Minnesota ‘Rings’ fan gets a first-hand look at HobbitonFor the past decade, “Lord of the Rings” fans have flocked to New Zealand for a glimpse of Middle Earth. One of the most popular attractions is the countryside used to film scenes for the Shire.
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
When the first movie of “The Hobbit” trilogy debuts Friday, I’ll be watching closely for a hobbit hole with a dark red door.
It may be just one or two seconds of a nearly three-hour movie, but for me that hobbit hole is very familiar.
I even got to close the door.
For the past decade, “Lord of the Rings” fans have flocked to New Zealand for a glimpse of Middle Earth. One of the most popular attractions is the countryside used to film scenes for the Shire.
The Hobbiton movie set is nestled in the middle of a working sheep farm a few miles from the city of Matamata on New Zealand’s North Island.
Filming at the site for the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy began in 1999, and the set was disassembled shortly afterward.
The hobbit holes in the original movies were a bit of movie magic — polystyrene and plywood facades.
That changed with the filming of the latest movies. A new set — this one permanent — was built on the site in 2011.
The new hobbit holes are the real thing. Every detail is perfect, from the stonework and carving on the hobbit holes to the little mailboxes that line the avenue.
The set has 44 hobbit dwellings, all with round doors in dusky shades of red, yellow, green or blue. Real wooden fences run along the pathways, and brick chimneys top off each of the hobbit holes. The set even has a lopsided scarecrow and a hand-painted teeter-totter.
A team of landscapers tends the potted plants, flower gardens and vegetable gardens and keeps the grass neatly trimmed. Even during the winter months — which to a Minnesotan feel like summer — bright pink and yellow flowers bloom at doors of many hobbit holes.
Visitors also learn some of the tricks behind the movies. Our guide made a point to highlight the wizened oak tree atop Bag End. Every branch, twig and leaf on the oak is fake.
The tree was specially designed to match the description in J.R.R. Tolkien’s books. All of the leaves were imported from Taiwan, our guide said, and attached to the tree one by one.
Our guide also shared stories about a few of the actors and crew members. He told us Ian McKellen, who plays Gandalf, was leery of horses because of their skittish nature. In all scenes with horses, a double had to be used.
The highlight of the tour comes near the end, when visitors have a chance to look inside one of the hobbit holes.
Our guide told us not to expect anything grand, just dirt floors and a dark, empty space. The hobbit hole interiors were never meant for show, except for a few feet of the entryway to Bag End.
The visitors lined up, and one at a time, took turns stepping inside the hobbit hole. I dawdled taking pictures and ended up last in line.
We’d been warned at the start of the tour not to touch any props or structures, so when my turn came I stepped gingerly inside. I peeked around quickly and then hurried to rejoin the group.
I’d just stepped back outside when our guide waved a hand to get my attention.
“Can you go ahead and pull the door shut?”
I didn’t hesitate and made sure to memorize the door so I’d recognize it again.
NOTES: Since Dec. 1, the Green Dragon Inn on the Hobbiton set has been open to visitors. The pub offers a number of ales and other refreshments to visitors who pay for a tour. Work on the interior of the building was still under way in June, but our tour guide said eager couples had already reserved the space for wedding celebrations. For more information about the Hobbiton movie set in Matamata, visit www.hobbitontours.com.