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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Movie Discussion: The Hobbit:
Exclusive photos and impressions from Hobbiton set

News From Bree

Dec 12 2011, 1:37am

Post #1 of 16 (3250 views)
Exclusive photos and impressions from Hobbiton set Can't Post

Millions line up at Universal Studios in L.A. for a chance to pull back the curtain and see behind the illusions of Hollywood films and television. At the Hobbiton movie set in Matamata, tourists pour into the area for exactly the opposite reason: they want to step into the illusion of a film, walk around and stay there awhile.

Pure magic.

It may be the only location in history where fans can visit a dressed film set before the movie is released. The first of two films based on J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit is due to hit theaters almost exactly a year from now but at the smallish village found between Rotorua and Hamilton, the pastoral, fictional Middle-earth is definitely open for business. TheOneRing.net is pleased to have the opportunity to bring you the first images allowed from the now dormant set.

Visitors are allowed to take photos but are required to sign a non-disclosure agreement that prevents publication of the shots, including on the internet. Hundreds of thousands have visited the location since its use in LOTR a decade ago, but the re-dressed and re-finished set just used as the Hobbiton set for The Hobbit has been open again for a few weeks.

The Alexander family has owned and run the farm long before cinema showed up. Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy needed a pastoral setting to base its population of Hobbits and the grazing land for sheep had the essential elements. Besides rolling hills and scenic beauty, it had a body of water to function as a lake, a giant tree to serve as the backdrop for Bilbo's party and the required privacy to shoot a film.

The Alexander sheep farm provided all three. Patriarch Ian Alexander was famously watching a rugby match when location scouts knocked on his door; Lucky for them it was halftime or he might have not have answered. He was told only that they wanted to scout for a movie so he sent them off on the land with a promise to close all gates to keep the sheep from running wild; He had rugby to watch.

Six weeks later the production was back asking to use the farmland and after a period of figuring out what it was going to cost to interrupt the farm with built roads and massive logistical requirements, a deal was struck to turn part of the Alexanders' land into the mythical neighborhood of one Bilbo Baggins. The next day the army was on hand to prepare the farm for the motion picture trilogy and by that night, word reached the internet; Lips lossened by adult beverages were responsible, according to locals, and soon the media descended on a farm in a very rural area.

As part of my trip to NZ, I was invited to visit the set with some unique access to see just what film crews had been up to after recently getting the set perfect for The Hobbit. At my side was one of New Zealand's most read authors, Ian Brodie, who put together the Lord of the Rings Location Guide Book and got us to the set a couple of hours before the first of many caravans full of visitors. He promotes The Hobbiton Movie Set and Farms tours and is also a skilled photographer who is in the region regularly taking photos that do great credit to the New Zealand landscape. (You can see his work right here and he happens to be a great guy too.)

Stepping into the Hobbiton film set does genuinely create the illusion of stepping into a real yet fantastical place where it seems doors might open at any second and actual Hobbits might stride forward, pipes in place, looking for second breakfast. There are vivid but earthy tones on doors along with handles and windows and chimneys that are all recognizable to viewers of the LOTR films who remember grumpy hobbits disapproving of Gandalf, delighted ones watching his fireworks and all the rest with their enormous pigs and chickens and waxy ears.

But heading in early with Brodie and then entering the set again as a part of a tour, what makes the place unique and special and beloved, is the emotional experience the environment creates. It is difficult to have invested hours and hours reading about Hobbiton in J.R.R. Tolkien's works combined with a few shared screenings of Jackson's films (and for some, many more screenings than a few) and not feel a stirring when walking the grassy paths in person.

The part of a person that experiences art instantly recognizes the craftsmanship that made the hobbit facades happen. There are a lot of careful choices in details that enrich the experience from mailboxes to door knobs.

And the experience is much richer for the details. Hobbit holes come in two scales, providing the production a chance to shoot characters such as Gandalf in front of small holes, appropriate for hobbits, adding to his perceived height. (See a photo of me for reference). Around both sizes of rounded doors are all the movie props that inform the viewer, even on a sub-conscious level, about the person we want to believe lives inside. An axe or dried flowers or a broom or bottles in the window add significantly to the impression that the illusion is real.

Equally impressive are the greens works maintained by a team of gardeners, some of whom have been working there for years in preparation for The Hobbit. All parties involved are quick to sing the praises of Brian Massey as the head of the greens team. He is the mastermind who made concepts into reality but instead of working with paint and plaster, he uses living things.

Onion bulbs and blooming flowers and drinking cups all add to the emotional and visual depth on display. In short, it's what Hobbiton looks like on film but with all the details that never make it to the screen in a full surround environment with the scents and sounds that make it so much more authentic than a sound stage.

The obviously recognizable Baggins' residence is here as is the movie-ending home of Samwise Gamgee. But of course, the all-important details go beyond the "hero" holes and all are now built not with a few weeks of shooting in mind but having a long-term attraction for those who want to feel like they are stepping into a small piece of Middle-earth.

Not on the tour but clearly visible across the lake is a structure thought to be the Green Dragon; A place that will perhaps offer visitors a chance to find refreshment without leaving Middle-earth.

(MrCere, 5'9'', stands next to a small scale Hobbit hole on the Hobbit set in Matamata, New Zealand.)

The Alexander family still farms sheep and beef, but Russell Alexander, son of Ian, is now tasked with running a very popular tourist attraction that has given the local economy a significant boost. Alexander and Jackson's team have combined to put something in place that I believe is genuinely a landmark with long lasting appeal - far beyond the years surrounding the release of related movies.

The day I visited, Russell was watching and directing the near completion of a souvenir shop that will support what is termed "The Shires Rest", then serving as a cafe, a meeting spot for tours preparing to enter the farm or a place to relax. In our conversation, he stressed the need to consistently but gradually grow the services and offerings of his farm to tourists while retaining the appropriate experience. He hopes and believes the place will endure and add to the heritage of the Matamata region and New Zealand.

The town calls itself "Hobbiton" with a sign on its main business street and visitors can grab a shuttle there that delivers them to and from the farm. There is also parking for those who make their own way to the gateway of the film set, appropriately situated on, yes really, Buckland Road, a name that was around 100 years before a location scout ever turned up.

Tours can be booked and shuttles boarded from Rotorua and additional tourism packages are available at the Hobbiton website.

(This post was edited by Silverlode on Dec 12 2011, 8:35am)


Dec 12 2011, 7:04am

Post #2 of 16 (2026 views)
Gorgeous photos! [In reply to] Can't Post

And an excellent report.

Tolkien's Shire is my favorite location from the books, and Peter Jackson's Shire is my favorite location from the films.

It's simply a wonderful place to imagine existing.



Dec 12 2011, 7:07am

Post #3 of 16 (1988 views)
Beautiful! [In reply to] Can't Post

Thankyou so much Mr Cere. Wow, it looks wonderful. I'm just ging to have to go back to NZ and see all the places I missed this last time.

Forum Admin / Moderator

Dec 12 2011, 7:10am

Post #4 of 16 (1995 views)
Awesome! [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks for going down to New Zealand and putting in all the effort for us fans.

You rock MrCere! Cool


Dec 12 2011, 8:05am

Post #5 of 16 (1966 views)
Well done, can't wait to see it in person [In reply to] Can't Post

I may not be making it down there until November of next year, but I can't wait. I still remember the first time we drove into that area, you could tell from the surrounding hilly country we were near the Hobbiton area, it just naturally looks that way. So after getting out of the parking area and rounding the bend, there was Hobbiton, undressed, and yet unmistakable. I can't even imagine how magical it looks now with all the paint and floral decor and bits and pieces of set dressing.

And I love that there are Large scale and Small scale hobbit holes, too wonderful.

Peace, Love and Rock & Roll,

The orange stripey One

Cruise to Middle-earth


Dec 12 2011, 9:02am

Post #6 of 16 (1973 views)
Beautiful! [In reply to] Can't Post

I want to go there Smile

Tol Eressea

Dec 12 2011, 10:42am

Post #7 of 16 (2034 views)
This fills me with sadness and despair [In reply to] Can't Post

because I'm never, ever going to live there.

<3 Gandy, Raddy, Sharkey, Ally & Pally <3


Dec 12 2011, 1:25pm

Post #8 of 16 (1910 views)
OMG! Awesome!!! *represses scream at work* [In reply to] Can't Post

LOOOKIT WHAT YOU DID!!!! Oh cripes, MrCere... you got me bawling at work from overload! This is incredible!!!

Okay... gotta go read it iagan so I can plug my brain back in... omg..... omg....



I really need these new films to take me back to, and not re-introduce me to, that magical world.

TORn's Observations Lists
Unused Scenes


Dec 12 2011, 2:35pm

Post #9 of 16 (1870 views)
But where's the jacuzzi? [In reply to] Can't Post

Whoops, I don't think anyone would get that unless they watched Elijah and Robin Williams on Graham Norton's show a few weeks ago.

Nice to know Brian Massey is still working with the greenery department.


Dec 12 2011, 4:28pm

Post #10 of 16 (1841 views)
Why not? [In reply to] Can't Post

Never say never.


Superuser / Moderator

Dec 12 2011, 6:24pm

Post #11 of 16 (1849 views)
Quite right too. [In reply to] Can't Post

In Reply To

he sent them off on the land with a promise to close all gates to keep the sheep from running wild; He had rugby to watch.

A thoroughly sensible man, that one.


And Buckland Road? Seriously? The location was meant to be!

Celebrimbor: "Pretty rings..."
Dwarves: "Pretty rings..."
Men: "Pretty rings..."
Sauron: "Mine's better."

"Ah, how ironic, the addictive qualities of Sauronís master weapon led to its own destruction. Which just goes to show, kids - if you want two small and noble souls to succeed on a mission of dire importance... send an evil-minded b*****d with them too." - Gandalf's Diaries, final par, by Ufthak.

Ataahua's stories


Dec 12 2011, 8:43pm

Post #12 of 16 (1798 views)
Buckland was fun [In reply to] Can't Post

At the time I first went, they pointed that out, and then I replied "well, I live on Gondor and Buckland is just behind our block, with Elrond two blocks over and Shadowfax and Rivendell on the other side of town", and those names had been around since the mid 1960's.

It's clear I was always meant to be a Tolkien fan and that Matamata was meant to be the Shire.

Peace, Love and Rock & Roll,

The orange stripey One

Cruise to Middle-earth

Superuser / Moderator

Dec 12 2011, 9:13pm

Post #13 of 16 (1798 views)
There's a Moria Gate right on Nimrodel Stream [In reply to] Can't Post

at the top of the South Island - I saw the stream but didn't have the fitness to reach the Moria Gate limstone arch. Next time!

Celebrimbor: "Pretty rings..."
Dwarves: "Pretty rings..."
Men: "Pretty rings..."
Sauron: "Mine's better."

"Ah, how ironic, the addictive qualities of Sauronís master weapon led to its own destruction. Which just goes to show, kids - if you want two small and noble souls to succeed on a mission of dire importance... send an evil-minded b*****d with them too." - Gandalf's Diaries, final par, by Ufthak.

Ataahua's stories


Dec 13 2011, 12:16am

Post #14 of 16 (1769 views)
Anyone know.... [In reply to] Can't Post

where I can find a larger version of the top photograph, would love to have that as a desktop background :)


Dec 13 2011, 3:40am

Post #15 of 16 (1704 views)
try the front page? // [In reply to] Can't Post


Hobbit firster, Book firster.


Dec 13 2011, 4:45am

Post #16 of 16 (1768 views)
Beautiful photos! [In reply to] Can't Post

We need these in wallpaper size ASAP! Excellent article, MrCere. It's really great to have one of our own on the scene!


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