Middle-Earth: From Script to Screen: Building the World of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit

Middle-earth from Script to Screen: Building the World of The Lord of the Rings and The HobbitMiddle-Earth: From Script to Screen by Daniel Falconer

Middle-earth from Script to Screen: Building the World of The Lord of the Rings and The HobbitGetting a glimpse behind the scenes of a favorite film is always exciting — it’s rather like pulling the curtain back and, rather than seeing a humdrum old snake oil salesman, actually discovering a great and powerful wizard. David Falconer’s Middle-Earth: From Script to Screen gives credit to the several hundred wizards hard at work re-creating and re-inventing J.R.R. Tolkien’s LORD OF THE RINGS novels and The Hobbit into two sets of visual feasts.

Everything from aerial photography, to miniaturized or life-size sets and props, to CGI artistry went into those six films, and each page of this guide pays tribute to the very hard work and ingenuity of the Weta Workshop crew, as well as the cast members, many of whom are quoted in varying degrees of incredulity and affection. One of the most common refrains, from either cast or crew, is along the lines of “We were so lucky that things worked out this way,” but that belies the obvious amount of hard work and dedication poured into the films.

Middle-Earth: From Script to Screen is arranged by location, with the table of contents cleverly laid out as a map of Middle-Earth: if readers want insight into how the giant trees of Mirkwood were designed, or the challenges posed by scale in creating Beorn’s enormous home, they’ll know exactly what section to turn to. Organizing information by place rather than the timelines of the various films allows Falconer to, for example, talk about moments in The Fellowship of the Ring in the same context as The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, informing readers about the ways in which living set pieces like Hobbiton changed (or didn’t) in the years between shooting scenes for each film. The natural beauty of New Zealand is given its full due, and the anecdotes from location scouts about the physical and natural challenges of their job were some of my favorite moments.

Equally illuminating are the photographs and reminiscences from the miniature-makers and props-crafters, who speak about the process of creating objects as realistically as possible. I was astonished to learn just how many props were intended to be usable, in order to add to the authenticity of each set, regardless of whether something like a musical instrument or book was used in a scene. One crewman, Richard Taylor, writes of the importance of “…the kind of details that made Middle-Earth feel like a real place,” and I can’t speak highly enough of the tireless efforts of these craftspeople. Of course, sometimes “miniatures” is a relative term: the Argonath statues of Isildur and Elendil on the banks of the River Anduin were only seven feet tall, while the Tower of Orthanc was about five meters tall. But the level of detail in each miniature is the same as if they had been built to full-size scale, and the amount of effort and care put into them is truly admirable.

Any discussion of Middle-Earth on film necessitates mention of digital effects, and Middle-Earth: From Script to Screen features plenty of still frames from the films with finished CGI additions, along with on-set photos of actors in motion-capture suits. Falconer writes:

Almost every shot in The Hobbit films was a visual effects shot; around 2,200 per film, many of which involved putting characters into CG spaces, compared to 400, 800, and 1600 effects shots in each of The Lord of the Rings films.

Compared with the visual-effects shots created by tricks of photography, the examples of CGI characters or set pieces tend to look a little blurry or overly-saturated, and don’t have the visceral immediacy of a physical element. This isn’t to say that the people who designed those computer graphics didn’t work hard — they absolutely did — but it’s tough to fool the human eye.

Did I wish Middle-Earth: From Script to Screen had gone into more detail with regards to just how set pieces or props were put together? Yes, but I understand the need to protect trade secrets, and Weta Workshop has earned the right to hold that information close to the vest. I was more disappointed in the lack of precision with regard to consistent spellings of place-names like Cirith Ungol (twice referred to as “Cirth Ungol”) or basic copy-editing, as when “chocking” and “choking” were used indiscriminately on the same page. For a book of this overall quality, I expected more oversight.

However, if you enjoyed the Lord of the Rings films and The Hobbit films, and are curious as to why some scenes were changed in the novel-to-film adaptations (for example: why Peter Jackson wanted the Lothlórien elves to assist at the battle of Helm’s Deep) or the difficulties in filming Thorin’s band of dwarves as they escape the dungeons of Mirkwood, Middle-Earth: From Script to Screen will provide answers, insight, and much more.

Published November 2017. For the first time ever, the epic, in-depth story of the creation of one of the most famous fantasy worlds ever imagined — an illustrious compendium that reveals the breathtaking craftsmanship, artistry, and technology behind the magical Middle-earth of the blockbuster film franchises, The Lord of the Rings Motion Picture Trilogy and The Hobbit Trilogy, directed by Peter Jackson. They said it couldn’t be done, but in an effort spanning a decade and undertaken in a distant corner of the world, a team of artists and creative visionaries laboured to bring the unfilmable to the silver screen. Under the direction of Sir Peter Jackson, their extraordinary efforts to adapt J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit generated almost 24 hours of cinematic wonder, and transported audiences to a world of astonishing beauty and power. Richly illustrated with thousands of film frames, concept art and behind-the-scenes imagery, many previously unseen, Middle-earth: From Script to Screen follows in the footsteps of the Fellowship of the Ring and the Company of Thorin Oakenshield, visiting the realms and landscapes of Middle-earth and uncovering their secrets. Accompanying this stunning gallery, cast and crew reflect upon their experiences, share brand-new stories and insights into how the wildernesses and soundstages of New Zealand were transformed into a magical world of hobbits, Dwarves and Elves, resulting in one of the most spectacular achievements in cinematic history. With foreword by Sir Peter Jackson and additional writing by K.M. Rice; illustrated with final film imagery, behind-the-scenes pictures and conceptual artwork, including places not seen in the final films, this monumental compilation offers unique and far-reaching insights into the creation of the world we know and love as Middle-earth.

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JANA NYMAN, with us since January 2015, is a freelance copy-editor who has lived all over the United States, but now makes her home in Colorado with her dog and a Wookiee. Jana was exposed to science fiction and fantasy at an early age, watching Star Wars and Star Trek movie marathons with her family and reading works by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury WAY before she was old enough to understand them; thus began a lifelong fascination with what it means to be human. Jana enjoys reading all kinds of books, but her particular favorites are fairy- and folktales (old and new), fantasy involving dragons or other mythological beasties, contemporary science fiction, and superhero fiction. Some of her favorite authors are James Tiptree, Jr., Madeleine L'Engle, Ann Leckie, N.K. Jemisin, and Seanan McGuire.

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