Review of the Te Papa Exhibit
The Lord of the Rings Motion Picture Trilogy – The Traveling Exhibition, Te Papa
On December 19th, 2002, I attended the Lord of the Rings exhibition at Te Papa, the National Museum of New Zealand. I arrived in the morning; the weather was gorgeous, and the cool marble inside of the museum was invitingly lit from the vast windows. I took a few pictures of the special Argonath entryway that was set up, then went and got in line for the elevators that would take us up to the exhibit floor. “The Prime Minister’s upstairs right now, opening the exhibit, and some of the movie people are up there, too,” said a security guard. After a short wait, we were allowed to enter.
As I joined the press to enter the exhibit space, we could hear a sound clip from the FOTR movie playing again and again: Gandalf crying out, “YOU…SHALL…NOT…PASS!” I think the security people set this up to subliminally reinforce their policy of absolutely NO cameras, bags – or sketchbooks – allowed. This means that everything recorded here is what I was able to cram into my memory. I apologize for its inevitable incompleteness. I was very bummed to have to surrender my sketchbook, and between this and the sheer richness of the exhibit, it took a few minutes for it all to make sense to me. I wandered around, noting the many security guards about, then letting myself drink in the sights for my own pleasure before settling down to memorize.
The whole exhibit had a strong “Two Towers” flavor, with the emphasis on the military side and the special effects. Costumes were all behind glass, as they should be. There were weapons galore; the armamentariums of both Legolas and Haldir, the shards of Narsil, and Gil-Galad’s spear were all on display. Gil-Galad’s spear was one of the first things that really registered with me, and I went, to myself, Ohmygod! Gil-Galad’s spear, Aiglos! Oh, wait – it’s just a movie prop – calm down. These were items created for a movie creation of a fictional world…but such beautifully made items, for a fictional world so beloved by so many, that there was a disorienting power to them. I admit I stared long and hungrily at Legolas’ knives.
Once I’d gotten my bearings, I set myself to memorizing as much as possible about the costumes. There were costumes for a whole raft of characters and extras. Main character costumes included: Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Galadriel, Saruman, Gandalf the Grey, a Frodo small scale outfit shown with the small scale metal version of Sting, Theoden’s armor, and two Arwen outfits (the Chase Dress and the Requiem Dress). Extra outfits/armor included: Last Alliance Man and Elf, Third Age/Helm’s Deep Elf, Ranger of Ithilien, two Riders of Rohan, Haradrim, five different Orcs (four lined up and one in a case), a Nazgul, and Sauron’s armor with mace. Banners for Rohan, Gondor, the Elves (Galadriel and I think Cirdan), and even a Haradrim snake banner hung from the exhibit ceiling. There were no costumes for Eowyn, Faramir, or Eomer. Now, many of the costume I have noted as being present are well documented at this LOTR Costume site and in the extended DVD, so my notes focused on new items.
I started with Arwen’s two dresses and their associated fabric swatches. Arwen’s Chase Dress; This is indeed suede, and the ties are indeed ribbon.
There were swatches of Chase Dress fabrics; the suede, the inner sleeve, and the collar lace. The collar pattern is not embroidery but an abstract lace overlay. The inner sleeve is a permanently-crumpled silver silk of a kind I saw at The Silk Gallery in Auckland (it came in several different colors). I noted in observing the dress that the lower, "showing" hem of the silver silk inner sleeve seemed to be the fabric edge, since there was no visible hem.
Arwen’s Blue/Gray Dress, named the Requiem Dress in the exhibition case: The upper sleeves on this dress are of blue silk chiffon (with a lining to make the fabric opaque), in a shade that matches the blue velvet main body.
The blue chiffon was embroidered in blue thread with a largeish pattern involving a six (eight?) petalled flower and loose vines. It was widely spaced over the fabric. The lower sleeves were of a light silk brocade, with a floral pattern woven into it in silver, and the silk dyed a light silver-grey. The brocade pattern is close and detailed. This dress has a train of about 1 foot, maybe 2. I was hardly able to see any of the velvet hem but it seemed to be a *very fine overlocking* rather than a folded-over hem. Swatches were displayed for this dress as well and there was a note that the blue velvet had been custom-dyed by the costumers.
Arwen Swatch Notes: there were two more sets of swatches for Arwen costumes. One was the fabric for the Hope Dress and one was a whole new fabric.
Hope Dress Swatches; The burgundy velvet, which again seems to have been dyed by the production, and the sleeve chiffon were present. The sleeve chiffon had a background of dusty mauve-rose. The leaves were embroidered on it in silver-grey silk, and outlined in white-silver beadwork. Each leaf also had veining done in the white-silver beadwork (small seed beads). This was the expensive, detailed version of such a fabric! Note that the backing was silk chiffon, NOT organza - there are some organza fabrics out there that could be used reasonably well in a reproduction of the sleeves for this dress.
Mystery Swatch: This was a beautiful lavender velvet, a light fabric, that had been overprinted in a silver art nouveau pattern - and over the silver pattern was another gold pattern of dragonflies! The gold and silver patterns seemed to have been done with very light fabric paint or ink. They were perfectly aligned, the effect being an Art Nouveau fabric designed by way of William Morris. I've never seen the dress for this at all! (This has since be identified as the fabric for Arwen's requiem cloak)
Now, here is a review of the Third Age Elf armor. I think what was on display was "hero" armor, but I don't know if it was Haldir's or not. It was beautifully chased and draped, the armor composed of steel highlighted with brass over two pieces that will drive reproducers mad. The undersleeves may look like a fine chain mail, but they're not; they're a black fabric patterned with close silver diamonds. The armor "skirt" looks like a below-the-knee scale mail hauberk split for riding, but it's thousands of fingernail-sized pieces of silver leather patterned like fine lizardskin and sewn to a backing. Somebody went crazy to make this one! The cloak and underskirt were of grey Lorien cloak fabric and silver fabric respectively. It's beautiful but so uniquely intricate that this is the absolute last thing I'd pick if I was going to reproduce a costume.
Just thinking about the mystery swatch again makes me feel orcish, so let's look at the orc costumes now. It was very useful to see the orc variants lined up in a row, so my comments on each:
Uruk-Hai - These guys obviously got the good stuff, chain mail in good repair, plate armor that's relatively co-ordinated and not rusted, solid leather stuff mostly in black. There were a range of unpolished iron helms, most remarkably some that had two round holes cut out for eyes. This sounds goofy but the two small holes somehow looked very sinister. Moria Orc - The Moria Orc armor followed basic "evil armor" guidelines, multi-plated with protruding curved claw-like spikes in parts. It was rusted, as if salvaged and adapted long ago, and the undergarments and associated chain were more ragged. Generic Orc - In even worse shape than the Moria Orc armor. Mail was rusty and ragged, with holes in it; metal plates were laced together over a coarse fur backing; the ensemble had more leather parts and yet more of a random air of being looted. There was a leather chest plate, "faded" to brown, with ragged edges that looked like it had had the White Tree of Gondor embossed on it at some point, as if it had been looted from a hapless foot soldier of Minas Tirith.
Warg Riders - This was the most organic-looking orc armor. Organic in a bad way, that is, with pieces of bone and tooth incorporated into it. The armor was almost all leather plating and leather straps, there were unidentifiable and unsavory raised areas (reinforced with bone stitched between leather?) protruding fur and hair from a motley collection of hides underneath, and open, raw stitching. This suggested some sort of unholy co-operation with their Warg mounts, as if they constructed their armor from what was left of the Wargs' prey. One remarkable thing about the warg-rider armor was the BASKETWORK codpiece - woven of wood or rattan and colored faded black and red-brown.
Most of the orc costumes, the four in a row and the ones in cases, included big prominent codpieces, in metal, studded multi-strapped leather, or the basketwork. Maybe the orcs are compensating for something?
There were several cases of orc accessories. Orc knives all looked looted or crudely lashed together. There was a two-pronged orc fork, and orc facial jewelry (very very crude), and an orc whip, a heavy cat-o-nine-tails with thick tails of round braids about 2 1/2 feet long, ending in knots. The handle of this was crudely braided/wrapped leather. The appalling thing about whips like this is they're only used for torture, not (like bullwhips sometimes are) as weapons. Icky!
There was a Haradrim costume on display. Very interestingly, this also had basketwork components, shoulder plates and a midriff protector (wide and corset-like) made of dark reddish basketwork with vertical lines of weird beads, bone and amber, decorating the fronts of these pieces. Some of the beads were large skull shapes, and smaller beads were bright blue and amber. The clothing underlay was of ragged dusty-red and red-brown linen, the skirt of the outfit almost layered torn strips. There was a protective burnoose/face cloth that had some stitching to shape it, in the red/dark brown colors. Even the weaponry was in the red/dark brown colors and the bow was reinforced with some of the same basketwork as in the costume.
Sauron's armor was on display. Yay! It had clearly been sized for an RL actor - a tall guy but still real-life sized, so I'm guessing Sauron was enlarged digitally. Seeing this in person showed how intricately detailed it was, overlaid with patterning in almost every plated inch - this was the ne plus ultra of evil armor. The patterning had, in its close-up, an almost ELVISH delicacy to it; maybe the armor's creators pictured it being made by enslaved elvish smiths? Sauron also has this four-layer protection going on over his groin, two metal plates, possibly some fabric, and a fall of neat tidy chain mail.
Nazgul accessories were interesting. There were two sets of rings: the Rings of Power given to men and something called "Nazgul Rings." The Rings of Power were silver and carnelian, or silver, gold, and carnelian. I'll be posting a sketch of the setting soon since it would take all day to describe its elegant, dignified, yet evil simplicity. The Nazgul rings - nine of these! - each had a red slitted eye set in a crude black and silver band. Were these worn by the Nazgul? Is this what the men's Rings of Power turned into? They look like they could be reproduced in Sculpy as the finishing touch for a Nazgul outfit.
There was also a case that had several Nazgul crowns (made from synthetic materials and all dark pewter-silver looking) and the corrupt-looking Nazgul weapons. This case also had the original "crowns of Men" from the scene in FOTR where the mortal kings, taking the rings, are still men. All very nice metalwork, these.
The exhibit included many other jewels: Vilya, Narya, the Rings of Men, the Evenstar, an odd item called Nazgul Rings, Galadriel and Celeborn’s crowns, and Celeborn’s neckpiece and belt. At the heart of the exhibit was a round, dark, enclosed area. You entered to find it dark, scarcely red-lit, with a line of flame around the black walls, and a narrow, clear pillar in the center, rising from a ring of fiery letters set in a round black table. In the clear pillar was suspended a One Ring, lit with red. This small chamber rang with sinister sound – very appropriate and beautifully done.
The most poignant part of the exhibit was the Boromir corpse mockup. "Where now is Boromir the fair? He tarries and I grieve." This is a remarkable piece of sculpture, and it really did look like the corpse of Boromir was lying there pale and dignified. His leather overgarment was pierced and stained over his heart where one of the arrows had gone through (why not more arrow-shots?). I also noted that the leather trim pattern along the lower split in his leather overtunic matched the leather pattern on his belts. Where his greaves have been removed we see the fabric of his undershirt, blue-gray with just an occasional bit of silver to highlight it, stitched into a pattern of squares arranged diagonally like diamonds.
In one area, there were sample swords and weapons to touch, identical weapons made of steel, aluminium, and plastic, for use at different times in the movie. There was a case full of multi-scaled props; tiny, regular, and large Lorien brooches, two versions of Sam’s backpack, one for a small-scale actor, one for Sean Astin to carry, each identical except for their size.
Another case was packed with scrolls and calligraphic items and some of Gandalf’s accessories, made of natural linen sacking. This case included the Isildur scroll, where we could read it. “It is precious to me, though I buy it with great pain.”
There was the Rivendell telescope on display, which was beautiful. I was very puzzled, because on the lower half of the telescope there’s a marked dial – marked with ELEVEN places? Why not twelve, since the Elves were duodecimal?
The Red Carpet tour people had brought their group along, and some representatives of other Tolkien web sites were there, wearing their T-shirts. I overheard one of the Red Carpet tour takers who was bushwhacked by the pollen of a New Zealand summer: “I spent a hundred and fifty dollars on allergy medicine…” This seemed to be my cue to go. I went and sat down in the nearest museum café and, my sketchbook restored to me, scribbled notes for all I was worth. There was even more stuff than I’ve mentioned here…it was just staggering. It’s well worth seeing, if you can get to it at all.
Afterwards, I went to the exhibit shop. They had all the Weta collectible items, all the standard “movie books,” jigsaw puzzles, notebooks – but no catalog or book for the exhibit. All we got was a small brochure, handed out at the exhibit entrance. This was very disappointing. I assume the future DVDs will be enriched with more costume and prop information
Check out Ty's web site to see her costumes and more.
For more detailed information on the costumes described here can be found in our Character section. Our site FAQ is <here>.
This page was last updated 04/22/08