New Zealand becomes Middle Earth as Hobbit mania takes hold

WELLINGTON Tue Nov 27, 2012 6:14am EST

1 of 3. A woman takes a photo of a giant sculpture of J. R. R. Tolkien character Gollum at Wellington International Airport November 27, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Mark Coote

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand's capital city was rushing to complete its transformation into a haven for hairy feet and pointed ears on Tuesday as stars jetted in for the long-awaited world premiere of the first movie of the Hobbit trilogy.

Wellington, where director Peter Jackson and much of the post production is based, has renamed itself "the Middle of Middle Earth", as fans held costume parties and city workers prepared to lay 500 m (550 yards) of red carpet.

A specially Hobbit-decorated Air New Zealand jet brought in cast, crew and studio officials for the premiere.

Jackson, a one-time printer at a local newspaper and a hometown hero, said he was still editing the final version of the "Hobbit, an Unexpected Journey" ahead of Wednesday's premiere screening.

The Hobbit movies are based on J.R.R. Tolkien's book and tell the story that leads up to his epic fantasy "The Lord of the Rings", which Jackson made into three Oscar-winning films about 10 years ago.

It is set 60 years before "The Lord of The Rings" and was originally planned as only two movies before it was decided that there was enough material to justify a third.

New Zealand fans were getting ready to claim the best spots to see the film's stars, including British actor Martin Freeman, who plays the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, and Elijah Wood.

"It's been a 10-year wait for these movies, New Zealand is Tolkien's spiritual home, so there's no way we're going to miss out," said office worker Alan Craig, a self-confessed Lord of the Rings "nut".

The production has been at the centre of several controversies, including a dispute with unions in 2010 over labour contracts that resulted in the government stepping in to change employment laws, and giving Warner Brothers (TWX.N) increased incentives to keep the production in New Zealand.

"The Hobbit did come very close to not being filmed here," Jackson told Radio New Zealand.

He said Warners had sent scouts to Britain to look at possible locations and also matched parts of the script to shots of the Scottish Highlands and English forests.

"That was to convince us we could easily go over there and shoot the film ... and I would have had to gone over there to do it but I was desperately fighting to have it stay here," Jackson said.

Last week, an animal rights group said more than 20 animals, including horses, pigs and chickens, had been killed during the making of the film. Jackson has said some animals used in the film died on the farm where they were being housed, but that none had been hurt during filming.

The films are also notable for being the first filmed at 48 frames per second (fps), compared with the 24 fps that has been the industry standard since the 1920s.

The second film "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" will be released in December next year, with the third "The Hobbit: There and Back Again" due in mid-July 2014. (Editing by Paul Tait)

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The person who is most at fault in the animal mistreatment cases is not Peter Jackson. It is the Animal Coordinator Steve Old. He was responsible for leasing that farm which was a hilly sheep farm unsuitable for horses. Several other suitable properties were put forward by the horse trainer that would have cost the same amount. He was also responsible for hiring staff that were not qualified to look after horses and vetoed every attempt of the horse trainer to hire suitable staff. He prevented the horse trainer from making sensible training decisions. Old insisted on letting his girlfriend train horses even though she was not qualified to even be riding them and caused many problems with their training when she did ride them. He also insisted on other unqualified people being allowed to ride horses. Steve Old did not put any safe and appropriate training facilities in place. This was because he wanted to ensure he got the job by coming in under the budget outlined by another more qualified Animal Coordinator. He prevented the horse trainer from putting any facilities in place other than those that the horse trainer paid for out of his own pocket. Steve Old turned a blind eye to wilful abuse of animals – one case in which his own father was the abuser of a pig. This same person – Les Old – also sexually harassed a female staff member. When she told Steve that Les had groped her Steve fired her. Steve used production money and resources on his own private projects such as The Great NZ Trek. He pulled staff members away from caring for the animals on the film and sent them to do work on projects elsewhere during which time they were paid with film money. He bullied staff members into keeping quiet about any negative aspects of their work and told them they would be fired if they didn’t fall into line. The head horse trainer, another horse trainer and other wranglers resigned from the film after two months because their complaints about animal welfare were ignored and were not passed on to people higher up in the chain of command. Emails were sent after they resigned (in Feb 2011) detailing everything that was dangerous and needed to be rectified. I understand that these emails have only recently been passed on to Peter Jackson.

Nov 27, 2012 8:54am EST  --  Report as abuse
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