Ohakune was our destination and was to serve as two locations within Middle Earth. One of these locations was up on Mount Ruapehu, which is the tallest mountain in the North Island and very sacred lands to the local Maori Iwi (tribes). They filmed quite a lot of the Mount Doom scenes in Lord of the Rings, such as Sam carrying Frodo up the cliffs, on other parts of the mountain, but this particular area was new ground for the production. That’s not to say that Ruapehu is Mt. Doom, which is a common misunderstanding amongst touring LOTR geeks. (…)
Ian McKellen was the last person from the crew to speak and he gave a great speech talking about the journey this crew was undertaking and thanking them for letting us share their beautiful lands with the people of the world. “You could have easily told Gandalf the Grey ‘You shall not pass’ but you did not,” he said before reiterating his thanks for their cooperation and letting the filmmakers pass onto their property. Remember I mentioned that each speech was followed by a song? After Sir Ian gave his speech all the actors playing dwarves stood up and sang one of the songs from The Hobbit, a particularly haunting baritone ballad called Misty Mountains (the very one from the newly released trailer). (…)
This wooded area was to represent the outskirts of The Shire and featured Bilbo catching up to Gandalf and the dwarves. They’re riding on horseback so you can imagine the circus that day. Thirteen dwarves and a Wizard and horses for them all! The dwarves’ horses were wearing sort of shaggy jackets since they were supposed to be ponies, but the guys playing the dwarves would look silly in all their gear on tiny ponies. In order to sell the stature they had to make the regular horses look more pony-like. (…)
The day was spent mostly getting wider shots of troop on horseback riding through the woods as Bilbo catches up to the party, but there was one shot in particular that you can actually glimpse in the trailer that had Fili and Kili picking up Mr. Baggins (from horseback) and putting him up onto his pony. (…)
As you can see, the camera went where Peter’s hands are framing that shot, so Martin didn’t have to be fully lifted out of shot, just pulled up enough to sell the motion. I imagine they’ll grab another angle with Martin’s stunt double actually being pulled up and put on a pony. For this shot they just needed to sell him moving up so they have some motion to cut on. That also explains the apple box Freeman has a furry hobbit foot up on. The action has him walking towards camera and stepping up on that apple box right when Kili and Fili get up to him so he can push up with his foot as they grab his backpack and hoist him up. (…)
I talked with Peter a bit before he made his way down to the set and he pointed out that they shot a lot of the opening prologue battle from Fellowship about 5 minutes drive from this spot, on the opposite slope. And down the mountain, the stream from this waterfall was where they shot Gollum catching his fish after joining up with Sam and Frodo. Peter also tried to convince me that the surrounding area was all built by Weta Workshop, that all the rocks were really foam and the waterfalls were just salt being poured in slow motion, but he can’t trick me! No sir, not this time!