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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Grip, grab! Pinch, nab!
And down to Welling-town
You go, my lad!

Far over the Misty Mountains cold
To dungeons deep and caverns old
We must away ‘ere break of day
To seek the pale enchanted gold.*

Again, I am miles away from breaking this story in any way shape or form, but I must write about how excited I am that Peter Jackson and (presumably) Weta Studios got the final go-ahead to start filming The Hobbit here in New Zealand. All is basically as it should be, with Jackson and partner Fran Walsh behind the scenes as executive producers. One of my favourite directors has been appointed to the helm, one Guillermo del Toro, he who also directed both Hellboy films, Pan's Labyrinth and Blade II. (In related news, del Toro is also signed up to do a remake of H.P. Lovecraft's At The Mountains of Madness in 2010, so I am very keen on this as well). Also, two key re-signings for this next Middle Earth movie are the actors Sir Ian McKellen and Andy Serkis, cast again as Gandalf and Gollum, respectively.

But then, you probably already knew all of this! Since I am lucky enough to live in Wellington, that means I'll be in "Hobbit Central", at least as far as where most of the cast and crew base themselves for the 18-24 months it'll likely take them to shoot these films. You see, and this is something else you also probably already knew, they're actually doing two films, not just the one. At first I thought they were going to split the Hobbit story itself into two films, which in my opinion could be easily done as there's lots of story to go around. Rather, they are doing all of The Hobbit in the first film (hopefully it will clock in at four hours - bring it!), and then they are going to do a second film that covers the gap of 60-odd years between the end of the story of The Hobbit until the beginning of the story of The Fellowship of the Ring.

Now, I'm no avid student of J.R.R. Tolkien's works, having only read the Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit a few times over the years, as there is a staggering amount of further material Tolkien created regarding his Middle Earth, including the entire language of the Elves to say the least. I do not think there exists a book that was written by Tolkien to cover this particular gap between his stories, so it will be very interesting to see where they go with it.

I'm sure that the most die-hard of Middle Earth fans have more than a few strongly held opinions about what should and should not be included in such a work, and I hope that the producers and directors involved in these film projects pay them some attention. After all, if nothing else, this is the very fan base they are courting and counting upon, albeit to less of a degree than they were prior to the release of Fellowship - now that these films set in Middle Earth have a wider fan base than they ever did. Plus, I think The Hobbit has always been the most popular and accessible of the famous works of Tolkien. So I guess they could cut a little fast and loose with the story-making for this second Hobbit film and damn the consequences regarding Tolkien's staunchest fans' opinions on the matter.

No matter what, I know I am eager to see how it all plays out and I am going to do my best to see as much of the movie sets as possible, once the film-making begins. While much of the location shooting for the LOTR trilogy occurred in and around Wellington, obviously not all of it was shot here. Among other things, I am very curious about what will serve as Lonely Mountain, one of the most compelling locations described in anything I've ever read. I am also thinking they will go back to the original Shire, which was up in the Waikato, specifically in Matamata. It's only a few hours away so no matter what, if and when the Shire becomes open to the public for a viewing, then I'm there! Can you say 'road trip'?

One of the nurses I work with rode her horse and was in costume for one of the many battle scenes in one of the LOTR movies, and her dad actually made it on screen a few times as an extra for Peter Jackson's King Kong. Andrew and Pete, two vets I work with, both served as on-site veterinarians for a day of filming for Peter Jackson's films in the past, so if I am even luckier than I already have been, I may be able to land a spot as an extra in one of these Hobbit movies. If I don't - and I don't expect to! - it certainly won't be for lack of trying.

But as your faithful man on the street here in Wellywood, I will endeavour to get you some good bits of goss regarding the filming of the two Hobbit movies, and maybe even a picture or three of a set, should they allow it! There's bound to be more than a few celebrity-sighting opportunities downtown, but I'm not going to be an obnoxious tourist should I see anybody famous.

All I can say is that I will try and emulate this guy’s devotion and tireless efforts in regards to finding his lost wedding ring. I'm so glad this particular story had a happy ending, and I thought it was a natural and humourous tie-in to the recent news of Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Weta Studios landing the Hobbit project.

Well, I'll put in the same kind of dedication and focus as he did finding his ring to covering the filming. But I ain't spending no $1500 for anything!

That is, unless you count up the number of coffees and train tickets I'll have consumed along the way ...
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* Used without permission from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. Do yourself a favour, and buy a copy today and read it before the movie comes out!

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Thar she... thaws?

Well my Brooksie faithful, I owe you an apology.

You see, almost exactly a year ago, I (in my eternal geekiness) got quite excited at the news of a very large squid that had been caught off the shores of New Zealand's south island in the Ross Sea. Not only was it cool (to me, anyways) because this was the largest colossal squid ever landed, but it reminded me once again how little we know about the vast 'inner space' contained within our oceans. Judging from the sizes of some squid beaks recovered from the stomachs of whales, and now comparing to the size of the beak of said squid above, there are even bigger ones still out there.

This squid was brought aboard the vessel in nearly pristine condition and, once ashore, was promptly put on ice at none other than my favourite museum, Te Papa. There it was to wait until the global scientific community had all been alerted and could coordinate their schedules and line up the appropriate research projects so that they'd all have a crack at this leviathan once she thawed out. Because, once thawed, she would have to be studied in her entirety as the squid would not then be able to be re-frozen and re-thawed like some reusable ice pack.

This past week she has finally been dragged out of deep freeze and allowed to thaw, and all week teams of scientists from around the world have descended upon Te Papa in Wellington to study her. And it turns out the squid is indeed a she, as they soon found out among other interesting things, such as the fact that her eyes are the size of footballs.

Now that's one big Mesonychoteuthis!

You can follow the fascinating (I think so, anyways!) developments here at Te Papa's site devoted to the subject. As you can see, soon the general public will be able to go to the museum to see the squid up close, suckers and all.* I can't wait to see how they conduct the presentation, as this is the sort of subject that I find very interesting indeed! I'm a scientist by trade, specifically in the animal sciences, so it's in my wheelhouse. This is also the stuff of ancient sailors' legends from many different cultures, not to mention pop culture such as the big squid featured in Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.

Speaking of which... man do I really miss that ride at Disney World!

Anyways, I am apologising because I failed to write about this nearly a year ago when I had originally intended to. Had I done so, I could have 'scooped' this in the blogosphere at large, yet my lackadaisical approach to the field of Investigative Casual Tourist Reporting means that I have buried the lead in my slowly growing file of 'draft' posts!

Then again, I am not really a tourist here anymore. I am a local! And as such, I think I'll be heading on down to Te Papa as soon as they've got that squid all prettied up and put on display.

From what I've seen so far, everything our museum does is top-notch, and I can't think of a better place to have had the good fortune to display the world's largest landed colossal squid than Te Papa.
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*I am not, of course, referring to the members of the general public as suckers here! I'm talking about the ones on the squid's tentacles, natch.