SINGAPORE- J. R. R. Tolkien's beloved Middle-earth was brought to life by director Peter Jackson, thanks to the amazing landscapes of New Zealand in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy and last year's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
By choosing to film in his own backyard of Wellington, Jackson knew where to go to shoot some key scenes - one of them being the great barrel escape in The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug, opening here tomorrow.
In the sequel, hobbit protagonist Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) helps the dwarves escape from captivity by hiding them in wine barrels, which are then thrown down a log flume and into river rapids.
That scene was one of the most technically challenging ones to shoot, said Jackson at the international press conference last week at The Beverly Hilton.
Jackson shared how a family vacation to Lake Taupo when he was "nine or 10 years old" was so memorable that he knew exactly where to shoot part of the barrel scene.
"I was a big fan of (film-maker and special effects pioneer) Ray Harryhausen and was thinking how great it'd be for a Sinbad or some monster fight here," said Jackson, 52.
"So when we were talking about looking for a river where we could do the barrel scene, I immediately knew which river we could use. I've been saving this for 40-plus years!"
A small part of that barrel scene was transported to Los Angeles as part of The Book Of New Zealand exhibition.
Tourism New Zealand installed an enormous pop-up book about the size of two tennis courts, where four actual film sets were flown in from New Zealand and installed in The Beverly Hilton.
The four sets include the Lonely Mountain featuring the statue of dwarf king Thror, Thorin Oakenshield's (Richard Armitage) grandfather and Forest River complete with barrels and arrows.
Impressive as they were, they could not compete with the grandeur of Beorn's House with its intricate wall carvings and giant chair, and the life-size Lake-town, which was so meticulously created right down to the realistic-looking fake fish.
With Jackson and crew's attention to detail, it's no wonder The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey received an Oscar nomination for best production design. We bet more laurels will be doled out when The Hobbit trilogy comes to an end next year with The Hobbit: There And Back Again.
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