Monday, July 11, 2005

One exhibit to rule them all...

Back from Houston, and quite tired. Why, pray tell, did the family venture to hot and humid Houston for the weekend, when New Braunfels is perfectly hot and humid in its own right? Why, The Lord of the Rings Motion Picture Trilogy: The Exhibition, of course!

Jayme at the Argonath

Coincidentally, the Houston Symphony was presenting a return engagement of Howard Shore and the Lord of the Rings Symphony on Friday and Saturday. I'd have loved to go, but we simply couldn't fit it in. But the two events were masterful in the amount of cross-promotion they'd coordinated. The exhibit itself was, as to be expected, spectacular. Costumes and weapons galore, including the Three Rings, which got short shrift in the movies--extended editions included. They were gorgeous, not to put too fine a point on it. Much was made of all the detail put into the costumes and accessories, and unless you see them up close, you simply can't appreciate how serious the filmmakers were in this regard. The myriad documentaries simply don't do it justice.

The most impressive aspect of the display was the "bigatures" created by WETA for the movie. Barad-Dur was there, along with the tower of Orthanc and the mill from the "Scouring of the Shire" sequence in Galadriel's Mirror. Stunning. Magnificent. There was also a life-size diorama of the cave troll bursting through the doors of Balin's tomb, which was most impressive. And a 16-inch long Oliphaunt maquette, which was equally impressive for it's small size. Almost nothing on the Balrog, though, which was a real shame. My favorite prop from the exhibit? An elegant elvish telescope, which for the life of me, I simply cannot remember seeing in Rivendel or Lothlorien. But it is very cool. I'll have to look again.

A much bigger shame, however, was the banning of cameras and video recorders in the exhibit (the Argonath is situated outside the exhibit, hence the photo above). Now, we've been to exhibitions before where this was enforced, so it didn't take us by surprise. Usually, those events (such as the "Relics of the Titanic" a couple years back) have tour-specific DVDs and program books they want patrons to buy. That's logical--why buy the souvenir program if you've already got a ton of photos? Unfortunately, the LOTR exhibit did not have any tour sovenirs for sale. Sure, there was plenty of LOTR memorabilia in the museum gift shop, but it was the exact same crappy action figures and plastic "One Rings" available at Wal-Mart or Suncoast. Absolutely nothing related to the exhibit itself. Nothing relevant to the unique items recreated solely for the tour (like the afore-mentioned cave troll, or the Argonath entrance, above). The cave troll was perfect for taking photos with, and indeed, looked as if that had been taken into account when designed, but a grim-faced guard hovered only a few feet away, pointedly on the lookout for camera phones and the like. The only exhibit-specific souvenir patrons could get was a $10 split-screen photograph on Gandalf's wagon, where one person was normal-sized and another hobbit-sized. The effect was neat, but the printed photo was very low quality, and the waiting line was close to an hour long. No thank you.

Another annoyance was the sloppiness attention to detail in the exhibit itself. The printed descriptions accompanying each display were filled with typos--one explained how Gollum would "loose" the Ring to Bilbo. Pippin's full name is misspelled "Perregrin." Rivendel is shown on a map as being located in Ered Mithrin (the Gray Mountains) far to the north, rather than along the Loudwater River west of the Misty Mountains. And an Alan Lee pencil sketch of Edoras is also mis-identified as Rivendel (here's a hint--Rivendel is in a valley, Edoras is on a very large hilltop). And the One Ring was set up in a very impressive "room of fire," floating suspended in a column of clear lucite. The effect was very much as if one were in a volcanic chamber of Mount Doom. But the fact that bits of dirt, dust and other bits of literal garbage were suspended in the lucite with the One Ring did a great deal to spoil this effect. Don't try and tell me this was intentional--it was half-assed and sloppy, plain and simple.

Now, I am well aware of the fact that 99.9 percent of the people who see these displays are oblivious to these mistakes, and would shrug their shoulders even if you pointed them out. That's not the point. After spending more than $300 million to make these grand epics, and after all the well-documented blood, sweat and proverbial tears Peter Jackson lavished on the films to make them as fine works of cinematic art as they could possibly be, it's annoying as hell to see so little thought and attention being paid to the traveling exhibit. For something that cost close to $20 a person to enter, I'm sorry, but I want something more tangible than "happy memories."

To put it in perspective, when the Star Wars: Magic of Myth exhibition came through a few years back, not only were cameras and video recorders allowed, they were encouraged. And there was plenty of "Magic of Myth" crap available to buy as well. Say what you will about George Lucas being a greedy corporate entity unto himself, but his tour was much more patron-friendly (with 87 percent fewer typos to boot!).

Now Playing: Howard Shore The Lord of the Rings-The Fellowship of the Ring

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