When 19th century aristocrats forayed out on the Grand Tour, their travels focused on the architectural and artistic wonders of the ancient world. Like the dandies and dilettantes of old, we can’t wait to roam the ruins of Ephesus and gaze out over the desolation that once was Carthage (Hannibal is one of Dax’s favorite historical studs). Our global journey will go a step further, however, and also include some uniquely 20th/21st century: movie sets. While in Japan a few years ago, we visited a Samurai film studio and got to witness the making of what has surely become a modern-day masterpiece. This was not the first time the kids had been behind the camera. They spent six years living in a virtual TV/movie set in Santa Monica and were accustomed to bumping into celebrities at the grocery store. What excites them now more than stargazing (which never really impressed them) is traveling to locations around the world where some of their favorite films were set.
The first film location on our itinerary was the setting for the Hobbiton in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Kiwi born director Peter Jackson originally scouted many of his 150+ New Zealand locations by helicopter. He had planned on using three different settings to form the Hobbiton but recognized all the features he needed, including the Party Tree, on a single sheep farm outside the small town of Matamata. The owner had never heard of the Lord of the Rings books but signed a contract allowing use of his property and agreed to extensive security and confidentiality measures. Jackson lived on site in a virtual production city for a number of months during shooting in 1999. Once production was complete the contract dictated that the sets would be destroyed, but New Line made some concessions and allowed the farmer to recreate some of the critical features, including Hobbit holes, albeit in altered format.
Though tours run constantly through the area, it is still a working sheep farm. If you have experience with sheep, or any farm animals for that matter, you know that they are prolific poopers. Though Kieran and Asher have seen the Lord of the Rings movies and like them, they couldn’t focus on anything the guide had to say; there were simply too many sheep droppings to leap over, stomp on, and giggle about. Fortunately, the owners expect their guests to make a few missteps (the poop is EVERYWHERE), and provide nifty circular brushes for shoe cleaning. After a chilly hour walking the grounds, we headed back to the rolling terd (aka the campervan), which was a little worse for the wear after its time in Matamata. But I’ll let Tom tell you about that.
Other sites we plan on visiting are the ancient building that featured prominently in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in China, and the Tunisian town of Tataouine and its environs, where many of the Star Wars movies were filmed. And who knows, if we can get our act together and get some consistent internet access, we might just be publishing a few cinematic masterpieces of our own in the coming months!