The New Zealand Listener
February 3, 2001

Absolutely Positively Middle Earth
Gordon Campbell (Tol Galen)

Currently, the sign at Wellington airport identifies the nation's capital as a nuclear-free city. Clean/green image, 1980s style. "It's dated, isn't it?" says mayor Mark Blumsky. Visions of something a bit more upbeat are dancing behind the mayoral brow. Blumsky has $30,000 set aside for new signs that will rebrand the city in the image of Peter Jackson's blockbuster movie. Signs saying, "Wellington: the Home of Middle Earth" and "Wellington: Lord of the Rings" will soon be greeting visitors who arrive by air or by road. "The money comes available on July 1. So I'd say [on] July 2 you should just about see the signs up."

Merely the beginning. Wellington has Lord of the Rings on its mind. For a couple of years now, the production has injected money and colour into the city's economy and night life. Looking ahead, Blumsky believes that the releases of Jackson's films offer huge opportunities to promote Wellington on the world stage and - to that end - $50,000 has been set aside in the council's draft annual plan. Chicken feed.

Far more ambitiously, Blumsky has been in talks with Jackson "for the last six months" about creating a LOTR theme-park attraction in Wellington. "What we're doing is making sure there's a reason for people to come to Wellington because Lord of the Rings was made here, [because] Peter was here," Blumsky enthuses.

A LOTR theme facility, he indicates, could keep Jackson's skilled staff in town after the films are over, by offering work on a project with "long-term economic benefit to Wellington" that will create "a destination base for thousands and millions of people".

This month, Jackson, private investors and (probably) the mayor will be flying to the US for discussions with New Line studios, to get approval to use the LOTR film images on site. For now, Blumsky is coy about the likely contents of the facility. What will it contain: the Ring itself, swords, costumes, chunks of the sets, the chair that Frodo disappeared under in the inn at Bree? "Yes. All of that, and a lot more. " A whole lot more, Blumsky insists, than the passive display of items typified by the recent exhibition of Princess Diana's dresses. "As Peter said, I'm not even going to get into this if we can't do it fantastically well, and make it so that people can feel that it [the facility experience] is the movie."

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