Wookiee Movie Reviews presents:
Lord of the Rings: Motion Picture Trilogy Exhibition
Review by Diana, MaceVindaloo, SuSu, Wraith6, RuntEkwesh

Creator: The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington, NZ and the Government of New Zealand

Owner / Licensor: New Line Cinema

Producers: Weta Workshop, Ltd, Weta Digital, Ltd., and Three Foot Six, Ltd., Miramar, New Zealand

Rating: Super Star Destroyer (intimidates and pleases)

The Lord of the Rings props and costumes exhibition has been circulating around a few places since it opened in Wellington, New Zealand. Then in early 2004, it went to the Singapore Science Centre; then to the Museum of Science Boston; Sydney, Australia's The Powerhouse Museum; the Houston Museum of Natural Science; the Science Museum in London; and finally to the Indiana State Museum, and from there it will return home to New Zealand. According to the staff at the Indiana location, this is the first time the whole exhibit is in one place, with pieces which were "on loan" in other places and including interactive displays from past showings and the complete set of drawings and paintings that inspired set builders, miniature makers and digital artists. That makes this show special — the final LOTR movie exhibition in the northern hemisphere!

We started with a New Zealand wine-themed dinner on Friday night, then a late-night entry into the exhibition! One had to purchase timed tickets; your entry time was printed on your ticket, and you would not be admitted before. There were many regulations: no cameras of any sort, no cell phones, no sketch pads, no sketching, no notebooks, no note-taking (!), no recording devices, no bags, no food, no drinks, no strollers, no weapons, no re-entry (the nice lady by the entrance advised we make use of the facilities before going in), and then they have the nerve to write, "Have a great time!" at the end of that list!

To be fair to the museum, these regulations are not their choice. Several of the staff and security let us know that these are regulations passed down by Te Papa. Can you imagine the instruction documents? "Thou shalt not allow a 'loo adjacent to they exhibit space!" Maybe they figured it was something fans would put up with, and it would reduce the number of copyright-infringeable incidents? I'd think there are enough images published in books and websites (even official ones) that this argument is moot, but if you want the exhibit to come to your space, you play by the owner's rules.

It was really too bad that no pictures were allowed ... we were forced to shoot without flash and without looking like we were holding a camera ... thus these photos had to be lightened considerably and are framed curiously. But they do make you feel like you were there, eh?? At the very least, we would have liked to sketch ... but you know, no sketching allowed ... What's worse, for all their paranoia, there is NO EXHIBITION CATALOGUE FOR SALE by New Line Cinema or Te Papa! So, we felt we had to try ... (Don't be mean or rude to the guards or workers; not only is it not nice, but they have a pretty onerous job! And they do reserve the right to evict you, though they really are very sweet, friendly people and probably won't; certainly, they don't want to!)

To our surprise, on late night Friday the exhibit was practically deserted! We got to run around and see anything, push buttons to see video interviews and descriptions, peer closely at the dimly and moodily lit costumes and props, all without many others wanting to do the same things at the same time. We got to sit in Gandalf's horsecart bench, which is actually two different benches made in two different sizes. Frodo sat in the bigger half, and thus looks smaller; Gandalf sat in the smaller half, and thus looked bigger. The two halves are optically matched with two cameras for one uninterrupted view. In fact, that's how many of the optical illusions were done. There was often two of everything, even two sets of Sam's pans and pack — one "actual" size (the size to be depicted) and one to be worn by Sean Austin, so that he looked smaller. There were two scale Bag Ends, too (Peter Jackson owns the bigger one, used to film Frodo; the smaller one was used to film Gandalf).

Oddly, the costumes of Frodo and Gimli were obviously frauds. The ones shown are hobbit- and dwarf-sized. We know the actors are not midgets or dwarves. It's possible the actual costumes would have destroyed the fantasy element for the viewer, or maybe they were simply too frail or damaged to travel. Not all the costumes were displayed or represented; the not-worn-by-Elijah Wood traveling suit was the only hobbit clothing on display, for example. And did Orlando Bloom actually wear just one suit for the whole three years? Makes you wonder what you're looking at ... are they in fact all reconstructions, perhaps distressed to appear old?

In fact, it was stated that some costumes really could only be used for a short time, and prosthetics really could be used only once. If multiple shots on different days and sets were required, multiple things had to be made. For instance, there were 2000 sets of feet/shoes made for the four main hobbit characters, and at the end of every day, the prosthetics were deliberately and thoroughly shredded to prevent a market in sweaty used hobbit feet!

One of the first things you saw when you entered the gallery was Boromir's deathboat, with a very very realistically modeled and clothed Boromir, complete with flowing blond hair and wrinkles ... The only flaw that we saw that detracted from the total illusion that Sean Bean was lying somewhere in Indianapolis was that the costume had no arrowholes marring it. Also, this model looked a lot cleaner than the actor. True, they might have given the dead man a change of clothes, but we doubt he would have carried in his overnight bag. Oh, and another thing ... we witnessed a wake! A Boromir fanclub had come to the exhibit and had a memorial service, complete with flowers, which they left under the display. (The museum workers were actually incredulous, but had a great time witnessing fan worship!)

Many of the displays were static, like the Boromir in the boat, or costumes, or weapons. But in some cases, the displays showed "the process," meaning how an idea went from something that might be at home in a pansieve to something that interacted on screen and gave nightmares to children of all ages because of the realism and believability. Treebeard the Ent was made into a maquette, or a scale model, in order to see the three-dimensional aspects and limitations. Maquettes could be used toward creating the final costume, sets, digitizations, or special effects manipulations, or could simply be shown to voice actors or stunt people so they knew what they would look like in the finished film. It warmed us to see that this maquette was made with Super Sculpy clay, the stuff some of us used for cosplay! It turned out that Treebeard was a combination of techniques — digital, animatronic puppet, free-form puppet, static sets, etc. It was detailed in the short video clips — choose one of several clips involving this display and push the PLAY button to watch and learn and geek out!

If you are a cosplayer, the darkness, theatrical lighting, and glass cases were frustrating, as was the oversight in showing only the outside of the costume as shown in the movie. True, the displays had a narrow strip of glass behind him so you could see, to some extent, the back of the costumes. But how were the things sewn and pinned, were there special undergarments, are those really boots or are they spats? We know other fansights and cosplay groups have written long and well on these topics, but it would have been nice to get some real answers. We know it's all fake and it's all movies, but since director Peter Jackson kept going on about doing things as "unfake" as possible, one could hope that the undergarments could be revealed!

Weapons were displayed, including the broken Narsil and the reforged Anduril. Elven weapons were given a lot of space; many have commented on their elegance (though they did seem not so useful). Interesting that Arwen's sword bore an inscription describing as a lady's blade, yet her father was seen wielding it in the movie prologue. Were elves not as sexist as they were portrayed after all? It was obvious that the Weta crew assigned influences from known cultures to the different races, since Jackson was concerned that viewers know who was what, and who was fighting whom. Thus uruk-hai and the different brands of orcs were given distinctive looks, uniforms, and sizes.

Other props were also featured, especially crowns, rings, and the clutter that made up Saruman's chambers. Again, short videos explained the concept surrounding the creation of the props and the important decisions made toward completion. It was revealed that Hobbiton was not seen by Peter Jackson until it had been nearly completely built! The only suggestions he had were to make things more unkempt; there was enough time to allow things to lay fallow and grow, and thus give the really lived-in, over-time character the director felt were crucial to the shots.

Artists Alan Lee and John Howe were brought on as concept artists from the beginning. The former is a well-known fantasy illustrator who drew the now-familiar images of the 1987 editions of The Lord of the Rings and is considered an architectural detailer, yet drew "moods" more than "things." The latter is more known for his character drawings, and for the action imbued in his lines. But that isn't exactly how they split up the work; after all, Bag End is Howe's design, and Lee's Treebeard inspired the film's. Both are self-professed doodlers and sketchers and many of their pencil drawings are displayed throughout the gallery and by the souvenir kiosk toward the end of the exhibition.

There are also color studies, multiple lighting design sketches, as well as models and maquettes. Some would be scanned by a laser to be included in among the digital things to be placed into Middle Earth. There is one "interactive display" which lets a person stick their head into a box, which gets scanned, is fed into a computer which crunches the calculations in several passes, till your head looks like it was carved from some fine-grained white stone. We had fun trying to hold certain expressions as the bright red laser line passed over our faces multiple times ... the sign noted that the laser won't affect your eyesight, but that closed eyes tend to make for better scans (easier to hold the position).

Designers were given their due, and much was discussed about the designs favored by the Rohirrim, and how they both used and worshipped the horse. They recognized that they could not survive as a people without this beast, and so all their art, architecture, uniforms, weaponry, battle strategy revolved around the form and motion of the horse. It was obviously a labor of love for these men and women, whether they were creating tackle for the Nazgul horses or doing the beadwork or fabric commissions for the costumes of Galadriel or Elrond. The actors got into the mindsets too, and Ian MacKellan explained that he approached Gandalf as a man who enjoyed and abhorred things, despite his commission to protect Middle Earth. Thus his pleasure in smoking, wearing shabby clothes, teasing hobbits ... it made us envious!

Again, it was a damned shame that prints of drawings or individual photos of the displays (or their details) were not for sale. Just some books they were selling for full price which you could get at any large bookseller for 10% to 30% off ... so we didn't buy much there at all. Of course, we want to support the museum's efforts for bringing the exhibit here, but that doesn't mean I like paying $10 more per book than I really have to. Posters or prints would have been nice, too! We swear, it was easier to get autographed photographs at Dragon*Con ...

There was a poorly lit Nazgul, but a more dramatically lit Sauron in full armor. It was indeed impressive to see in "real size." The denizens of Middle Earth would have cause to fear humans clothed thus, but knowing they are external representations of the greater evil within was impressive. There were also "crowns of men" and the "wraith crowns" as well as the nine rings of men which enslaved them. No detail was overlooked; perhaps Jackson had not decided how closely he'd be filming? There were also specially made displays of a cavetroll and goblin in Moria, crashing through a door, and of Lurtz glowering from his 7 foot height (elevated on a pedestal, too!). And another "anatomically correct" cavetroll ...

There was the impressive scale model Orthanc, and other displays which detailed how the model makers were suprised to have to add more detail to models of Gondor; Peter Jackson was so impressed with the model that he said, "Let's do some Star Wars shots and fly through the city!" It was like watching those original SPFX documentaries with computer-controlled cameras, film speed modifications to make floodwaters appear to be bigger and more ponderous and destructive (the dam makers did too good a job and they needed and extra day to make the dam at Isengard break on cue). It was like being a kid again ... well, for those of us who were kids way back the, you understand ...

There was a "corridor of armor" which was a cosplayers dream, except you couldn't get behind or under the garb. Ah well, but every major armored group was represented, on both sides. Well, except the Ringwraiths ... and not the hobbits ... but everyone else. It was beautiful, even if faked; the eye to details was breathtaking! One of us gawked at the Orc armor: the Moria orcs obviously scavenged armor from foreign comrades or foes. This model had a Gondor chest plate, with an ugly looking scar across it, obviously made by whatever killed its previous owner. A warg rider obviously picked through the prey of what his mount had killed and eaten, and fashioned ribs into a chestplate by whipping them together with sinews and fibers, a skull and tusks into a helmet ... the basketweave straw codpiece was rather a curious addition, but when one is riding a beast with a razorback, extra protection would indeed be desired.

Another of us was fascinated by the weaponry, shields, and helmets. The museum had commissioned a man in India (or was it Indiana? We — and the volunteers — were pretty tired by then ...) to make a real chainmaille chemise. It took three months to make, and weighed in at 24 lbs / 11 kg, not including any other parts of the total armor ... you could touch it, try it on, and try to look brave under the weight. Then you put on the helmet and chestplate and hope you don't embarrass yourself by falling over ... (One of us would have put the maille on, but complained, "It's a bit snug around the chest ...")

There was a display on how armor was made for the hero and mid-field actors. Because armor is so heavy, movies tended to used knitted coarse fibers painted silverish, so that actors could wear the things, act, and not die. Richard Taylor, who was responsible for producing the costumes for the thousands of actors and extras (and who's handprint was the white mark of Saruman), had machines made that cut thin rings off PVC pipes, half of which would get notches to thread through other rings, then heat-sealed. The "sheets" of plastic rings were painted and "aged" and we defy you to visually detect the difference! An additional benefit — it didn't make the noise of the metal analogs. Apparently, these cutting machines ran non-stop for 3½ years and created 12½ million rings ... Taylor boasted that the people who assembled the chainmail were the "true lords of the rings." Boo!

There was also a display of heights of the various types of beings in Middle Earth, and a sensor which detected your height and decided which breed you were. One of us was a "tall wizard, or perhaps a malnourished elf" ... another was "a hobbit child, have you eaten your second breakfast today?" One was a "tall hobbit or a shortish orc." And if you jumped just so, the voice would holler, "Look out! Cave troll!!"

The motion capture display let you grab two nerf-weaponry sensor things which represented weapons. You choose if you want to be an uruk-hai, and elf, or human soldier. You moved and the projected character followed your movements. Of course, everyone who tried it tried to fool the camera, which turned out to be not so difficult to do. You can get the elf to do the "macarena" or the uruk-hai to do the hokey-pokey. It was low-res since the processors required for a hi-res image were prohibitive, but it was fun, and the software did do a good job of tracking the movements, and gave insight as to how such tricks were managed for close and mid-range action.

Battlefields were done via fuzzy logic type programs that would allow each depicted figure to behave differently based on the actions of those figures around him. One of the battle effects nerds explained on a movie reel that the program was smarter than it had been designed to be — many of the fighter actually turned tail and ran away from the battle! Hey, the logic works! They opted to keep the unplanned behavior in the movie.

"Beauty" or close-up versions of weapons, as well as "fighting" and "stunt" versions were shown. There are marked differences in materials and weight; even in the Star Wars universe, that nearly totally computer-generated imagery project, there were rubber blasters to protect the stunt people from hurting themselves on the props, and to keep them from breaking. There were also video presentations about how Miranda Otto trained for all the fighting and stunts she did herself, whether on horse or in a crowded battlefield wearing lots of vision-blocking costume layers. Everything had to be choreographed and done over and over so that every possible shot and variation could be obtained for editing later. It would be too expensive to come back and try it again.

By the way ... did you know that most of the Rohirrim were women dressed in armor and beards! Many of New Zealand's riders and horse owners are female, and nearly all of the horse community were used in this film. The producer described going into the catering tent and sitting down with a bunch of gruff, tall, bearded men ... and finding out they were bearded ladies! The riders came with the horses and that was simply the way it was. It took long enough to get the horses used to being directed, to the noise, to waiting, to riding in formation, etc. And New Zealand has only a bit more than 3 million people, where would other riders come from?

A lot of space was allocated to the One Ring, which is encased in a Lucite column and lit to appear it was rising out of a pit of lava. There were moving lights and voices from the movie ... and it was kind of dull. I mean, it's a ring with inscriptions, and it'll never be worn because it's stuck in a big plastic thing. It took up a lot of room in the rather smallish space, and we wondered if more room shouldn't have been allocated to costumes or jewelry or video displays ... or more PVC chainmail samples to touch? Maybe more than just a scale model of an Oliphant?

The cost for the exhibition was very reasonable in Indianapolis at $14 per person, $13.50 for 60+ year olds, $9 for 3 to 12 year olds (under 3's not permitted), and $4 if you are already a museum member. This ticket includes a ticket for the same day to the rest of the museum, a much better deal than in other cities, where not only more was charged, but an additional ticket was not included. So this is a good deal! (Note: unlike the other venues thus far, this is not a science museum, but rather a museum about all things Indiana. Including a photo exhibit of James Dean!)

The IMAX theater is within this museum too, and at 8:45pm every evening, a (non-extended version) LOTR movie is shown, in turn. Prices for the movie are $12, $11 for 60+ years olds, and $10 for up to 12 years old. There is also a scheduled "overnight" on December 28th, which kicks off with an IMAX showing of Return of the King, a gallery opening from midnight to 3am, then you get to bed-down in one of the museum galleries. You get a wake-up call at 7am for breakfast ... that doesn't sound like fun to us, but we know that a LOTR costuming fangroup is planning to meet up at the overnight. Hey, it'll be fun, and you might get to touch and see more than the public might? After all, less than a week later, the Exhibition will close and begin its journey back to New Zealand ...

Get ye to Indianapolis and see the exhibition! Make a weekend of it, see the rest of the Indiana State Museum and the really lovely surroundings, too. It's totally worth it for all the pros, despite the cons, and we wish we lived closer so we could do it again!

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