by Nov 14, 2003Essays


On Saturday 8th November, I met up with 27 other fans from Tolkien Online, who all live in the London area for a day of hardcore LOTR geekiness and fun !!

First on the list was much needed sustenance, in the form of alcohol and good London Pub-grub, and to that end, we all met up at the Zetland Arms in South Kensington for lunch, as only a London pub can provide !! Everyone seemed to find the pub with not too much trouble, ( except for one person who managed to get themselves off the tube at High St. Kensington instead of South Kensington….ooops ! )

After many greetings between people who had met each other before, and a few drinks and lunch, we all set off for the long, dark tunnel leading from the tube station to the museums in Brompton Rd.

The Exhibition was upstairs from the main entrance hall, so nothing daunted we all trooped upstairs, half expecting to meet the odd orc or Ringwraith on the way….thankfully the orcs were obviously being kept under strict control this day, for our benefit, and the only Ringwraith we saw was on a mug on the way in !!

The booking system used by the museum showed its worth here, as the queue to get in was really minimal, ( and this was at 1.30pm on a Saturday )…so we had to queue for about five minutes really, which was entirely acceptable, in my view…

Inside, the Exhibition was suitably dark and atmospheric, and the layout means that you can wander around from exhibit to exhibit in any order you wish, and again the booking system showed its worth, as, while there were plenty of people in the room, there weren’t TOO many, which meant that you could see everything with relative ease, and stay as long as you needed to at each one…the room was busy, but by no means absolutely packed – again, no mean feat on a Saturday afternoon !!

The exhibits are expanded upon by means of video screens which are interactive, to the extent that you can pick from a list of up to five short features on the menu pages, and you can stay and watch each one in turn without feeling that you have outstayed your welcome and must move on to let other people see… everyone was able to watch the screens quite easily, and the featured short films didn’t seem, to me anyway, to be ones that we’d seen before on the Extended FOTR DVD…( whether they’ll turn up on the TTT DVD will remain to be seen )…so plenty of new material to watch here then..

The exhibits themselves were the stars of the show…there’s no doubt about it…the stuff on show here really brought home the sheer attention to detail, and the absolute love for the subject, displayed by P J and his extensive team…from the breath-taking sight of Sauron in his full, and very spiky, armour, raising his arm threateningly, against the fiery backdrop of Mount Doom, via the most beautiful of Arwen’s dresses, down to the lowliest little orc spoon, the artifacts on show here looked for all the world as if they’d just come out of the British Museum, and were thousands of years old, and all were dirty, damaged and scarred from years of use…the wear and tear etched into everything, giving it all such a genuine patina of age, that you really DO forget that all this was created a few years ago, just for a film…


The costumes on show here were absolutely breath-takingly beautiful, and executed from the best quality fabrics available at the time, a good precaution on the part of Ngila Dickson and her team, as the better quality the fabric, the longer the garment will last, the more hard-wearing it will be, and the quality, or lack of it will show up on screen, no matter what…they didn’t have polyester in Middle Earth, so none of it should show up here, and to my relief, it didn’t appear once !! Highlights were definitely Arwen’s gorgeous blue-grey velvet gown with the sleeves that trail down to the ground, and also her blue-grey ( a favourite Elf-colour ) riding dress, which was actually made of the finest, softest suede, ( whoever guessed that from the movie ? ) and here was the strangest thing…one of our party observed that the hem of this dress was stained from the mud, but the matching boots, however, were spotless !!! The other dress of particular note was Galadriel’s exquisite creamy-white beaded dress that she wears in the Mirror of Galadriel scene with Frodo…absolutelu gorgeous !
Accompanied occasionally by the original drawings, ( which, as a person with a fashion design background, I must confess, I would have loved to see more of ) these costumes all looked as fragile as if they were centuries old, ( which, as we all know, they really are !!!) and looked as if they belonged in the costume court of the V & A next door…

Gandalf’s robes and his hat, ofcourse, were there, alongside a TV screen showing short films of Ian McKellan talking about getting into the part of Gandalf, and his whole time working on the films…also on show here was a showcase with a tableau of possessions, including his beloved pipe, a pouch of pipeweed, his waterbottle, staff, and various bits and pieces that Gandalf carries around with him, all arranged around old manuscripts and books, and looking a little dusty !

There was a whole exhibit concerned with the representation of the Shire, mainly centred around the TV monitor showing clips of Elijah Wood talking about being a Hobbit, and other films showing the development of the Shire and how the Hobbitholes were mapped into the landscape…( this looked very familiar from the FOTR Extended DVD ) Alongside this was Frodo’s costume that he wears when he sets off on his quest, only this isn’t the one worn by Elijah Wood – oh no – this is the mini-me version worn by Kiran, Elijah’s body double for the scale SFX…and it is TINY !!! It looks like a costume for a seven-year old, perfect in every way…Also on show here was the mithril vest given to Frodo, by Bilbo, in Rivendell, and responsible for saving his life in the Mines of Moria – a beautifully executed little chain-mail tunic with its ornate neckline of silvery ambroidery, looking hundreds of years old, a little tarnished and worse for wear…Next to this was a glass case with Sting, Frodo’s sword, also given to him by good old Bilbo, and the starglass given to him by Galadriel in Lothlorien, ( which will be coming into its own in the next movie )
The case on the end was a gem..here was Sam’s backpack, with all its attendant pots, pans, spoons and other accoutrements, right next to an identical but scaled down version of the same backpack, absolutely accurate in every detail but size…magic!!! Also they showed samples of two pieces of the cloth used for Frodo’s jacket with its herringbone weave, one at full size, used for Elijah’s costume, and the other with its scaled down weave pattern for Kiran’s costume…as I said, attention to detail wanted for nothing on this film…


The various full-scale suits of armour around the room were showing all the various races and nations in their full war regalia…including the Southrons very Bedouin-like costume and various versions of orc armour, looking absolutely disgustingly dirty, tatty, and cobbled together from other bits and pieces…Marvellous !!!
The best was undoubtedly the full-size model of Sauron in his ornately chased and very spiky armour, looking absolutely reptilean in its overlapping plates with hooked spikes all down the front and sides, complete with that amazing helmet…someone in our group – Helen, I think – remarked that maybe this armour was more about keeping the essence of Sauron contained within it, rather than protection for its wearer…an interesting observation….

All the main swords were here, including Glamdring, and, of course, the broken shards of Narsil, lying on their blue-grey silk…
Most interesting was the metalwork that accompanied the Ringwraiths…there were the nine crowns worn by the nine kings of Men, all different, which we admitted we hadn’t even noticed in the movie, alongside the sword wielded by the Witchking, who stabbed poor Frodo at Weathertop…this looked like a truly mean piece of hardware, all dark pewter-like metal, with an uncomfortably uneven and notched-from-use blade…you just know that a strike from this would be very nasty indeed …Just nearby was a very, very tall Ringwraith, all black layers of torn cloth, and, of course, with NO FACE..a better rendition of the Grim Reaper you couldn’t imagine…which is why we all love them, of course – this IS their charm !!!

The other weaponry that was extremely interesting, of course, was all the Elvish equipment…here was Legolas’s full costume ( the tunic of the finest suede, or at least it looked like it !) and his beautiful bow and arrow quiver, all of wrought leather with gold overlaid decoration…the bow looked as if it was perfectly balanced, which makes sense as Orlando did have to actually use it…no just-for-show item this…other weapons here included Elvish daggers and knives, and a truly beautiful engraved glave, up on the top of the weapon-showcase, and so possibly missed…next to this little lot was a case with Elrond’s accoutrements in, including his telescope, which didn’t seem to need any barrel to encase it and keep out stray light, just an ornate framework holding two lenses at one end and a rather larger lens at the other…fascinating how the Elves seem to be able to bend the laws of Physics amongst other things !!! ( But hey, they’re Elves…who knows what they’re capable of ??? )


There were several pieces of notable jewellery here, including Galadriel’s Ring of Power, Nenya, along side her coronet of finely wrought gold metal, and her belt buckle and necklace…and along side that was Celeborn’s jewellery displayed likewise, next to his beautiful robes, which, although they look quite blue-grey in the film, are, in fact, quite beige in colour…

The Rings of Power belonging to the Ringwraiths are held in a case along with their nine Rings for the Kings of Men, and No, we didn’t know that they had two different sets either !!! These looked like they were made of Indian silver, inset with carnelians, very, very old and worn, carved with a spiky design – quite beautiful really…

And, of course, not forgetting the most important piece of jewellery of all – the centre of the room was dominated by a circular chamber, all dark inside. All around the outside was a frieze of photographs of various characters who came into contact with the Ring, during the course of the story, overlaid with quotes from each of them, concerning their attitude to the Ring and how they were affected by it…this served to underline the importance and significance of it, and left you in no doubt about its power…
Inside, the chamber was encircled by a narrow frieze of flames on a totally black wall, and also projected onto this circular wall were several incarnations of the fiery letters that encircle the band of the Ring. In the centre of the chamber was a plinth, with a column of glass reaching all the way up to the ceiling, and encased inside the glass, suspended in mid-air was the Ring, beautifully poised in mid-spin…flawless in its simplicity, and looking very innocent indeed…


Of course, no exhibition like this would be complete without reference to the two SFX characters that have taken us all by surprise for their excellent execution – Treebeard and Gollum…
Treebeard was represented by a top-half model of the one used in the movie, probably one of several working models that were made on the way to the final one…the thing I noticed most of all, was how glassy and orange his eyes were…just like marbles !!
Gollum was covered by TV short films made with Andy Serkis, of course, going through the various aspects of bringing Gollum to life…


Many, many drawings were mounted all around the room, alongside paintings and sketches of all the various sets and costumes, all fascinating, but would have been better attended to by the Great British Public if they had been better lit and fitted with non-reflective glass – a must for an exhibition that relies on low-lighting levels for atmosphere and spotlights for highlighting the exhibits – this niggle aside, the drawings and paintings were absolutely beautiful and well worth examining instead of passing by…


The highlight of this Exhibition for many people visiting was, of course, the well publicised facility for getting yourself photographed on Gandalf’s cart against a Hobbiton background, ( in reality a green screen ) While there was inevitably a queue for this, everyone seemed quite happy to wait their turn, being amused, while they were waiting, by seeing the pairs of people who were being photographed come up on the outside TV monitors, appearing in two different sizes whilst sitting in the same cart, against the set of Hobbiton…highly diverting, and a lot of fun to see how this effect is achieved…well worth the extra bit of cash needed to indulge yourself !!!

All in all, we spent a good two hours browsing around this stunning Exhibition, and certainly could have stayed a little longer, had we not had prior commitments…outside the Exhibition-hall was the shop – ah yes – the shop …


To say that I was disappointed with this would be an understatement…the Science Museum missed out on an absolutely golden marketing opportunity here…
Now, I’m sure there will be very good reasons why the shop didn’t come up to expectation, but I, as a customer, with potentially a lot of money to spend, don’t know what they are, so I shall ask here the questions I was asking myself as I wandered around the various bits of merchandising being offered for sale :-
Where were all the replica weapons that would undoubtedly sell like hot cakes, seeing as they are freely available on the Internet ?

Where were all the replica pieces of jewellery…hands up all those ladies who lusted after Galadriel’s beautiful belt-buckle ? ( Yes, thought so ! )

Where was the Ring ? (Available in silver or gold ! )

Where were all the books ? ( Tolkien’s own and all the spin-off books about the making of the movies…they’re down in the bookshop being signed by Brian Sibley, that’s where ! Well, at least they had them ! )

Where were all the musical score CDs, and indeed the DVDs of the films ?

Where were all the huge array of T-Shirt designs that are available elsewhere ? ( I only saw one or two designs here )

Well, what WAS on sale was the lower end of the merchandising range, in all its glory..mugs, two T-shirt designs, action figures, ( but not all of them ) jig-saws, one board game only ( There are at least seven on the market right now ) lots of life-size cut-out card figures ( more usually seen as shop display material ), posters and exclusive prints, lots of postcards…quite a lot of stuff really, but, as I said, all from the lower end of the market. The most expensive item I saw was a length of material used for the Elven cloaks given to the Fellowship by Galadriel…

As I said, a missed marketing opportunity !!!


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