Review: The Lord of the Rings: The Making of the Movie Trilogy, by Brian Sibley

The Lord of the Rings: The Making of the Movie Trilogy - Brian Sibley, Ian McKellen

I love books like this. I've always loved learning about how things are made and for any film I'll always want to hear all the in depth stories about - not the actors - the lighting, the set dressing, the art director's planning, the weird issues the props manager had, the problems of the wigmakers - all of that stuff. To me that's the meat and bread of the film itself - the background stories of all the little parts and tiny details that are vital to making a movie look amazing.

 

This is a re-read because I've had the book awhile, but thanks to that being years ago I'm not remembering most of the random details. So I'm enjoying this all over again.

 

Though I focus more on the technicians, I have to note that many people in multiple departments repeatedly mention and compliment Viggo Mortensen. He cared for his own costume (mending it himself when necessary) and even when allowed to carry a prop sword insisted on carrying the "hero weapon" (jargon for the actual, full weight sword seen in closeups) at all times. Mortensen was not only doing this so that his movements would be more realistic - it has much to do with getting into character and the actor's experience of becoming a character (see: Method).

 

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Contents:

 

Forward: Sir Ian McKellen

Prologue: The Long-Expected Party

Lucky Man

In the Cannes

1. Workshop of Wonders

The Man Who Builds Trees

2. Locating Middle-earth

A Hall Fit for a King

3. Setting the Scene

From Bag end to Barad-dur

4. It's a Small World

Lost in Lothlorien

Light on Rivendell

5. Department Store for Middle-earth

Ring-masters

Penman in Middle-earth

6. Regal Robes and Girl's Big Frocks

The Hat in the Bin

The White Lady of Rohan

7. Waging the War of the Ring

Extra-Special People

8. Hobbit Hair and Wizard Whiskers

The Grimness of Grima

9. Making Faces

The Body on the Floor

Talking to Treebeard

10. Filming a Masterpiece

Hobbit Talk

Aspects of Aragorn

11. Adding the Magic

Massive Achievement

Capturing Gollum

12. Knowing the Score

On the Theme of Fellowship

Epilogue: An End and a Beginning

Acknowledgements

 

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Random quotes - and since there's always so much attention paid to actors and the actors' experience, I tend to prefer focusing on the many working behind them to get that look. So note that there is a lot of actor information and some interviews in the book, I'm just not quoting that.

 

 

p. 19-20, Richard Taylor of Weta Workshop:

 

...Then, unlocking a door, he leads me into a room lined with glass cases stuffed with bizarre creatures and strange, sometimes grisly objects. It brings to mind those collections of grotesqueries found in crumbling Victorian mansions or in the freak tents that were once an irresistible attraction of American carnivals.

 

I spot a frog dressed in combat gear, a rabid rat-monkey, a demon-possessed rag doll and a worm with an old man's face. "These," says Richard, "are our past lives!" He sniffs. "And that smell is the unmistakable aroma of rotting foam-latex!"

 

p. 25, Tania Rodger, also of Weta:

 

..."You quite often get better results - and a lot more fun - from using your brain to think how to do things. We discovered, for example, that you could make very convincing innards from squeezing foam-latex leftovers into gut shapes, which were baked in the oven and then dressed with golden syrup and food coloring."

 

p. 38, filming at Mount Sunday, the Edoras, stronghold of the horsemen of Rohan:

 

...The five kilometers of road alone took a local contractor three months to build: the grass and topsoil were carefully lifted and preserved; the road surfacing was laid using gravel dredged from the local rivers. At the conclusion of filming, all the gravel would then be scraped up and deposited back into the rivers, the original earth relaid and the tussocks of grass replanted. As with all the locations used in the film, there was the weighty knowledge that whatever extraordinary transformations a place might undergo, as much effort, time and money would be required afterward in order to return the location to its natural state.

 

p. 45, Dan Hennah, Supervising Art Director, Set Director:

 

..."We often finished a set only an hour or two before the start of filming. I'll never forget the Glittering Caves: we'd worked through the night to achieve a very particular look, and we were still painting as the crew walked in the door. There we were, frantically throwing handfuls of party glitter onto the wet paint as the cameramen finished off their cups of tea and started setting up. Making magic happen is never easy."

 

p 51, Dan Hennah again:

 

..."Everybody will tell you about the weather," he laughs, "floods and freeze-ups; days when we were snowed in and others when we were rained out. We built an entire set beside a river in Queenstown for the Fellowship's landing at Parth Galen and before the film crew could arrive, the river rose fifteen meters and washed the whole thing away!"

 

p. 116, Peter Owen and Peter King on the difficulty of hair and making up Elves:

 

..."Some had long hair of their own that we could dye or bleach," continues Peter, "but we had to be terribly careful: too much fussing around with hair styles, or too much makeup, and you're halfway to drag queen time!"

 

"That was the difficulty," says PK, "To begin with, they looked as if they had been made up to look like Elves, rather than as if they were Elves. We had to find a way of conveying their 'otherness,' their sense of immortality, and yet at the same time make them as real as the Rohirrim or the men of Gondor."

 

p 162-3, Peter Doyle, Posthouse, on "digital color grading":

 

"Peter Jackson wanted The Lord of the Rings to have 'a painterly look' that stayed close to the conceptual art for the film. So what we're doing - and it's the start of a new trend - is extending the art design by digitally manipulating the imagery: we can alter the contrast and change the brightness, pull out certain hues and twist specific colors."

 

For the scenes in Hobbiton, Peter Doyle has transformed the stark Southern Hemisphere light of the location into a softer, European look with plenty of strong, clean colors. In contrast, for the scenes shot on the Moria cemetery set, he has reduced the reds and pushed the blues to convey the coldness of the mood.

 

Peter is currently tinkering with the light cast by Gandalf's staff and helping to illuminate the wizard's face, which was seriously overshadowed by that broad-brimmed hat. He is also planning effects for the rest of the film: "The predominant colors in Bree will be dirty golden yellows, edging towards green; Lothlorien will be blue, swinging into pastel shades of lavender; while Rivendell will have a crisp, clear Alpine light. 'Painterly,' yes; but not painting: that's the secret."

 

I can not tell you how hard it is to get light onto the faces of people who are wearing hats. Both in video and in photographs. Really, really tough, indoors or outdoors.

 

Also this minute adjustment of lighting really brings home how the finished product of the three films is an artwork and nothing near reality - even the very light itself in the exterior, on location shots is no longer New Zealand's.