December 6, 2001

Rings Has Brit Eyes on NZ
Staff Reporter

LONDON: New Zealand tourism and filmmaking is set to profit as Britain goes on The Lord of the Rings alert.

With the first part of New Zealand director Peter Jackson's trilogy set to premiere in London on Monday, British newspapers have been looking for anything Rings-related to fill columns.

The Guardian newspaper's travel pages this week heaped praise upon New Zealand's scenery.

"Measureless caves, glow worms and majestic mountain passes - no wonder they decided to shoot Lord of the Rings on the South Island," Matthew Brace of The Guardian wrote.

Rings author JRR Tolkien would have loved the Metro Cave in the South Island, Brace said in a story angled from start to finish on the film.

"Ignore the fact that Tolkien dreamed up the Lord of the Rings from his imagination and Worcestershire - New Zealand's South Island is more fitting," he said.

"The graceful valleys and peppermint green rivers of the Lewis Pass are Rivendell; the rolling, verdant farmland around Nelson is the Hobbit's beloved Shire; and the bleak, treeless chasms and peaks of Arthur's Pass are the dreadful gates of Mordor."

Such praise would have warmed hearts at Tourism New Zealand, which is keen to push the country's virtues to tourists and filmmakers alike.

Tourism New Zealand has released details of filming venues in the hopes of persuading big-spending Brits to wander down under on their own search for the Ring.

In Britain, Tolkien's dark saga of wizardry is steadily gaining ground on natural box office rival Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in the countdown to its premiere.

Britain's Evening Standard newspaper this week ran a two-page spread on whether hairy feet were now cool, given that Hobbits have them.

The answer seemed to be maybe, though the accompanying photographs appeared to provide a conclusive no.

BBC Radio 4 was to capitalise on the likely popularity of The Lord of the Rings film by broadcasting a 13-hour version of the epic, made 20 years ago.

As in New Zealand, sales of the Lord of the Rings book trilogy are up, though publisher HarperCollins has spent hardly a penny on promotion or marketing.

Sales of the books soared 400 percent in 12 months to September, it was reported.

All that has happened despite low key publicity, compared to Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, from which posters and memorabilia seem to stare out of every London shop and billboard.

Publishing director of HarperCollins' Tolkien list, David Brawn, had not expected interest in the Jackson film to grow so rapidly.

"We thought we would sell books, but not until the film came out. Yet it seems people are reading them now to get up to speed," he told a British newspaper.

"But we can't quite keep up with how it's going. The film has given Lord of the Rings a currency which was undreamt of even a couple of years ago."

The writer's surviving three children have said they will not attend the movie but members of the Tolkien Society dedicated to encouraging interest in his work are keen.

Mr Brawn feared Tolkien burnout.

"Once every household has a copy of the book, there's nobody else to sell it to."

One of the first reviews of the film this week said it had "real passion" and rated it above the Harry Potter film.

American magazine Newsweek, praised The Fellowship of the Ring but warned it was too violent for young children.

Tourism New Zealand has taken the chance to push the country as an opportunity for filmmakers.

"New Zealand's diversity and accessibility of landscape, together with strong Government support for the film industry, are increasingly making the country a first choice for overseas film, television and advertisement production," it said in a statement.

"The New Zealand landscape is unspoiled and diverse, offering filmmakers the world in one country.

"New Zealand is quite possibly the only place in the world where, within a few hours, filmmakers can move from subtropical rainforests to snowy alps, to lush green farmland, sandy beaches, craggy coastlines, high country sheep and cattle stations, citrus groves or the steel and glass towers of major cities."

Investment New Zealand has been appointed by the Government to act as a champion for overseas companies.

For prospective film projects, it would commit a senior investment manager, free of charge, as facilitator and co-ordinator with other government agencies.

It has been estimated New Zealand production costs are 20 percent cheaper than in Australia and 32 percent cheaper than in Canada.

Political stability and freedom from corruption were touted as other benefits of filming in New Zealand.