The Eye of the Fish

September 18, 2012


Did you know that it is international Tolkien Week this week? I didn’t.

And are you eagerly awaiting the next trailer for The Hobbit, due out tomorrow, from our lordly uber-meister, Sir Peter Jackson? I’m sure you probably are – I certainly am. PJ has done more to lift Wellington out of the gloom and doom of governmental restructuring than we ever give him credit for. Each Lord of the Rings film premiere gave Wellington a boost, but the real boost comes from having all those actors and Weta-folk living here, amidst us, like Elven waifs amongst us Men. You know that coffee boom that Wellington has? I’m putting that down to at least 50% Wingnuts and Wetas. Wellington lives on the back of the films of Miramar.

So, to celebrate the presence amongst us of the “others”, we thought that we might launch a few sneak peeks at the architecture of the Hobbit films. No, we haven’t been able to break through the impregnable Fortress of Doom that is the Stone Street Studios, but we can take a few sneaky snapshots from the already released trailers themselves: this is, after all, just another type of Wellington architecture… I’m going to start off, of course, with Hobbiton, at Bilbo’s house first of all.

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole and that means comfort.
It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle. The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel; a very comfortable tunnel without smoke, with panelled walls, and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs, and lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats – the hobbit was fond of visitors.”

I’ve snuck inside the door, unseen, because we have all seen those images of the outside. It is what is inside that really intrigues me.
Inside, of course, we find that a whole lot of non-hobbits have taken residence – here, as Bilbo opens the door, is a doorfull of dwarves, falling almost into his lap. Luckily for them, they’re quite well padded, so no one is hurt.

I’m unable to figure out quite how the hinge mechanism works on a circular door – surely there would be too much stress just on one hinge for it to work, and two hinges would cause it to bind somewhere? but at any rate, the wizards of invention at Weta have managed to make it all work. A rather Celtic / Arts and Crafts looking carved wooden banner stands on the right hand side of the door, acting as a support to a nearby beam. A padlock hangs near the shelf, so that Bilbo can lock up when he goes off on an adventure – if such an outrageous thing may ever happen.

And here of course is the faithful Wizard, Gandalf the Grey, who has bent his weary frame to get through the doorway, and stands conversing in the hallway. Curved, haunched rafters are set into the beam over the side door, in a most pleasing way. I’m a bit more worried when it comes to the kitchen shot, where the structural logic is a little too simplified for my liking. While the dwarves are having fun tossing around plates, the underground structure that holds up the roof in the kitchen is frankly a little shallow, and quite clearly not NZS3604.

Don’t you think? Or am I being too alarmist? Of course, the building of a hobbit-hole only need meet Middle-Earth District Council building codes, not New Zealand ones, but even so, everyone needs standards, even those at the Shire. Take for example this picture of a secretive meeting being held by the dwarves in Bag End – worry not about their furry whiskers, or what they say, and whilst admiring the glistening wainscotting, have a look at that junction above their heads. Does that look structurally stable to you?

There’s clearly no pre-cambering in that ceiling beam, and the gravity load of a considerable amount of wet, unstable earth is pushing down on the apex where they all come together. It’ll take more than a Brotherhood to sort out the non-compliance in their Building Consent if that did fall down – all manner of paperwork to fill out, and you just know that Hobbitses don’t like paperwork… Look: the dwarves are getting all up in arms about it already…

But enough of that. Let’s widen our view, to look at the town. In this picture of what appears to be market day at the village fair, it is notable how much Bilbo stands out, Martin Freeman’s worried brow still furrowed with anxiety as if he is still articled to Sherlock, or still looking to how he can ask Dawn out on a date.

That pig looks positively huge! Except that, in real life, Kune Kune variety excepting, pigs really are big. They’re not called porkers for nothing. But I am intrigued at how little anyone else stands out. Faces averted, looks askance: no one but our hero in our focus. That’s a pity really, because one of the joys of watching a film made in Wellington is spotting all the people you know. A screening of the Hobbit in Wellington will be like no other, as the stalls in the Embassy will be full of whisperings: “I did that rock”, “that’s my cousin in the green tunic at the back”, and “Look, there’s my Mum, with the hairy feet.”
We have some obligatory shots of New Zealand – sorry, 100% Middle-Earth looking all majestic. Mainstream press will cover that more – but does anyone know where this is?

I was going to leave it there (with pics of Rivendell waiting for later, because it is not every day that you get to dissect a Elvish way of life and architecture), but having our heroes go off into the wilderness on horseback is such a cliche. Instead I’m going to leave on a spoiler, with Gandalf descending a dangerous staircase in some unknown location.

We can tell instantly that it is a dangerous staircase, as there is no handrail, the risers are badly chipped, and there are certainly spaces where a baby could fall from, and clearly this is not an Area likely to be Frequented by Children – that shiny black basalt has no prominent edge clashing strips, all of which is quite illegal and so therefore this is a Bad Place. Which, given that our heroes are no bigger than children, leads me to think that even the architecture is going to be quite an adventure, let alone the lack of handrails on Mount Doom!

60 MPa
18 - 09 - 12

That riding shot looks a bit like the limestone bluff country inland from Mokau in Taranaki headed towards Te Kuiti on SH3.
Also I found this shot taken on Haurangi Road going into the Aorangis from the Martinborough side
Similar sort of country.

Does anyone else think that they ‘shopped in the third range in the background?

19 - 09 - 12

Hmmmm…. Not really convinced by that pic, 60, as the top of your Haurangi Road pic looks too flat and too rounded. By the look of the Hobbit pic, there has had to have been major tilt of the ground – actually reminds me of the area around Waikaremoana, except that is probably covered in bush. Wherever they’re going, it looks like they’re riding up to a dead end cliff-top…

Tank Girl
19 - 09 - 12

Looking at the photos of Bag End, we can be pretty sure that the rooms have been hollowed out by hand. There may be some use of natural arches from tree roots, but barring use of soil anchors and tunnel boring kahunas ( as the Orcs may have used in the Mines of Moria) then mostly we are looking at a typical underpinning job, with localized excavation. There’s little sign of steel beams being used in there – I’d be worries about rot in the ceiling / roof beams.

19 - 09 - 12

I’m more worried about headroom – those guys look like they’re close to bumping into the arches and they’re dwarves for Pete’s sake!

19 - 09 - 12

Yes, low headroom and lax building standards, symptomatic of the low wage, low skill economy typical of the Shire. And of New Zealand….

60 Mpa
19 - 09 - 12

Tank Girl is right – if Bag End is anywhere near the coast then that sandy soil will collapse on those hobbits quicker than you can say “Elevenses”

Seriously though, y’all know that Peter’s got a tunnel up at Matahiwi from the main house up to a replica of one of the Bag End hobbit houses?

Max, if you’re thinking Waikaremoana I presume that you mean Panekiri Bluff?

20 - 09 - 12

I won’t be seeing this, or any future Jackson film, unless he hires himself a new editor. Half an hour of interminable goodbyes at the end of Return of the King was a grevious cinematic crime for which there can be no forgiveness. It’s a shame really that such a talented visual director as Jackson has slipped down the rabbithole of nerddom and someone hasn’t had the balls to say ENOUGH to these childish fantasy excesses.

Seamonkey Madness
20 - 09 - 12

So JP, when was the last time you directed (or edited) a multi-million (-billion?) dollar film trilogy based on a celebrated fantasy tome?


What do you mean you haven’t?

20 - 09 - 12

Isn’t the move to 3 films instead of 2, an attempt to make a whole new film just of of the unused endings?

20 - 09 - 12

“Jackson has slipped down the rabbithole of nerddom and someone hasn’t had the balls to say ENOUGH to these childish fantasy excesses.” – but surely, JP, the whole point of making films on intensely fan-related epic stories such as LOTR and the Hobbit, is that you can cater exactly for these childish fantasy excesses?

It was the same when i went to see the latest Batman film, which any sane perosn would agree was a terrible film, in dire need of a good edit, and never knowing when to stop and shut up – and yet the Batman fanboys and fangirls are still raving about it. THe trick with fantasy surely is to give the fans everything they want, and leave them asking for just a little bit more: which will always be quite a bit more which the more general public can stomach.

21 - 09 - 12

@Seamonkey Madness

I hope you aren’t suggesting that the only people whose opinions are worthy of respect are those who make movies. They are usually the least reliable barometers of quality for obvious reasons.


Of course you are 100% correct. These are movies that exist beyond criticism in the sense that they are made for a built-in fanbase who will hoover up anything and everything regardless of whether the film violates the common grammar of cinematic sense, logical plot or believable character development. All that matters is how it satiates the extradiagetic preconceptions of its fanbase, outside of this nerdworld those of us expecting to be conventionally entertained are out of luck.

Samonkey Madness
21 - 09 - 12

It might have come off as that on first read, but what I was really trying to convey was that sometimes directors don’t have the final input into what is in, and what is cut. By implication I guess, if you have dabbled in movie-making, you might appreciate more why those creative decisions are made.
NB: I haven’t directed any million-dollar budget movies. Or come to think of it any zero-budget ones either. So I guess my opinion is as valid as yours. ;)

He did the best with what he shot (I suppose). While yes, the goodbyes at the end did seem never-ending, and I thought PJ would have been better to try and include Saruman trying (and failing) to take over The Shire at the end, I’m not the director. Nor am I the executive producer who is holding the very large pursestrings.

It is what it is…

21 - 09 - 12

The latest trailer give some more glimpses on the Hobbit-hole architecture for your delectation.

22 - 09 - 12

DavidP – indeed it does. Also, for the benefit of anyone who might actually give a fig, John Howe, one of the two key lead illustrators for LoTR, seems to have drawn the original sketches for Bag End after Tolkien’s descriptions. Howe notes that his design references included Norwegian churches, and timber boat construction.

My next resolve, of course, is to find out more about the architecture of Rivendell, and then of course the Orcs. Speaking of which – are there female Orcs? Has anyone seen one? Do they stay at home in Orcland, politely doing the dishes while daddy Orc goes out to battle? Or are Orcs only male? Breed like amoeba perhaps ? Or if the Orcs are all boy Orcs – just wondering – are they all gay? Is it just like a giant rugby club? Do Orcs play rugby ? Would they play with a spiky ball instead of an oval one?

Sooo many questions.

17 - 10 - 12

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18 - 10 - 12

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