Editor's note: The following appeared in the February 2002 issue of BLADE magazine. Read more from the deep archives of the world's foremost knife publication in this download of 25 years of back issues.
A Movie that Knows How to Do Swords
When New Line Productions' The Fellowship of the Ring, the first in a series of three movies based on J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy, debuts just days from now, blades will be among the stars of the film—and reproductions of three of those pieces are available from United Cutlery.
Moreover, they are but the first in a series of swords United Cutlery (UC) will reproduce in conjunction with the debuts of the Rings sequels in 2002 and 2003.
UC art director Kit Rae oversaw the reproduction of the three swords. It was a dream job for Kit, who's been a fan of The Lord of the Rings since elementary school.
“It was one of the first fantasy books I read, though I first read The Hobbit [the prequel to the trilogy],” he recalled. “That had more influence over me and the direction with what I do [as a blade designer] than anything I've ever read.”
None Shall Pass on Naming These Sweet Swords
The blades of The Fellowship of the Ring are Sting, the short sword of the movie's hero, Frodo Baggins; Glamdring, the sword of Gandalf the Grey, a powerful wizard and Frodo's friend and guardian; and The Sword of the Witchking, the blade of one of the film's villains.
In addition to the three pieces, the movie sequels-one to debut around Christmas 2002, the subsequent one around Christmas 2003-will feature more blades that also will be reproduced by UC, thus setting the stage for all of the pieces to be collectible as a series.
A Precious Partnership: United Cutlery and the Box Office
The Fellowship of the Ring is the latest movie for which UC has either designed and/or reproduced blades, including the three Rambo films, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Total Recall, Mortal Kombat, The Mask Of Zorro and others.
However, Fellowship represents UC's most ambitious project to date.
“This is the biggest movie license that we've ever had,” Rae noted. “We're planning on making reproductions of nine swords from all three films to be released over the next three years. Three swords have been released this year, with another two to four swords next year. Each will come with a hardwood wall plaque. We may make scabbards for them at a later date.”
Staying True to the Movie
The swords are meticulously reproduced from the description in the script, photos of the actual props and the props themselves as supplied by New Line Productions. There were several copies of each sword made for filming and each was slightly different.
“We have combined those differences into our reproductions while remaining faithful to the original designs,” which were done by the Weta Workshop in New Zealand, Kit said.
Each sword prop has an “aged” or worn look to it in the films, as if it's been around for many centuries and seen many battles.
“We did our best to copy that look for our reproductions,” Rae maintained. “We want the swords to be as authentic as possible. We've found that it's actually harder to make the swords look aged than to make them look shiny and new. The plaques' shapes are tailored to each sword and feature screen-printed gold designs that I've styled after the look of each character in the film. New Line gave us a great style guide with art from the film to work with.”
No Pressure: 100 Million Books Sold
Penned in the 1950s, it chronicles an epic struggle in “Middle-earth” involving humans and a collection of Hobbits, Dwarves, Elves, Wids, Ring Wraiths, Ents, Orcs and other fantastic creatures over possession of a magical ring that can shift the world's balance of power.
Frodo’s Short Sword: Sting
Frodo, played by Elijah Wood, is a Hobbit and one of many in search of the ring. In The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, Frodo's uncle, uses his short sword, Sting, many times in his adventures. In Fellowship, Bilbo (Ian Holm) passes Sting down to Frodo. The piece is magical and, in the movie, its blade glows blue when the evil Orcs are present.
“This is probably the most popular sword in the books,” Rae stressed, “and is probably going to be the one most people will want to own after they see the film.”
Sting's blade and guard feature runes in the Elven language of Sindarin that translates to, “Maegnas is my name, I am the spider's bane.”
According to Kit, the runes are true to the actual Sindarin created by Tolkien. Maegnas comes from the Elven word “maeg,” which means sharp. The hardwood handle of UC's Sting repro is inlaid with an Elven vine design.
“If we hand inlaid the metal just like the real thing, these swords would have been extremely expensive,” Rae related, “so we tried many other processes, including powdered metal and a laser, but finally settled on a special inlay process.”
Scaling a Sword for a Hobbit
Hobbits are about half the size of a man, so several tricks are used in the film to make the human actors look smaller, including making the sword props larger than they appear on screen.
“We had to scale the prop sword, which was 1:1.38 scale, down to the actual size that it appears, on film,” Rae explained. “The prop we had was a full-size sword but on film it appears as a short sword or dagger. We cheated a little and made the blade a bit longer, but otherwise it's the correct scale.”
The overall length of the UC Sting repro is 22 inches, including a 15-inch blade of 420 J2 stainless steel etched with Elven runes. The metal guard and pommel feature and antique metal finish. Sting comes with a wood plaque silk-screened with Elven runes.
Gandalf’s Glamdring Sword
Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) found his sword, Glamdring, along with Sting in the troll hoard in The Hobbit. Gandalf is an old and powerful wizard and uses a wizard staff to cast his spells, but he pulls Glamdring from its scabbard for battle several times in the film.
Like Sting, Glamdring’s blade glows in the presence of an enemy in the movie. (Editor’s note: the blades of the Sting and Glamdring repros don’t glow.)
“The repro is made with three hollow grinds and the handle is wrapped in leather,” Rae commented.
The metal crossguard and pommel are engraved with Anglo-Saxon-styled runes in the Elven language, which basically say that Glamdring was forged for Turgon, the King of Gondolin.
“Gondolin is only vaguely referred to in the Rings books but is from Tolkien’s earlier work, the Simarillion, a history of Middle-earth,” Kit explained. “That how much research the designers did for the movie. To true Tolkien fans, that will mean a lot.”
Sporting a 36-inch blade of 420 J2, UC’s Glamdring repro is 47 5/8 inches long overall. The hilt is leather wrapped and the metal crossguard and pommel feature an antique finish and engraved Elven runes. The accompanying wood plaque is decorated with silk-screened designs.
The Sword of the Witchking
The Witchking is the leader of the nine Ring Wraiths and uses the Sword of the Witchking, as well as a dagger. The Ring Wraiths are sent to find the ring and return it to their dark master, Sauron (Christopher Lee).
They appear evil in the film, cloaked in black and riding black horses. They are very ancient beings, no longer human. The swords they carry look thousands of years old with corroded and worn blades and handles.
“We have developed a special chemical process to make the blades look like they are 3000 years old, as they appear in the film,” Rae remarked. “The crossguard and pommel have an aged iron look, and the grip is leather wrapped.
“They are huge swords, almost like European two-handed broadswords. This sword is one of the largest we have ever made–over 54 inches long overall.
UC's Sword of the Witchking repro boasts a 39 3/4-inch blade of 420 52 steel, a leather-wrapped hilt, and metal crossguard and pommel with an antique finish and engraved designs. The accompanying wood plaque is silk-screened with Naszul designs.
At press time, Kit had seen a short preview of the movie's highlights. Though he didn't want to give too much away lest he spoil the film for BLADE readers, he did reveal a few “sharp teasers.”
He said the most memorable scene with Sting is when Bilbo passes it on to Frodo. However, one scene particularly special to Rae is when Frodo first pulls Sting from its scabbard, the blade pulsating blue due to the proximity of the Orcs.
“It's something I've waited for years to see,” he said, adding that Sting really doesn't have any big fight scene in the movie other than Frodo using it in the Mines of Moria.
“Sting will have its best scene in the third film,” Rae confided. In the climax of Fellowship, there's a huge battle in which Gandalf uses Glamdring.
“I can't give away what happens but Glamdring has a big part in it,” Kit said. As for the Sword of the Witchking, it's prominent throughout the film in the hands of the Witchking.
Another sword in the film, Narsil, is shown in a flashback that updates viewers on the history of the ring. The blade is shattered and appears later in its broken form.
UC's “flashback” full-blade repro of Narsil will be available in April 2002, and the repro of the broken Narsil, along with the repros of the Ring Wraith swords, will be available in September 2002. UC also will be offering 1:4 scale collectible miniatures of the movie swords in early 2002.
As with the full-sized swords, UC will be releasing the minis over the span of the three films. UC will release other sword repros from the first sequel in November 2002.
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