MIDDLE-EARTH DOWN UNDER: THE NEW ZEALAND LOCATIONS
"New Zealand is Middle-earth. It has
every geological formation and geographical landscape you can
imagine . . . and some you can't."
-Elijah Wood, "Frodo Baggins"
To truly create Middle-earth for The Lord of the Rings, the filmmakers had to find a location that could represent the earth as it might have appeared 7,000 years ago. In the South Pacific, across the International Date Line, they found their idyll in New Zealand, where a primal, untamed and unruly landscape still exists almost untouched by any blight of modern technology. "New Zealand has the essence of the old European countryside," says Peter Jackson. "Yet it also has an extraordinary quality that makes it perfect for The Lord of the Rings, as well as very experienced crew members."
In New Zealand, as in Middle-earth, mountains loom overhead and green rolling hills spread underfoot. Peter Jackson and his team scoured the country's two islands for their most beautiful, hidden areas. The sheer diversity of landscapes allowed for the recreation of such locales for the trilogy as Hobbiton, Bree, Rivendell, Moria, Mordor, and Gondor, all seen in The Fellowship of the Ring. New Zealand's volcanic activity came in handy for fiery Mount Doom, where Sauron forged the One Ring, seen briefly in The Fellowship of the Ring. From the remarkable mountain ranges of Queenstown to the deserts of Tongariro, each unique distant location became home for a cast and crew of hundreds.
"Middle-earth has a familiar feel to us, but as an audience you don't know exactly where it is. That is the beauty of New Zealand with fields that resemble England, mountains that could double as the Swiss Alps, or beautiful pristine lakes that you get in Italy -- all this eclectic mix of locations in a small country where it is easy for a film crew to get from point A to point B," says co-producer Rick Porras.
When Jackson and company came upon the rolling hills of Matamata on the North Island, they knew they had found their Hobbiton. The size of the small, sloped grassy hills seemed to perfectly match the 3'6" Hobbits and their homestead. "With real moss, real grass, real trees and, thanks to the incredible design team real-looking homesteads, the idyllic rural life of the Hobbits became real. New Zealand made it a truly special place. It meant I didn't have to use my imagination because Hobbiton was there for Gandalf to feel at home in," notes Ian McKellen. Adds John Rhys-Davies, who plays the Dwarf Gimli: "New Zealand is such a primitive land it can take you back to a primitive time in history. It's so breathtakingly beautiful that you believe that even in the twilight of doom there might still be humor, honor, courage and compassion."
Many of the locations were under the protection of the New Zealand Department of Conservation, but the filmmakers treated the land with the respect it deserved. The indigenous New Zealand people, the Maori, came to bless the production's soundstages before principal photography began.
Of course, not everything you see in The Fellowship of the Ring is pure, natural New Zealand. Sometimes, the stunning scenery is digitally enhanced with seamless sophistication. "With digital wizardry, we were able to add craggy little mountains, and put buildings where they never have been. New Zealand is an impressive landscape; but with a little extra help from the computer we turned it into Middle-earth," says Peter Jackson.
"We had a crew comprised mostly of New Zealanders, or 'Kiwis.' There are a lot of innovative concepts and technologies on the crew's behalf that have made shooting a project of this mammoth scope possible," says producer Barrie M. Osborne.
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