Monday, March 25, 2013

Update from our Austrian friends

Recently I received an email from Astrid who visited us in 2011. Astrid is a member of the Austrian Tyrol Tolkien Smial, and some of you may remember that she joined us for a meeting in December 2011, together with Peter Kenny from the Brisbane Tolkien Fellowship.

She has blogged about her experiences in New Zealand, including her time at the Welly-moot. Their blog is mostly in German, but she has graciously translated the relevant pages into English for us.

For her New Zealand experiences, read here.

For her Welly-moot evening, start here.

Astrid is considering coming back for another visit in the future - I think she should come back for December 2014, the release month of the LAST Hobbit movie. It should be a fantastic month!

  - Jack

Monday, February 25, 2013

Welly-moot 2.1 (Feb 24, 2013) - All about Tolkien

A great meeting on Sunday - an almost record number of people turned up - 19 in all! Especially good since we hadn't done anything other than announced it on this blog (which automatically posts to Twitter, Facebook and Google+). So, apparently you guys are all watching then! Always good to know!

The meeting started with a welcome message from me to the first Welly-moot of 2013.

From far left/top, clockwise - new member Annabel; Charlene; Miranda; new member Elliot; Wayne; new member Karena; Kris; Jenifer; (and in front, backs turned) Alex; Kumi, new member Ben, and Mervi

We have several new guests; Annabel and Elliot joined us today - I met both of them a week before, at the Weta Cave while I was showing a group around on a tour. Annabel is a jewelery designer who has created some beautiful pieces for her Doctor Who passion, as well as recently a badge for Weta Workshop's Doctor Grordbort Range. Elliot is currently studying digital animation and SFX, among other things.

I had handed Annabel a Welly-moot card in the hope they might both make it for the moot, so that went well! What I hadn't anticipated was that she liked our logo so much she made a badge out of it!

Welly-moot Bronze Lapel Pin
I will talk to Annabel further about this - I'm very keen to be able to offer our members the chance to buy this - you'll be supporting a very talented artist! Can everyone drop me a message if you're keen on buying a badge - they'll be in the vicinity of $10-$20 each, depending on final design and number of orders, I suspect.

Ben also attended for the first time, he's from Christchurch originally, and has decided to make Wellington his new home. Ben has also done some papers with Corey Olsen, aka the Tolkien Professor, so it sounds like we have another hardcore Tolkien fan!

Finally, Karena also joined us, from France. Karena had been on a tour with me the day before, and had taken me up on my invitation. I suspect Karena won't join us again since she's only in NZ for a short time, but it was very nice to have you with us, all the same!

Also with us for her last meeting was Mervi, who will have to return to Finland again shortly, after her extended stay in New Zealand. We will all be very sad to see her go, but at least she has another Tolkien group to return to - Suomen Tolkien-seura Kontu ry. Mervi gave me a present from her group - a beautiful T-shirt with "Hobbit" written in Suomi and in Runes. Thank you - I shall wear it with pride!

From far left/top, counterclockwise - Ryan; Jenifer; Kris; (in front) Karena; Wayne; Elliot; Miranda; Charlene; Annabel; Martyn; Mervi; Ben; Kumi; Alex. The empty seat is mine (-Jack). Missing here are Adam, who was getting another coffee; and Hawk and Annabel's two girls (separate table - their discussion was about whether boys can wear tutus or not).

Next on the agenda was to discuss the two projects we're currently working on - the naming of Mount Tolkien is awaiting me to write a letter to the Geographic Board to let them know of the Tolkien Society's support for the proposal. I shall finish that by next moot, so an update on that then.

The big project is still the Stone Troll project out by Rivendell in the Upper Hutt Kaitoke Regional Park. We're referring to the beastie as Riventroll. Currently we're spending an astounding number of hours into filling in an Arts Council Grant application form, and that should all be done (and handed in!) by the end of this week. After that, we can relax a little!

Finally then, we got onto the main theme for the day - "It’s All about Professor Tolkien". Kris brought some beautiful books and introduced the drawings and pictures by Professor Tolkien and shared them with the group. Hobbiton, Rivendell, the Eagles, Smaug the Dragon, and the Lonely Mountain all were drawn by Tolkien. Kris also had a lovely postcard from a valley in Switzerland that looked remarkably like Rivendell. Apparently Tolkien had stayed in the valley, and the inspiration does seem to match. It also looked very much like Ted Nasmith's version of Rivendell.

It was also remarked by a few people that the Lonely Mountain looked somewhat like Mount Taranaki in New Zealand's North Island.

The discussion went to Tolkien's languages, and how it all begun with his love for them. There are some noted similarities between Quenya and the Finnish tongue, as well as between Sindarin and the Welsh language. We consulted with our resident Welshman, Martyn on this, and with our Fin Mervi.

A quick poll was taken also - had everyone read LOTR and Hobbit? Of the 16 adults, 15 had read The Hobbit, and 12 had read LOTR. I thought we'd also asked Silmarillion readers but I can't find the statistic for that right now.

As we rounded the afternoon's discussion off, Kris wanted to know if anyone had ideas for future meetings. Here are a couple:

  • Tolkien's short stories
  • Tolkien's theology (and his academic writings)
  • Middle-earth cuisine

Please let us know any other ideas you may have.

That concluded the first meeting for 2013 - if this one was anything to go by, it should be a cracker year!

  - Jack

Monday, February 18, 2013

Welly-moot 2.1 (Feb. 24, 2013) - It's All About The Professor

This week's meeting will be whatever we each make it. Bring something to show or tell that you admire or enjoy about Professor Tolkien;  his writings, his art, his life's story. There was something special about this man that has made "The Lord of the Rings" the world's most beloved book. What is at the top of your list?

To start us off, here is a recently published group of photographs of the Professor and his wife, Edith. It's a peek into an English academic life where books and growing things had equal value, it seems.

Thinking ahead, please bring your ideas for our next meetings - things you've been wanting to discuss.

See you Sunday at 2:00 at the Embassy Cinema upstairs cafe.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Welly-moot dates for 2013 - note them in your calendar!

Time is creeping up on us! The first meeting of 2013 approaches already, and we haven't even announced the dates yet! So, let's do that right now.

Since last year's the dates seemed to suit most people most of the time, we're just going to stick to the same basic schedule as before - every last Sunday of the even-numbered months, at 2:00pm at the Embassy Cinema.

This year's schedule is as follows:

  • Welly-moot 2.1 - February 24th, 2:00pm at the Embassy Cinema
  • Welly-moot 2.2 - April 28th, 2:00pm at the Embassy Cinema
  • Welly-moot 2.3 - July 14th, 2:00pm at the Embassy Cinema(*)
  • Welly-moot 2.4 - August 25th, 2:00pm at the Embassy Cinema
  • Welly-moot 2.5 - October 27th, 2:00pm at the Embassy Cinema
  • Welly-moot 2.6 - December 29th, 2:00pm at the Embassy Cinema
The meeting themes will be announced separately, before every meeting.

(*) Meeting 2.3 is not on the usual schedule, since we'll be overseas for our holiday on the last Sunday of June.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Welly-moot 1.6 (Dec 29, 2012) - International Lunch

For Welly-moot 1.6, the last meeting of 2021, we enjoyed a shared international lunch at Jack & Alex’s place. We had asked for members to bring food from their own countries, and so, the yummy meals and desserts came from seven different nationalities. A big thank you to everyone who brought nice meals, especially thanks to Noei who brought three different Thai meals and thanks to Alex for preparing and organising this occasion.

A selection of the food. All of it was great!

We enjoyed the meal as much as the discussion on “Hobbit: Unexpected Journey”. Noei has seen the movie the most times, five times both in 2D and 3D formats. She gave us her views, and we talked about the difference between 2D and 3D, and 24fps and 48fps.

Comparing the story of The Hobbit movie with the original book, we were impressed and enjoyed Sir Peter Jackson’s Hobbit. The original story is of course only a single book, and aimed at children. Peter Jackson has expanded the story by inserted some characters into the mix, like Radagast the Brown, who is not in the original Hobbit book (but is in LOTR). We were also surprised at how rabbits were so useful for escaping from Wargs...

We went around the room for everyone’s favourite characters. Thorin, Gollum, Gandalf, Balin, Nori, Kili, or even “all of them” were mentioned. Unlike in the book, all of Jackson’s thirteen Dwarves have distinct characters and their hair styles and faces are well-designed, and easy to distinguish from one another. One comment came back - the ladies like Thorin (Richard Armitage) because he is good looking, of course :)

(Most of) the group - Counter-clockwise starting at Bilbo (yes, we listened to the soundtrack) - Hanne, Warren, Kris, Noei, Ryan, Jennifer, Hawk, Mrs & Mr Rasmussen, Heike, and Jack. Missing: Alex (photographer), Erika (getting more food, probably)

Both Heike and Alex mentioned the scene where Bilbo encounters Gollum for the first time in the cave, where Gollum is talking to himself and tells himself to “Shut up”. The group really liked Andy Serkis’ performance of Gollum. Gollum looks younger, and is both more evil but also more childlike at the same time. Andy Serkis (and the digital team behind him!) did a great job of the physical and virtual performance of Gollum.

Lastly, we discussed our expectations for the second Hobbit movie - The Desolation of Smaug. Some of the Welly-moot’s members are Extras in the Hobbit movies, and they are expecting they will be in next movie. One of the most anticipated creatures is Smaug. We can’t wait to see more of him, and expect that we will finally see the whole Smaug in action!

Plans for the group in 2013

We will gather as usual every two months. The first meeting will be on 24 February 2013. We will keep informed in this website (and via the usual Facebook and Twitter etc).

The big project this year will be “Riventroll”. We will set up a separate website for this project and start fundraising in 2013. We will keep everyone informed.

The other project we’re going to try and get involved in is the “Mount Tolkien” project that was begun by Aaron Nicholson from Manapouri in Southland. The group is right behind him in his efforts to honour Tolkien with his own New Zealand mountain. The mountain is currently (officially) unnamed, so this is not before its time!

Two minor but significant events this year - the DVD/Blu-ray release of “Hobbit 1” will be along shortly, and hopefully there will be Extended Releases, like LOTR’s.

And of course December 2013 will be another Hobbit Release month, so there will be lots of excitement again for that. Stay updated by following the blog, our the Facebook, or the Twitter feed. Subscribe so the information comes to you and you don’t have to go searching for it every time.

2012 - the year in (brief) review

The year 2012 has been extremely successful year for Welly-moot. It was our first official year. It was the year we became officially affiliated with the UK’s Tolkien Society. We now have official T-shirts, a Welly-moot banner, the committee members have business cards, and there's even a rubber stamp!

We had 6 great meetings, hosted some fantastic guests, and discussed Tolkienish background information. We lined up for Premiere Tickets, almost missed out, got saved by Sir Peter Jackson himself, then attended the Hobbit Premiere, had the World’s Best Ever Second Breakfast on a Red Carpet, and finally watched the world’s first showing of The Hobbit movie.

We have been visited by other Tolkien Society members from overseas groups, as well as individuals who were previously not part of any other Tolkien groups.

So a great big “Thank You” to all the great members of Welly-moot who made it all happen this past year, with all your good conversation, your amazing knowledge, and all your unbridled enthusiasm!

Also a big “Thank You” also to all our friends, our wonderful visitors, and to all the organisations who helped when we needed a hand, with a special thank you going out to Sarah Meikle and Helen Player from Absolutely Wellington Tourism, for all their help in getting us into the first screening of the movie, and for providing all those goodies, both on the red carpet, as well as at the Cinema later.

And of course to Sir Peter, Matt Dravitzki, and the entire team for taking us to Middle-earth one more time!

Now let 2013 begin!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Welly-moot 1.6 : The Hobbit 1 - An Unexpected Journey

By now I expect that most (if not all!) of us have seen the new movie - I hope you all enjoyed it as much as we did. Personally, I can't wait for the next installment, although I guess we'll have to. :)

Currently I'm sure you've all had the same problem as me - there's a bit of a transitionary period between my first viewing, and that of a lot of people I've spoken to who haven't yet seen it. I keep having to bite my tongue and not talk in too many spoilers!

The next Welly-moot is coming, and due to my work commitments, I've changed the date from the usual Sunday (30th of December) to the Saturday before (29th of December). I thought it might be nice to go into the meeting not having to worry about that, so we can all discuss the movie to our heart's contents.

The start time has also changed for this meeting - we'd like people to come at 1:00pm (instead of the usual 2:00pm).

Finally, since a number of our members are only in New Zealand for a limited time, and may have missed a "proper" Christmas get-together, we thought we would offer our home for this meeting.

NB - Not the Embassy Cinema this meeting!

As such, we would like to keep control of how many people are coming, so if you could drop me a quick line with approx numbers, that would simplify things hugely. My email address is

We would like to make it a similar event as our Second Breakfast event at the red carpet premiere, so I'm asking everyone to "bring another plate" please. That seemed to work exceedingly well, and I think everyone enjoyed that on November 28th!

What we would like people to bring though, is something home-made. Perhaps something traditional from your home-country? We will make it an International Lunch!

So, the details:

  • Where : Our home. Details via RSVP (email me)
  • When : 1:00pm, Saturday, December 29, 2012
  • What : International Lunch, bring-a-plate (home made/cooked/baked please!)

So, email me, and I'll give you the address to come to!

  - Jack

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Review: The Hobbit 1 - An Unexpected Journey

Bragging rights: it's now the evening of the day of the release of the first Hobbit movie, and I've seen the movie twice already. I cheated - I somehow managed to get red-carpet tickets last week and watched it in 24fps already. Last night though (or more accurately, early early this morning at 12:01am), I watched The Hobbit 1 - An Unexpected Journey in (almost) all it's glory - 3D, 48fps, and ATMOS sound system, at the theatre where it opened last week, the Embassy Cinema in Wellington (the only technical format missing was IMAX, which isn't available in Wellington).

Before I start my review though, I should point out a few biases of mine - a full disclosure, if you like. On the Tolkien front, I read the Hobbit when I was a teenager. Personally, I don't mind a few changes from one medium to another. The LOTR movies deviated from the books in significant ways, and I, for one, am glad of them. I actually hope The Hobbit movie will be different from the books as well, in more than a few places.

To film a book exactly like a movie will always be impossible, and so film makers are faced with either making a movie closer to the book (and upset movie fans), or making a better movie (and upsetting book fans). Given the choice, I'd far rather see a better movie than a faithful movie. I don't particularly have any problem reading a book after seeing a movie, and seeing where the movie came from.

Now, I say that as one of the founding members of this New Zealand Tolkien fellowship. Some changes are warranted. That doesn't mean that I think the professor was wrong, just that he wasn't a script writer.

Next admission - I hate 3D movies. If you've been paying attention to my NZ Noldor blog over the years, this shouldn't come as a shock. I have yet to see a 3D movie where the 3D aspects of it weren't just designed to try and impress me. I'm totally fed up with the old "throw stuff at the camera, that will be cool" school of 3D movies. In the opening scenes from Avatar 3D, it was very quickly obvious that the setting of the movie was designed to show off the awesome effects, and James Cameron lost me as a fan the moment that 3D blob of water was floating in mid-space. It was a cool effect, sure, but how was that part of any story?

On a related note, I walked out of Avatar with the biggest headache I've had in the last 10 years. I don't think that's an overstatement, either. It wasn't particularly entertaining, and I haven't watched Avatar again since the first time (on yet another unrelated note, I have since watched Fern Gully again).

Ok, that all said, let me start by stating that I LOVED this movie. I used to judge how good a movie was by what was in it - I don't do that anymore. I prefer to judge it by how it makes me feel. The Hobbit had me sitting there mesmerised by the beauty of the landscapes, even as the film's story danced around the one in the book. Tolkien's Hobbit book was never more than a children's story, and as such skimmed over or even skipped entire events that must reasonably have happened. The book works as a children's book, precisely because of that. Some of the book's sections are silly and whimsical and fun, and would have made the movie unbelievable.

In the first chapter of the book, we are told that the thirteen dwarves show up to Bilbo's door. This troupe of dwarves have apparently lost all their belongings, and are now wandering around Middle-earth in search of a good burglar. Their temporary home is far away, and their quest will bring them across many miles of wildlands, woodlands, rivers, and mountains. Are we seriously expected to believe that they would bring an orchestra's worth of musical intruments to this great trek? Two fiddles, three flutes, a drum, two clarinets, two viols "as big as [Dwalin and Balin] themselves", while Thorin himself apparently goes to war carrying a golden harp. The Misty Mountains song in the book isn't set to specific music, but what Howard Shore has done with it, had the hairs in my neck stand on end. No instruments were used in the movie but it worked much better.

Other things were also removed - the talking purse belonging to one of the trolls for instance. I had hopes that their names would also be changed from the uber-english Bert, William and Tom, but Peter Jackson has made it work, by giving them uber-english villain characters, even more so than Tolkien himself did. It may be cliched but it works. The problem of three big, noisy, bumbling trolls somehow sneaking up on 13 cautious and suspicious dwarves has been resolved by taking the problem seriously, something Tolkien didn't have to do in the child's book.

Throughout the movie, there are extra incidents and other seemingly superfluous additions to the book's plot, all designed to bring the Hobbit movie into line with LOTR. I think it will give the final series, once completed, a more coherent feel, which is totally lacking in the reading of LOTR after reading The Hobbit.

I won't go into the plot details too much, to avoid too many possible spoilers, but overall I have to say I was thoroughly entertained by the story, and also by how much extra story I was being told. A lot of this story is straight from Tolkien's other works, with some embellishments and dramatisations.

I predict that Peter Jackson's Hobbit will work precisely because of this. His inventions are relatively minor, but he manages to do what Tolkien never finished - to create a version of the Bilbo's story aimed squarely at an older audience.

I briefly wanted to mention the new technologies behind the story. I mentioned my dislike of 3D as a story-telling tool. So far I've not seen any movie that has used it as a secondary device after "plot". There have been many other 3D movies, and although I've not seen most of them, none appear to have resisted the urge to simply throw stuff at the audience. Peter Jackson tells us a good story first and foremost, and uses 3D as one of many different tools. The 3D I saw last night was subtle in some places and understated impressive in others. The 3D rain was a thing of beauty - it made all other movie rain seem fake. The rain was all around the characters, and it felt more real than anything I've seen before.

One other nice 3D device was the subtitles - when more than one character was speaking in non-english, the subtitles were brought back further depending on who had been speaking. This worked so intuitively that nobody I spoke to had even noticed it.

The other new thing of course, is the higher frame rate of 48 frames per second. To achieve this, the Embassy has had new projectors installed a few weeks ago, capable of brighter projections, and at higher framerates. Obviously a huge screen like the one at the Embassy needs a fair amount of energy to get the best results, and last night the movie was hair-sharp, and incredibly easy on my eyes at least.

One previous issue I had about 3D movies is the level of darkness. Essentially, you're sitting in a dark room with sunglasses on. This can cause eye-strain, which in my case has lead to massive headaches. However, with the new brighter projection at twice the framerates, coupled with what seemed to me to be lighter shaded glasses, this appears to have been solved. I watched the movie last night at 48fps, and I felt I could easily have watched it again straight away, with no ill effects.

The common complaint I keep reading online about the 48fps is that it looks "too real". I can't quite understand this - how can this possibly be a bad thing? Yes, it looked "realer" than anything I've ever seen on a big screen, and I loved it! Surely that's the point of going to the cinema? If I had to make a prediction, I'd say that 48fps is here to stay. We will all get used to it, and in ten years time we won't be worrying about frame rates, motion blurs, and other problems long-since solved and forgotten.

Having seen the Hobbit in both 24fps and 48fps formats, I can confirm that the higher fps was far easier on the eye, especially in the panning landscape scenes, and the fast chase sequences. During the Goblin Mines sequence it was far easier to get a sense of what was happening, and I had a better chance to look around the huge caverns and see more detail. As Peter Jackson is so fond of reassuring us, 48fps is a more submersive technology - it really takes you down there as an active participant, something which I did not expect to happen but did.

If I have any complains, it's this - The Hobbit wasn't long enough. The movie seemed all-action, all-of-the-time. There was little time to relax. The LOTR's plot took us to Rivendell and we relaxed when Frodo slept, and slowly the Council scene got us back into recovery mode. There was no such reprieve during The Hobbit - the conflict merely chances from Dwarf vs Orc, to Dwarf vs Elf, and then to Dwarf vs Goblins, and back to Dwarf vs Orcs again. I'm really hoping the extended editions (as promised by Peter Jackson during this year's San Diego's ComicCon) will address this. As a long time "marathoner", I would like to be able to watch The Hobbit as a whole story in a single day as well. The way it stands, it might be too much of a good thing if all three parts move as fast as this one. There's plenty of time for pausing every so often - but I guess there's so much story to tell we can't afford that luxury in this Cinema Edition. Bring on the 4 hour versions, I say! :)

All in all this movie is a very worthy addition to the Middle-earth saga. The dream-team was brought back together - the same scriptwriters, director, special effects houses, and the same actors as much as possible. The results are obvious, and impressive.

I think The Hobbit 1 - An Unexpected Journey will stand the test of time, like LOTR has done. I can't wait for the blu-Ray box set, I guess around Christmas 2014 or so.

In the meantime, I think I'll go see it again at the cinema, in 48fps again. For the third time in two weeks.

  - Jack Machiela