A visit to some old Tolkien filming sites in New Zealand

The Hobbit has been breaking box office records both here in New Zealand and in the US, and showcasing our scenery (blush).

Hutt River or Anduin. Well, maybe the houses are the give-away.
Hutt River or Anduin? Well, maybe the houses are the give-away. I took this picture a while back.

Quite a lot of it, though, wasn’t shot “on location” exactly – a fair chunk was made in Wellington, partly in Jackson’s studios, partly on an outdoor lot on the hill adjacent to the studio complex, well hidden by trees from prying eyes. And that marked one of the big differences between the shooting of The Hobbit trilogy and The Lord Of The Rings a decade or so ago.

The Hobbit was secret – filmed behind closed doors to the point where security guards accosted people entering the park above the studio lot. But a dozen years ago, Jackson filmed a large chunk of The Lord of The Rings in public less than 10 km from my house. Starting with the Saruman death-by-fall-from-Orthanc scene which was filmed in a small park adjacent to suburban houses, against a green screen. Right out in the open, and boy did it puzzle fans who knew that no such scene occurred in the book.

The other day I went out to have a look at the Dry Creek Quarry, where Jackson’s crews once built the walls of Helm’s Deep and – then – Minas Tirith. The set was enormous, and directly visible from the road. Here it is today. That grassy ridge is where the fortifications were built. Back in 2000, my wife and I drove past the set in its Minas Tirith configuration. ‘Wish we could get a look at that,’ I said wistfully. Neither of us knew it was open day, right then. Sigh.

I took this photo the other week, 12 years after the Helm’s Minas Tirith Deep set was demolished. You’d never know today. But hey – it’s a working quarry.

Here’s Queen Elizabeth II Park – er – the Pelennor Fields. They filmed the dead Mumakil scene here.

Either the Pelennor Fields or a public park…

It’s near Paekakariki, and the site of a US military base during the Second World War. And here’s Shed 21 on Aotea Quay, in central Wellington. Back in 2000 it was a warehouse. Jackson had the interior set for the Minas Tirith throne room built into it. Later the set was demolished and the building refurbished – today it’s apartments and a small office park.

Shed 21 – was Minas Tirith throne room set. Now apartments.

All this underscores just how much of the movies, these days, seems to be made inside the blade server with Autodesk, Terragen and Massive. But the magic’s still there in the original locations, if we let our imaginations work.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2012


3 thoughts on “A visit to some old Tolkien filming sites in New Zealand

    1. Me too…New Zealand isn’t quite it – as far as I can tell, all the best landscapes in ‘The Hobbit’ were generated inside Weta’s computers! There are odd places, though, and you can sit down and dream…

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