to roll it up

Brief history of ballooning. Paper-makers Joseph and Etiene Montgolfier, who were looking for new applications for their product, made the first hot air balloon, in France. The brothers made a balloon from paper and fabric and it rose when put over a flame. They first tested it with a rooster, a duck and a sheep – under the orders of Louis XV1. The brothers never flew. The first flight with people was in Paris in front of Louis and Marie Antoinette while outside France the first was ten months later (Sept. 1784), by an Italian in London. Marie Antoinette is on record as having said, “It is the sport of Gods” The traditional bottle of champagne was given to the farmer on whose fields the balloon lands was not so much for the joie de vivre of today, but to stop the farmer attacking these strange and uninvited creatures with pitchforks.

To read more by this writer buy her book: Naked in Budapest: travels with a passionate nomad.  Readers reviews are on this website – see above.

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