As I walked out of the theater after seeing The Return of the King, I was struck by a sudden, depressing thought: next winter, there will be no new movie. I had grown accustomed to my yearly dose of Frodo and the rest of the Fellowship. True, I could buy the DVDs with extended versions and tons of extras, but there would be no more events. No more late night first-see showings. No more cursing at Fandango because the site crashed when I tried to buy tickets for the all-day three-movie marathon. As with many Lord of the Rings fans, I was in withdrawal. But, a new exhibit has come along to meet the needs of the LOTR junkie.
The Lord of the Rings exhibit is showing at Boston's Museum of Science. It might seem like a strange fit to showcase fantasy films in a science museum, but the focus of the exhibit is on the technology behind the movies. Separate areas of the exhibit explain the 3-D Scanning that allowed for realistic computer graphics or the motion capture animation that transformed the actor Andy Serkis into Gollum. Each section of the exhibit was accompanied by several clips of interviews with the actors, director Peter Jackson, and members of the crew.
These stations were not merely informative, they were interactive. After reading about motion capture animation, you can grab a foam sword and shield and see an animated version of yourself in battle. Or, you can stand along the "Scaling Wall" where an ultrasonic sensor tells you, in a friendly female voice, which race in Middle-earth you'd belong to. I'm a girl elf, and the envy of all of my orc and dwarf friends, in case you were wondering.
Most interesting, and impressive, were some of the low-tech solutions that the filmmakers used. One of the main challenges in filming the LOTR was that, while the characters vary in size from three feet to thirty, human actors offer a far smaller range. To achieve the effect of size differential, the filmmakers used an array of tricks and strategies. Some scenes were shot twice, and the two pieces put together in a composite shot. Other times, they relied on the centuries old "trick" of forced perspective. For example, in one of the early scenes of The Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf and Frodo ride in a cart together. To make Ian McKellen seem much larger than Elijah Wood, a cart was built with one small bench towards the front on which McKellen sat, a larger one further back on which Wood sat, and, because of forced perspective, the two seem to be sitting side by side on the same bench. In less complex scenes, the actors playing the hobbits simply stood on their knees.
Alongside the explanations of technology were props and costumes from the films. The curators chose to present these as though they were real artifacts. Reading the text often felt like Middle Earth was not a fantasy, but a piece of our distant past. Looking on the shards of Nasril, felt like looking at a relic, not a prop. So, at the same time as you learn about the time and devotion that went into making the films, the story becomes more real. It's a tremendous effect.
Not the entire exhibit was so successful. The main disappointment was the ring itself. The one closed off section of the exhibit is a circular room. It is in almost complete darkness. The inscription of the ring spirals in light along the wall. In the center of the room is a cylinder of plastic with a light shining up into it. The ring, or, at least, a copy of the ring, sits suspended in the center of the tube. It's a bit of a let down.
But that was the only let down in an otherwise great exhibit. From swords to set drawings, from animation to armor, the exhibit covers it all. Even non-fans should be intrigued.
The show will be in Boston until October 24 th. If you are planning a visit, there are some special events coming up that might help you pick your date. For the aspiring editors amongst you, the assembly editor for Return of the King, Annie Collins, will give a lecture at 7:00 pm on October 1 st. Fight enthusiasts should visit on October 9 th, from 10:00 am to 4:30 pm, when combat choreographer Tony Wolf will lead a master class in fighting. On October 15 th and 16 th, Sean Astin (Sam) will visit the museum. Think Boston is too far to travel? The next stop on the tour for the exhibit is Australia, so plan accordingly.