Director Peter Jackson recalls how unexploded mines almost killed the cast of The Lord of the Rings whilst filming in New Zealand.

Whilst filming The Lord of the Rings film trilogy would have been a life-changing experience for many of the cast and crew, shooting scenes in an area used by the New Zealand army resulted in some rather tense moments underfoot.

The Rohan army crest the ghill above Minas Tirith
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King/New Line Cinema/Warner Bros Entertainment YouTube channel

Peter Jackson on the unexploded mines of The Lord of the Rings

On the DVD extras for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King movie, director Peter Jackson and the cast revealed that some scenes had to be filmed in an area used by the New Zealand Armed Forces that was littered with unexploded mines, dud rockets, and other types of improvised explosive devices.

Orlando Bloom (Legolas) and Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn) explained how after the team was taken into a large tent on the day of filming, “this officer of the army came up and stood up in front of us as we’re all eating our eggs and bacon in the morning and just said, ‘this is a bomb, this is a rocket, all of these things you might find out here…Don’t touch them’”.

Karl Urban recalled, “We get out on set and you’re in the middle of fighting and stuff and you look down and sure enough there’s the fins of a bomb sticking out of the ground” adding, “Constantly through the day, [the New Zealand Army] they’d be coming in and clearing it away.”

Not only did the cast have to avoid stepping on these devices during filming, but they especially had to be wary of their nearby environment when shooting scenes on horseback.

Unnervingly, Jackson recalled how during the filming of a scene when Aragorn, Gandalf, and Legolas, are riding across an open field; the cast members strayed from the designated path and were a little too close to some IEDs for comfort.

“I was particularly nervous on one shot we did where we had Viggo and one or two of the other actors galloping across the desert towards the Black Gate but I remember the army had sort of pointed out the zone that they had cleared. I think that they went a little further than they were supposed to and I think we were all hoping like ‘Hell, they weren’t going to step on a landmine or something…But [thankfully] they didn’t.”

Mortensen acknowledged that the presence of unexploded mines on the set “added a little more chaos” to the production, with Dominic Monaghan (Merry) adding how “It’s typical Pete Jackson you know!”

“I mean you could see Pete [Jackson] like giggling and loving the fact that we’re in this place where, you know, it’s like a death zone!”

New Zealand army had its own ‘hero’ moment on LOTR

Both during the filming process for The Lord of the Rings and immediately after its conclusion, there was controversy surrounding the inclusion of the New Zealand army as extras in the trilogy and especially for the low pay that soldiers reportedly received.

The early reports from inside sources close to both the New Zealand armed forces and the production allegedly claimed that soldiers used as extras were paid just £5.96 a day or 74p an hour.

However, New Zealand defense force spokesperson Warren Inkster noted that all soldiers and officers were still paid their usual salary for their work, with the reported figures being added to the outgoings total.

Mr Inkster told The Guardian, “For us it was an excellent exercise in planning and logistic development,” adding how filming had taken place “prior to our deployment to East Timor when we had to put all those skills to the test.”

Hilariously, there are also unconfirmed reports from individual soldiers and families that some of the armed forces used as extras were certainly motivated to do their part; often a little too motivated.

In a Reddit thread on the production of The Lord of the Rings, one user stated that “if you were a man, near to 6 feet tall and lived in Wellington in 2000 you didn’t have a choice. They drafted you like it was war.”

User ‘Knowledgeable_Owl’ claimed that they worked in the New Zealand Ministry of Defence at the time and that “one of the issues was that they divided the forces, so the air force played the orcs, and the army played the elves and men.”

“Then they said “alright, we don’t want you to hold back – really run at one another!” Have a guess what happens when you tell a whole bunch of army blokes to go wail on a whole bunch of air force blokes and not to hold back…”

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