There and back again: An East Valley artist’s tale of visiting The Hobbit set in New Zealand (PHOTOS)
This past winter, I was one of the many The Lord of the Rings movie fans who got to visit New Zealand’s rebuilt Hobbiton set set outside Matamata. After the filming of the original LotR trilogy years ago, the set was taken down except for a few boards against some hillside. Fortunately, everything is now as it was built for The Hobbit, and will be maintained as-is for future visitors. Filming had just stopped two weeks prior to our visit, so everything was still lush and gorgeous.
(I’ve heard that the embargo was lifted, so I am finally able to share these images with you.)
All visitors to the Hobbiton set were allowed to take as many photos and as much video as we wanted. Our tour guide even encouraged us to go ahead and dress up — she said many people dressed at Gandalf, hobbits, elves, etc., and have had unique geeky photos taken of themselves on-site. This can be done at several of the other sets, too!
Guillermo del Toro did a lot of work on The Hobbit film, and I learned that most (if not all) of it had been scrapped. The hobbit holes he built on the set remain, but footage of them will NOT appear in the films. It was interesting to see them, as they did have a different type of chemistry than the rest of the rebuilt set (they felt out-of-place). I’m really glad Peter Jackson returned.
Most of the set is, as many fans know, grown from a year or so ago to make sure the set looks as realistic as possible. The farm owners have hired staffers to maintain all of the grass and foliage. The landmark tree above Bilbo’s house is not real, though. It was built off site, 3D scanned, taken apart, transported to the set, then rebuild using the 3D imagery. Very cool! The fake leaves were slowly drifting down.
The attention to detail is phenomenal. While none of the hobbit holes can be entered (the interiors you see in the movie are, sadly, in the studio), you can see things like knick-knacks built into the little house windows. Most of the mailboxes have intricate kitschy designs painted on them, and each house is unique and memorable (from the doors to the front gardens to the props in and around the yards).
The fences were interchangeable (short and tall versions) for the movie, to help with scaling the differently-sized characters. It was a great visual to understand some of the filmmaking tricks in person.
Rumor has it The Green Dragon will become an actual pub for fans to have a drink in. It wasn’t available on our visit. You can buy genuine hobbit ale at two gift stores, one at Hobbiton and one at the Matamata information center. There were so many re-takes during drinking scenes that they hired a brewery in Nelson (on the South Island) to brew a non-alcoholic beer just for filming. I bought a few of them for gifts, because they can only be purchased in NZ right now.