Parting is such sweet sorrow, especially when you’re waving goodbye not just to a motley crew of 13 uncouth dwarves and one plucky hobbit but an entire fantasy world.
But four novels, six films and 1032 minutes brings us to the end of the road in Middle Earth.
To celebrate the release of the final film in ‘The Hobbit’ Trilogy, ‘The Battle of the Five Armies’, Yahoo Movies was invited to walk in the footsteps of Bilbo, Thorin, Gandalf and crew in New Zealand, which has over the last 15 years been transformed into a living, breathing Middle Earth.
Even the strictest Tolkien purists have come around to the transposition of The Shire from the English countryside to the utterly breathtaking setting, tucked away in the South Pacific.
But really with the sheer amount of hobbits, elves and wizards wandering about down there it was a no-brainer.
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Along with a selection of the world’s media, 150 global superfans were invited to explore the iconic setting for the epic franchise on a once in a lifetime trip.
We had a pint at The Green Dragon, got up close and personal with some orcs at Weta workshop and chatted to the one and only Sir Peter Jackson as we all made our way on our own unexpected journey.
And you won’t believe what we found out…
1. Hobbiton is a real place.
Alexander Farm in Matamata is two hours away from Auckland and is as authentic a movie set experience as you’ll ever get. A working sheep and cattle farm, the 1250 acres of land were first spotted by location scouts in 1998 who weren’t just looking for another set – they were after another world.
2. But Middle Earth nearly didn’t happen…
Thanks to a rugby match. When the scouts knocked on farmer Ian Alexander’s door to make him a life-changing offer he politely informed them that he was busy watching the rugby and could they come back another time.
Luckily they managed to impress upon the Kiwi native the urgency with which they had to act and he relented… by telling them they could have a wander around the huge farm, as long as they shut the gates behind them.
3. There are 44 hobbit holes in the town of Hobbiton
In 1999, The Shire was built mainly out of polystyrene and within days of wrapping on ‘Return of the King’, the whole set had been demolished.
When Russell Alexander, Ian’s son, got the call in 2011 that Peter Jackson and his diminutive friends wanted back for another epic journey they decided to make the set a permanent fixture of the farm. This year, they’ll open their iconic round doors to over 300,000 visitors from around the world.
4. The sheep had to audition to be in the trilogies…
And they didn’t make the cut. Despite having 13,000 perfectly good sheep available, meticulous auteur Peter Jackson decided that the Alexander flock were “too modern” looking and so went with an outside hire. Harsh.
5. The Green Dragon is a real, live working pub
And it’s as atmospheric as you would hope. Soft chairs to recline in after second breakfast, a cantankerous resident cat called Pickles and roaring fires that run the length of the room - the pub is the focal point of The Shire setting. And the house-brewed ale alone is worth the 26+ hour flight.
Before you ask, yes, it comes in pints.
6. But don’t expect any Hobbit rides any time soon
Russell Alexander doesn’t even like to say the words “theme park”, they’re anathema to what Hobbiton is. “There are no TVs here, no phones – it’s a form of escapism. To commercialise with movie screens and projectors would be the ruination of the place. This is not Harry Potter world – I wanted to be original and authentic to us, to New Zealand.”
7. You can get married at Hobbiton
For $5000 NZD, you can rent out the Green Dragon for a function (with drinks on top).
8. Peter Jackson and Middle Earth have basically invented the New Zealand film industry
According to Sir Richard Taylor, co-founder and co-director of Weta Workshop where every Middle Earth creature, weapon and hairy foot prosthetic was conceived and created, when they began work on LOTR back in 1999 they weren’t exactly knee-deep in Oscar winners.
“Only one eighth of the LOTR crew had any film or TV experience when we started,” he told Yahoo Movies. “We had to draw on unabashed enthusiasm.” Turns out unabashed enthusiasm can earn you four Oscars, three BAFTAs and six epic movies. Not too shabby.
9. Even the dwarves got starstruck around Cate Blanchett
Jed Brophy (Nori) unashamedly admitted to being in awe of the Australian actress as she returned to The Hobbit trilogy to reprise her role as the Lady Galadriel.
“When she was doing her scenes with Ian McKellen we [the dwarves] weren’t actually working that day but we all came to work and went over to watch it. It’s the only time I’ve ever been on a set where it’s been completely silent - when she started, you could have heard a pin drop.”
10. In fact, love of Cate comes second only to the dwarves’ love for their fearless leader
Richard Armitage portrays the fatally flawed Thorin Oakenshield but the brotherhood of dwarves didn’t end when the cameras stopped rolling, according to Mark Hadlow (Dori).
“I would go to war for Richard Armitage. Watching him and Martin Freeman at work on set, it was almost like learning all over again.”
11. Peter Jackson has the mind of a military genius
“There are many incredible things to speak of Peter Jackson – his vision, his tenacity, his focus on detail, his desire to deliver something beautiful to the world,” Richard Taylor told us.
“But he’s also a great strategist. When you put together a movie of this scale, it is a military campaign of unprecedented complexity and his ability to keep his mind so fully over all the components of it and wield them into something so defining and so beautiful and so emotionally charged is an extraordinary acknowledgement.”
12. And also, he’s a really nice guy
Ask anyone from the prop boy to Martin Freeman, Sir Peter is a meticulously driven visionary. But he’s also a lovely bloke. “We’ve been in business, arguably the most intense business in the world, for 23 years and we haven’t had an ill word, a raised voice, a misunderstanding,” Taylor told us. “And that is a very good place to be.”
13. The longest scene of all the films to shoot was The Council of Elrond
It has since become an iconic moment, when the Fellowship was born but Sir Peter revealed that shooting the Council scene took weeks thanks to last-minute changes and rewrites.
Fans were touched by Sean Bean’s (Boromir) deeply emotive effusion that “One does not simply walk into Mordor” – turns out he had his head in his hands as his lines were written on his leg. And so the world-famous meme was born.
14. ‘Five Armies’ features “a battle unlike any we’ve ever seen before”
All info around the final installment in ‘The Hobbit’ was under strict lock and key while we toured around the country but we managed to ask Richard Taylor what fans can look forward to seeing in the last journey to Middle Earth.
“There have been monumental battles on screen – Peter has created many himself – but never with as broad a spread of species, creatures and culture that is going to be brought to bear on this battle. Also, in an unprecedented terrain, in an unprecedented level of weather so every element that could possibly be brought to make this the most extraordinary visual experience.”
'The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies' is in cinemas nationwide on 12 December.
Don’t forget to enter our competition for the chance to win a home entertainment system with ‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’ here.
Image credits: Warner Brothers/Yahoo Movies UK/Tourism New Zealand/ Rex