So where was I headed yesterday? It was to the Singapore Science Centre in Jurong, home of The Lord of the Rings Motion Picture Trilogy: The Exhibition: The Only Venue In Asia. This exhibit pledged to bring to Asia props and behind-the-scenes everything of, well, you know. Before venturing in I have to surrender some of my credentials as a nerd and as a guy saturated with pop cultural trivia. I've never read The Lord of the Rings books, and all I've seen of the movies are what were in the trailers and what I've seen wading through clouds of fanboys staring at the video monitors at DVD stores. I did read The Hobbit -- once -- in seventh grade, assigned for a book report by a rather perceptive teacher who recognized that I'd like it; but I remember nothing of it. What I know of the series I've picked up by association, from references and imitators. So as I stepped in it was something like getting to see the Spanish Royal Wedding; I could see that a lot of people were excited by it and respected the effort involved, but it wasn't of passionate interest to me.
Also, unfortunately, cameras were not allowed past this point. I started to take a picture of the ``no cameras'' sign, but got a cross look from the ticket-taker. I'll make do. Among my observations:
- Each exhibit was its own little island, featuring various props and a TV showing one of a small selection of video clips. Each of them had the tone of something taken from a Making-Of feature on the DVD, but I don't know where they're really from.
- Apart from getting to pick what clip played next there wasn't much ``interactivity'' in the props, sets, and models exhibition, the main part of the show. The most fun thing to play with in this first section was an example of split-screen forced perspective tricks used to make some look giant and some look tiny; I particularly liked people sitting on what, on the monitors, looked like the same cart as they came to discover the illusion worked better the closer the two got to the seam, that is, the closer they get to touching on-screen. Granted there's probably not much you can do to make an interactive exhibit with the sets and costumes and stuff without breaking props that each took nineteen months of construction and cost over twelve million dollars apiece.
- They also had an example of the chain mail which was painstakingly built so that actors wouldn't have to make do with the silver-painted cloth traditionally used in movies and on TV, and instead used zinc-plated aluminum rings. It was available for touching. I still think it looks like Klingon uniforms from the original Star Trek.
- There is a fun ``interactive'' section, though, based on the special effects. This is a series of setups with Chroma-Key displays and videotape cameras. This way you can run through a partly missing wood bridge over a volcano flow, or falling the length of the Titanic, or climbing Adam West-style up the side of a building. Because of the quality of the Chroma-Key and of the cameras this all gives a hint of what Lord of the Rings might have looked like had it been produced by Sid and Marty Krofft. You could, if you buy a videotape, record your performances at these stations and have it burned to VCD or DVD too; if you then enter it in a contest you can win a trip to New Zealand. Tempting, but I'm really not an actor. The best I could work up for the ``falling down the Titanic'' sequence was treating it like an elevator ride, thus letting my inner Bugs Bunny take over.
- They made the joke you'd expect about ``the real lords of the rings'' in referring to the people who created and wove the chain mail fabric. In fact, over the whole exhibit they made approximately 628 wordplay jokes based on ``lord of the rings.''
- Nearly all of the main characters get their own little stand, featuring description of who the character is and why they're so interesting; a sample of outfits; a sample of weapons and camping pack; and a video in which the actor and directors explain how much work it was but how exciting it was to get everything just right.
- Samwise doesn't get his own stand, and in fact I don't believe he's mentioned in any of the stand captions at all. Some of the video loops mention him, though. Clips from the movies gave me the silly association of thinking Samwise was played by Andy Richter, and nothing has been able to shake this from me.
- The special effects section also includes displays and basic experiment sets of how to do stop-motion and cel animation (and shows cels and sketches from Aladdin, one of The Flintstones movies -- I think a TV movie, not the theatrical movie -- and Blinky Bill). You can add to the daily stop-motion Lego block movie. Also they have displays of how zoetropes, film projectors, and VCRs work, with examples, though you can't see enough of the VCR innards as it threads the tape through. In a genuinely delightful touch they set up a color TV monitor with a powerful magnet so you could see the colors distorted by the magnetic fields. Dipoles, quadrupoles, every sort of distortion on the closed-circuit image of yourself -- it's all there for your enjoyment. Also it includes a sign not to try this at home.
- They have a display about the hobbit feet and ears, and assert that at the time of filming the movies were the world's largest consumer of foam latex rubber. So, get to work, furries; you're in second place. They also had a case full of discarded latex feet, ears, hands, and other body parts, as if a mass murderer had been through Hobbiton and set up a particularly gruesome display.
- Some of the full-body latex suits required the actors show up as much as sixteen days before filming and stand perfectly still for the full 384 hours of application, all for a shot that lasts three seconds on screen. I exaggerate, but not by much, and they show clips of a full ten-hour process one actor undergoes, most of it while he's asleep.
- For a break from walking around and around and around one can sit in a movie theater and watch what appears to be an endless loop about the effects involved in creating Gollum. This involves a lot of watching Andy Serkis pouncing about in a brilliant white full-body lycra suit as director and animator exceedingly slowly come to realize that having an actor there makes it easier for everyone to act, intercut with Andy Serkis explaining how much inspiration he drew from cats coughing up hairballs for the voice work.
- They've got quite a few models from the movie, as one might expect, including an Industrial Hobbiton and one or another of those tower things.
- They also have in the center The Ring, suspended in a case of lucite, placed in a completely dark room with such brilliant lights shining on it that yes, it does glow, but you also see the glow of many bits of dirt and imperfections in the column of lucite (it's about half a foot wide, and four feet tall), and also can see the string leading up to The Ring. It looks like they suspended The Ring, did the cast, and then display it ``upside-down''.
- Outside the exhibit you can take pictures again, for example of this game of Orcs and ladders I don't think we're really supposed to play. You're also allowed to take pictures in the gift shop, such as of one of these character mugs. The mug-head idea has always creeped me out; I don't get the appeal.
- There are some lovely tabletop models available and ready to be played with, if you can get them out of their cages.
- The centerpiece toy, and the reason for the explicit permission given to take pictures, is this charming guy, a quite photogenic model produced by the Toys Hub ... group; I don't know if they're a store or a club or what. A bit of the fun is drained when you notice you can't actually touch it, but I'd be wary of letting the public at large fiddle around with something that took that much work to build too.
- But, yes, the recession has hit Frodo too, and it's a buyer's market for swords.
- There's also fresh disembodied heads, if you're in the market.
- Amusing me in this Lord of the Rings gift shop was the unexpected appearance of Betty Boop, the Gremlins, and the Care Bears although in hindsight, really, wasn't everybody's favorite part of the trilogy when Saruman duked it out with GrumpyBear? Or when that one Gremlin with the voice of Tony Randall lead everyone over the bridge at Helm's Gate? Or was it when Betty Boop rallied the ents to her cause with a simple ``boop boop a doop''? I also note that somebody's making Leslie toy plushes. BarterGarter should sue.
- By that point it was getting close to sunset, too late to wander through the main hall. I wandered around the kinetic garden some, and then headed back for home.
Fun? Yes, it was. I'm sure I missed a great deal just from not knowing what was important or what wasn't in the books and movies. But I enjoyed what I saw.
In other news today I went down to the Singapore River and did find quite a few of the various lion statues mentioned earlier. Somewhere else in town a Bollywood Film Festival gave out bunches of awards. Why give out Bollywood awards in Singapore? Because somehow contracts have been signed to produce a couple Indian movies each year here in the Lion City. I can only imagine what the resulting cultural salad will be like.
Trivia: The earliest known example of polyhedrons drawn on the plane by ``unfolding'' their edges is from Albrecht Dürer's Painter's Manual, published 1525. Source: Platonic and Archimedean Solids, Daud Sutton.
Currently Reading: The Collected Works of Paddy Chayefsky: The Screenplays -- The Hospital, Network, Altered States, Paddy Chayefsky.