It was around this time last year that I got to tell you all about my trip down to Wellington, New Zealand to visit the set of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit. I wrote about watching the director at work putting together the pieces of the massive production; the incredible work going on in the makeup, costume and visual effects departments; how to tell the film’s surprising number of dwarves apart; and what it was like to talk to Gandalf himself. I even wrote about my personal journey climbing Mount Doom and touring the Hobbiton movie set. And yet that still wasn’t the whole story.
This December will see the release of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, but when I was in New Zealand in May of 2012 that title didn’t actually exist. It wasn’t until late August of last year that it was announced that The Hobbit was going to be split into three movies instead of two, and as a result some of the material I got to witness on set had been shifted from the first movie to the second. For the last 17 months I’ve had to keep those memories under lock and key in my own head, but now I’m free to share the experience with you.
Allow me to set the scene: along their perilous journey to the Lonely Mountain where they hope to recover a stolen treasure from the great dragon known as Smaug, Bilbo Baggins and the band of dwarves find themselves captured an imprisoned by the Mirkwood Elves. With no other means of escape available to them, they hide in a bunch of empty barrels and wind up getting pushed out into a raging river, which they hope to ride to freedom. It was this exciting barrel ride that I got to watch on my first day on the set.
As you can imagine, the logistics of filming on a real raging river or building a full-scale one are quite involved and complicated, but with some real ingenuity and smart engineering Jackson and his crew were able to build something quite ingenious and effective to make the shot work. Built inside one of the soundstages was what was essentially a giant, circular lazy river filled with gushing water and decorated around the outside and in the very middle with all kinds of grass and shrubbery. Completing the odd water park attraction effect that the design had were the actors dressed as dwarves going around and around in the “river” repeatedly while sitting in specially constructed barrels. What made this set construction work so well was that it would allow the camera to shoot from a large number of angles and make it look like the characters are moving long distances while actually not going very far at all.
Adding to the scene is the fact that surviving the rapids isn’t the only thing that Bilbo and the dwarves have to worry about. As you can see in the trailer above, their risky barrel ride is surrounded on all sides by orcs and elves doing battle. Weirdly enough, to get the correct scale (dwarves and hobbits are much shorter than elves and orcs) the two halves of the scene were being filmed separately, leaving the dwarf actors to fight off invisible enemies while trying to fight the waves and not tip over. The two parts of the scene will come together in post, and – if the first movie is anything to go by – the audience won’t even notice.
But guess what? That’s not all.
Even before we visited the soundstage to watch the dwarves in barrels, myself and the small group of other film journalists on the trip with me had the chance to talk with two stars of the Hobbit movies that will first appear in movie number two: Orlando Bloom, who returns as the Elvish archer Legolas from the Lord of the Rings films; and Evangeline Lily, who plays the brand new Elf character, Tauriel. Be sure to stay tuned here on Cinema Blend for the rest of the day, as we will be posting both interviews in full!
To read more about my trip to the set of The Hobbit head over HERE