Lake Ferry - Our Mount Doom hike has been scuttled, because the Tongariro crossing is in permanent nastiness, weather-wise, for the next several days. This has left a rather gaping crater in our final week in New Zealand. We’ve ended up in Lake Ferry - a bleak stretch of sand out near the pinnacles, where the hotel (a lovely, barren motel overlooking the sand spit) could be the gathering place for anyone within twenty miles.
Have I mentioned the food here - the food in New Zealand is one hell of a best-kept secret. With exactly one exception, we have not failed to find UNBELIEVABLY good food in every restaurant we’ve visited, largely sourced from local products, and always plated with an aesthetic solvency that would blow the hair off half the Food Network hags. Last night at the hotel restaurant it was prawns and fettuccine tossed in tomato sauce with chorizo sausage and pine nuts, and it was - yet again - one of the better meals I’ve had in my life. No one talks about this place as the culinary centre of the world? Is it because they’re too busy talking about the propensity to jump off bridges?
Have I mentioned the drought? It’s stunningly dry here, and all the highway “fire hazard” signs (of which there are many) are set to “EXTREME.” But more than that, you see it as you move through the land - driving down here, across mile after mile after mile of sun-blasted scrub land, one begins to worry. Demetre was saying that the country is within a stone’s throw of water rationing if they don’t get a good downpour soon. (They should go to Tongariro.)
Wellington turned out to be a compellingly livable, friendly city, with a solid strategy for public art, and walkable streets that are - for whatever reason - replete with pregnant women, suggesting that they have lots of sex there and/or are as fertile as the average fruit fly. Wellington also puts Chicago’s quaint notions of itself as “the windy city” in striking perspective - especially down by the bay, that town has WIND, man. But no one seems too bothered about it. Friday morning the folks heading to work did not seem in any particular rush about it, and Friday night the streets exploded with nightlife to a degree that was more than a bit startling.
We went to the Weta Cave and then I did my Obi-Wan Kenobi straight-line walk to Stone Street Studio without any plan or navigational assistance. The highlight of the stay, though, was going to the Embassy Theatre for a midnight screening of The Hobbit in 48/3-D/Atmos, which would have been a treat in itself, but… THIS THEATRE. Quite legitimately the best movie theatre I’ve ever been to a movie in, with a stunning lobby, tony nighttime bar under the screen (which creates the rather surreal visual of walking into the lobby and seeing no ticket counter or concession stand, but rather a vulva-ish tunnel leading to a brilliantly designed room full of flappers drinking Old Fashioneds), an upstairs cafe and lounge area, and then - of course - a brilliant theatre, with a gargantuan screen, the best sound system I’ve ever heard, and wide leather armchairs bearing the names of the benefactors who sponsored them. (I sat in Liv Tyler’s.) If they played Return of the Jedi on Saturday mornings, it would be like all of my life’s ambitions had crashed together in one place. The Embassy is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream and puts Wellington near the top of the list of places in New Zealand now vying for my permanent residence.
The big draw out where we are right now are the pinnacles, which served as the Paths of the Dead and must be seen to be believed. Made up of dissolving towers of compacted scree, the pinnacles seem like a winding labyrinth of crumbling castle turrets and proud, erect penises stabbing the darkening sky. (Also: if the metaphors in this entry any indication, I’ve spent too long absent the company of a woman.) We were in the pinnacles as the sun went down, and the encroaching chill and preternatural silence - broken only by our exhausting efforts to scramble over the voluminous piles of skull-like stones - was immense. I would love to return with a good set of speakers, and bounce the Raiders march off every corner of that large, natural echo chamber.
Well, now you know. Peter Jackson’s cameos in The Fellowship, The Two Towers, The Return of the King and in An Unexpected Journey.
He’s rounding the bases on the denizens of Middle Earth, now he just has to show up as one of the blue wizards and an actual hobbit and he’s all done, right?
The next generation of immersive cinema has arrived, and so has The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Was bundling them together a good idea? We talk High Frame Rate at 48 frames per second, our Hobbit reactions at 24 frames per second, and eat a great breakfast at regular speed. Plus: science! Join us and enjoy.
And a happy HOBBIT morning to you! The final video blog from AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY:
Speaking of Doctor Who, my favourite addition to the Middle Earth pantheon this time around must surely be Radagast the Brown, played by the Seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy. While Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen, returning with a bit more gravel in his voice, but otherwise as delightful as ever) and the dwarves are off seeking the Arkenstone, Radagast is fumbling around the forest like a mad magpie, and anchors the film’s most exciting sequences as he discovers the growing threat at Dol Guldur.
The Lord of the Rings! Peter Jackson’s fantasy trilogy changed the face of Hollywood forever, thrusting Gollum, Weta, and New Zealand into the filmmaking forefront. With The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey mere weeks away, we take a trip in the time machine back to the project that started it all, and analyze the broad swath of impact that the One Ring has had on moviegoing.