The Press Online
August 25, 1998

$260 Million Ring Trilogy Bonanza for South Island
Elinore Wellwood

The South Island will be a winner from New Zealand film-maker Peter Jackson's $260 million cinematic trilogy -- J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.

Film Commission chief executive Ruth Harley said the project would put New Zealand on the film-making map. It would draw attention to New Zealand's capabilities in technical fields such as special effects and camera work.

Lord of the Rings will employ 15,000 extras, 50 New Zealand actors for speaking parts and 300 crew.

The trilogy is an epic tale of the adventures of four hobbits -- creatures just over one metre tall -- who, with the help of the wizard Gandalf, journey 3200 kilometres with a ring carrying the power to dominate the world.

Jackson said yesterday thousands of extras would be needed for battle scenes, which would mostly be filmed on the South Island's vast plains, soaring mountains and mysterious fiords.

Southern shorties will not be the only ones who get to don Orc outfits and hobbits' battle gear. Jackson's films will use computer technology to shrink the images, so he can use people of normal height as actors.

The project will also spend money on catering, transport, airlines, hotels, construction and art department work and staff.

Jackson, who filmed his two most recent films -- Heavenly Creatures and The Frighteners starring Michael J. Fox -- in Christchurch, said the spinoff from New Zealand's exposure overseas would be immense.

"The films will bring enormous attention to the country. Just huge. I don't think we yet comprehend the scale," he said.

Millions of people worldwide have read Lord of the Rings -- last year voted the most popular book of the century.

"You look at the number of people who go to Auckland to see the beach where they filmed The Piano. Then think about the attention that will be paid to a book this well-known," Jackson said.

Filming would take place in Fiordland, Milford Sound, Queenstown, and Central Otago. "The book is as much about the landscape as the characters. These tiny, little figures making this huge journey," he said.

Jackson, who lives and works in New Zealand because he loves it and he can, said he was glad he could do something to make the country a better place.

"It's a bit sad here at the moment. The economy and politics ... anything we can do to help," he said

.The films will be released in a US Christmas-summer-Christmas series across the years 2000 and 2001. They will be produced by Saul Zaentz, who backed the English Patient and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.