BBC News
February 2, 2001

Hobbit Soldiers 'Not Exploited'
Staff Reporter

The New Zealand army has rejected claims that it should not have used its soldiers to play hobbits or elves in the new film of novel Lord of the Rings.

Hundreds of soldiers have been used in battle scenes in the filming of the JRR Tolkien's classic at various locations in New Zealand.

The New Zealand Defence Force received around 20 New Zealand dollars (6.10) per head for the work.

But New Zealand First party defence spokesman Ron Mark has claimed the soldiers were being exploited, saying the pay was "insulting" compared to the film's $250m (200m) Hollywood budget.

The army refutes his claims, saying the work sharpened soldiers' military planning skills and showed support for New Zealand.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy has been a massive undertaking for the New Zealand film industry.

Local director Peter Jackson has spent several years working on the project.

Mr Mark, a former officer, said the military should be held accountable for exploitation by offering its soldiers at such low rates.

"Taxpayers must be told why, at a time when the government can't afford to increase pay rates for junior ranks serving in East Timor, they are basically giving away soldiers' expertise to a film studio with deep pockets," he said.

The payments were "absurd" and soldiers' skills and resources were worth more, he added.

But the army disagrees.

"We used the job as part of military planning and logistics exercise, and see this as part our contribution towards Lord of the Rings, of support for New Zealand," said army spokesman Warren Inkster.

Soldiers received their normal wages while filming, he said, and the money was paid to the army for expenses.

"The whole exercise helped sharpen planning and logistics skills before troops were posted on United Nations' peacekeeping duties to East Timor.

"It was a unique experience for our people, a good, positive experience."

Allowing the soldiers to take part in the film has been a form of government subsidy for the film.

A spokesperson for the New Zealand government has said they approved the deal to ensure that the three films would be made in New Zealand.

The first of the Lord of the Rings movies, opens around the world at the end of the year.

It stars Sir Ian McKellan as the wizard Gandalf, Cate Blanchett as Gadriel and Sean Bean as Boromir.