SPOILERS Report from DragonCon – Our own Ringgamer is tickled to meet John Rhys-Davies but has her Purist feathers ruffled by some surprises in the film

by Sep 6, 2001Events

DragonCon is an incredible conglomeration of just about every fandom that exists under the umbrella of sci-fi and fantasy. Goths mingle with stormtroopers, fairies flit about Klingons, gamers avoid the vampires (because gamers make good snacks at 3 am)…and amid the 24-hour chaos lies Middle-earth. The Tolkien track isn’t very big – yet. With FOTR coming out in December, everyone has high hopes that next year’s DragonCon Tolkien/Middle-Earth track will be much more fun and interesting. I only went to perhaps two or three events offered by the track, but then again, I had other fandoms to exploit as well.

My friends Taish and lizard and I sported the first-ever movie-replica costumes for Lord of the Rings on Saturday, day 2 of the con. Taish was a hastily-concocted Legolas, while lizard was Frodo and I was good ol’ Sam Gamgee. I spent months researching these costumes, and even though I knew I didn’t get Legolas’ jerkin right, I was pretty close. TheOneRing.Net wanted to see these costumes, and so did the people at the Sideshow/Weta booth. I had been by there earlier in Jedi robes just to look at the incredible figurines and busts they will be offering, and was told by the sculptor present that if we came by in our LOTR costumes, he’d let us take closeup pictures of the Legolas figurine and any others I wanted to get costume reference from. What a deal! However, when we went there to look for him, he was gone and wouldn’t be back in time to see the costumes. Yet, he did live up to his promise the next day and I got to talk shop with him for a while. I regret that I don’t know his name so I can thank him personally, but he was a great guy and very well informed about Weta’s work on this project.

We posed for a few pictures here and there, including in front of Decipher‘s huge display with movie photos, but it was clear that no one really knew who we were supposed to be – that is, unless they got a glimpse of the hairy hobbit feet. I assume that next year, or even in a month or two when publicity photos start to pop up everywhere in mundane sight, they will understand. Note to self, work out some kind of slipper next year, for the floors are cold and, in the stairwells, disgusting.

Still clad in costumes (except Frodo, who passed the Ring on to Sam) we dropped by the Tolkien track’s “Hobbit Madness” party, which was pretty low-key and lame. Michael Martinez, who runs the track, spotted us immediately and totally knew who we were, and said he thought we got the costumes right. I got a Glass Hammer CD out of it, so not too shabby. After chatting movie changes with Jincey from TORN and a few others, we ran upstairs to get in line for the TORN presentation in the main ballroom. The first 400 people were going to get special Gimli badges, or so Calisuri warned us earlier, so we made sure to get in line early. The Sansweet Star Wars production was just letting out, and a lot of people upon asking why we were in line, decided to get back into line to see the upcoming presentation. They packed that place out, the fire marshal closed the room at its 3000-member capacity! I got my badge and a few other promotional goodies (a flyer from Houghton Mifflin, sample cards from Decipher, etc) and plunked down in the second row, hoping Calisuri wouldn’t point out the only LOTR-themed costumes at the con. He didn’t.

I wish I would have taken notes during the presentation, because there were a few things that I didn’t already know that slipped out, and a couple of them rankled the purist in me. They said rather certainly that the Scouring of the Shire will only be seen in a dream sequence in the Mirror of Galadriel and that was it. There was direct confirmation that Gimli will take a whack at the Ring at the Council of Elrond and fail. I have temporarily forgotten the other stuff that bothered me, but if I remember it, I will hurry over to the messageboard and make note of it. Most of the pictures I had seen before, but not all of them: like the Balrog. It’s pretty much John Howe‘s Balrog, with a long, sinewy, T.Rex-like body and very long, whiplike tail, powerful taloned feet, and a longish neck. The head is crowned with forward-sweeping horns rather like ram’s horns, and the fangs on that sucker are huge! There were spots on the fully-rendered model that showed where the wings will go. It was concept stills, not actual footage from the movie, so there were no fire or shadow effects added to it yet. Another surprise (somewhat) were the pre-rendered stills of Gollum that snuck out briefly about a year ago, which was actually included in the ShoWest footage from early last year. TORN showed all the trailers as well as ShoWest up on the big screen, and there was a lot of cheering for most of the cast…although Liv got mixed reviews. The guys seemed to approve of her. Overall, the reception was fantastic. I was surprised at how many of these hardcore fangeeks didn’t know a thing about the production yet. Most of the crowd was seeing some of the information (cast, photos, locations, even trailers) for the first time.

I didn’t have much time or opportunity to do anything else Tolkien-related the rest of the weekend except for meeting John Rhys-Davies. I have to say he is the most kind, polite, and accommodating convention guest I have ever seen. He was only supposed to sign autographs Sunday morning for about an hour, and the organizers cut off the line at 75 people. Having been directed to the wrong room and arriving too late, Legolas and I sat down in the desperation line that was forming, people who hoped maybe Mr. Rhys-Davies could get through the 75 in time and sign a few extra for us in the hallway. He was running late, and when he passed by us and asked us what we were doing, I plaintively moaned, “They won’t let us in.” I don’t think it worked, but something got through to him, because after the hour was over and he’d only gotten through half the line, and most of the other standbys had left, one of the security folk came out of the room and told those of us still desperately hanging around that Mr. Rhys-Davies had said that we could come in and he would sign for every single one of us. Two and a half hours after he’d started, he finally got to me and Legolas at the end of the line, and graciously signed the page of a friend’s LOTR book I had brought as well as posed for pictures. He’s a bit of a flirt, and tried to tickle me! And then he kissed me on the top of my head. Boy, do I hope someone got a picture of that. He was very kind and friendly, and answered all of our questions. Treebeard’s lines, he said, have not been recorded yet because they’re still working on how to sync his speech to the models, since Treebeard talks so sloooooow. He’s been developing the voice, though. And, when we asked about the Fellowship tattoo, he admitted that there are nine walkers who have it – but he’s not one of them! He’s “not a tattoo person,” so he let his stunt double get the tattoo in his stead. And he’s still not sure whether Sean Bean‘s been tracked down yet.

He spoke several times during the weekend, but I only was able to make it to one presentation, Monday afternoon as things were winding down, squashed into the tiny Tolkien-track room downstairs. After waxing philosophical for half an hour on the future and medical advances, Mr. Rhys-Davies fielded a few questions, providing us with one of his Dwarvish lines (but no translation) and a pretty good performance. He spoke long about Orlando Bloom, declaring with certainty that that young man is going to go places, and told stories about Viggo Mortensen‘s dedication to the character. The fact that Viggo slept in his costume wasn’t so much eccentricity or method acting as it was convenience, or so he claimed. John Rhys-Davies also mentioned that they discovered early on that he was allergic to the prosthetics, so he could only put them on and work about every third day. The first week, it burned off the skin under his eyes. Someone asked about his perspective on the dwarf-elf relationship, and he lapsed into Gimli for about five minutes, purring in this rough, rogueish burr that had a slight Scots tang to it about how flighty and untrustworthy elves were, “…until you get to know them. And oh! When you see their Queen…” He trailed off wistfully, and winked, and everyone applauded.

My hopes for next year are not only for a more exciting, interesting, and involved track of panels, dealing with books, movies, games, and more, but for more guests. Unfortunately, most of the people we’d all like to see at a convention are working actors who will probably all be in the middle of their next project next September, and thus unable to make it. Still, it’s this con-goer’s hope and plea that next year, we get the chance to meet perhaps Elijah Wood, Orlando Bloom, even Sir Ian McKellen. And I’m sure we’ll see lots of Nazgul, orcs, elves, and hobbits prowling the lobby alongside the stormtroopers and Batmen. At least, we will if I have anything to say about it…


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