Sunday Star Times
December 17, 2001

Battle Lines Drawn Over Tolkien's Middle Earth
Sarah Catherall

Elijah Wood - the American who plays the hobbit, Frodo, in The Lord of the Rings - may think he found "Middle Earth" in New Zealand but a battle is mounting with Britain for Tolkien fans wanting to visit true hobbiton country.

Government agencies are aiming to exploit New Zealand's association with Middle Earth and by next June, will have spent $3 million on marketing efforts.

Investment New Zealand film manager Paul Voigt said agencies won approval from Hollywood film giant Newline Cinemas to market New Zealand as "Home of Middle Earth".

From tomorrow, Wellington will be rebranded Middle Earth for the week, with Wellington City Council being called Middle Earth council and the library and airport, to name a few buildings, being covered with new signs, welcoming people to Middle Earth.

Tourism New Zealand has produced a Middle Earth map, so tourists can visit the film's locations and is spending $50,000 bringing specialist journalists to the Australasian premiere in Wellington on Wednesday. The Film Commission will also remarket New Zealand films overseas under the Home of Middle-earth brand.

But at a time when tourism is down by 25 percent in Britain, following the September 11 terrorist attacks, British tourist authorities are also keen to boost visitor numbers among fans who want to visit Tolkien's homeland.

The British Tourist Authority wants to release a Tolkien map of Britain in anticipation of increased visitor interest from the movie. Birmingham has been given permission to launch a Tolkien trail, covering

Tolkien's home and graveyard, along with sites that inspired his epics, while at least two exhibitions of manuscripts and letters are on show, including one at Oxford Museum.

In New Zealand, beyond film locations, tourists have little to see that is reminiscent of the film. Te Papa still hopes to mount an international touring exhibition which would be interactive, but Newline Cinema would not comment, saying there was nothing to announce.

Former Wellington mayor Mark Blumsky wants to spearhead a Lord of the Rings Museum in the Capital, and said talks with Newline would resume next year.

Blumsky said 40,000 props from the film were sitting in warehouses. "500,000 people visit the Little House on the Prairie each year so imagine the potential for Wellington if a Lord of the Rings museum could be set up."

Totally Wellington tourism manager Chris Lamers said hard line Tolkien fans might be keen to see where the trilogy was shot but Wellington had to do its best to give tourists more of a Lord of the Rings experience.

Lamers said the "huge secrecy" surrounding the film from the American film company meant it had been difficult to stage an exhibition or open a museum but talks were continuing, possibly with private backing. British tourist authorities would promote Britain as the home of Tolkien "but we need to get out there aggressively and claim the ground here", he said.

Tourism New Zealand chief executive George Hickton said most visitors who came as a result of the film would want to see the overall scenery - not necessarily the film sites.

The Tolkien Estate says the Sarehole area in Birmingham where Tolkien moved with his widowed mother in 1896, is the inspiration for the Shire, home of the hobbits. Tolkien wrote that Hobbiton was inspired by an old mill, two millers, a pond with swans on it, a sandpit, a dell with flowers, a few old-fashioned village houses and a stream with another mill.

Britain's Tolkien trail, launched after the film's premiere, is described as "One Trail to Rule Them All". It will "transport you to Tolkien's Middle Earth - a world of wizards, evil sorcerers, orcs, elves, goblins and many other wonderful inhabitants".