By MEAGHAN MILLER
The terror of Middle Earth was just a stone's throw from the main street of Arrowtown on Friday. The eyes of innocent strollers and Arrowtowners on their way home from the shops bulged as evil Ringwraiths swooped past on their thundering midnight steeds.
Whether it was the ominous sense of foreboding emitting from the nine evil riders, the unnatural whine of the wind machine or the watchful security guards, the small gathering of onlookers spoke in hushed voices. One plucked up the courage to ask one of the official-looking men talking down their vest fronts and tapping their earpieces: "Is it the Lord of the Rings?," one woman whispered. "Yes," came the considered reply.
What they were watching was possibly the most public filming to date for the $360 million Lord of the Rings trilogy, previously shot in secret locations or in closed sets. Unfortunately the privileged viewing was not for public record, as an embarrassed Australian tourist with recording video camera was smartly informed.
"It is very public here, the public have been great," publicist Melissa Booth said. The Arrow River bed was selected at short notice after a Wanaka location had not panned out, she said. Filming had taken place on Thursday and ended on Friday, with 80 to 150 people working on the set.
The Ringwraiths and their horses were actually a trained troupe of nine professional stunt riders, Ms Booth said. The movie's director Peter Jackson liked the location for its Middle Earth qualities. Filming would take place in the area during the next month but few scenes were likely to be in the public eye.
"These are Fellowship shots, trekking through the Middle Earth," she said. The film's first unit, under Jackson's direction, was scheduled to arrive next week. "Some of the lead actors will be here in the next month," Ms Booth said.