If Peter Jackson has one thing to thank for the success of the Lord of the Rings movies, it’s the nation of New Zealand. He was able to construct every type of fantasy realm imaginable thanks to the natural diversity and beauty of his home country. In one case, though, that did mean he ended up filming a fake battle on a real minefield — you can’t win them all.
This chaotic brush with danger happened while Jackson was filming the final Lord of the Rings movie, The Return of the King. He assembled a huge proportion of the Lord of the Rings cast to film the Battle of the Black Gate, which needed a desert-like landscape for the entrance to Mordor.
It was a crucial moment right at the end of the series, so it needed to be as good as possible. Jackson found his dream location in the Rangipo Desert, but there was a catch. As the director explained in an interview on the DVD extras, “This area of the desert is also the same area where the New Zealand army do their live firing exercises.”
On the first day, a military man warned the cast and crew about what they could or couldn’t touch, explaining that there were unexploded bombs, rockets, and mines in the area. Adapting beloved books into new movies is a minefield but, on this occasion, that idea became a bit too literal.
Viggo Mortensen played a pivotal role in the scene as Aragorn, which meant that he was often in and around dangerous areas. He explained: “They had some tape cordoning off a certain area. I said: ‘Does that mean that inside this tape, we’re fine?’ [They said]: ‘No, but there’s less bombs where you are than on the other side of that tape’.”
Jackson explained that he genuinely feared for Mortensen during one particular scene, which really stretched the army’s ability to clear the way for all of the Lord of the Rings characters wandering in between the explosives.
“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,” said Jackson. “I remember the army had pointed out the zone they had cleared. I think they went a little further than they were supposed to, and we were all hoping like hell that they weren’t going to step on a landmine or something. But they didn’t.”
Mortensen – who also broke one of his teeth at Helm’s Deep, of course – laughed this off, explaining that it “added a little extra tension” to the shoot. If they gave out Oscars for understatement of the year, that would’ve been another one for RotK to add to its record haul of 11 wins at the Academy Awards.
Frankly, we’re impressed that anyone was able to turn such a fraught scenario into one of the best fantasy movies ever made. We’d definitely have found an excuse to call in sick. You couldn’t pay us enough money to ride around on a horse in a minefield. If Gondor called for aid, we’d stay at home.
As big Lord of the Rings fans, we’re here to tell you how to watch the Lord of the Rings movies in order. Meanwhile, we’ve delved deep into some of the best movies ever made to explore how Russell Crowe as Aragorn could’ve changed Hollywood.
We’ve also got everything you need to know about new Lord of the Rings movies, including the War of the Rohirrim release date. And of course, JRR Tolkien’s world is also a major player on the small screen now, and we can’t wait for the Rings of Power season 2 release date. We already know that Galadriel is going to very different this time around.