Lord of the Rings: Magic for New Zealand Tourism?

Daily News (New Zealand)
December 19, 2001

Like the film itself, it is a little bit scary—the idea that a baby born in South Africa just short of 110 years ago might become the adult who would have such a huge impact on New Zealand, which he never visited, nearly 30 years after his death. Scarier still to imagine that the kick-start New Zealand needs, and looks in danger of getting, at the beginning of the third millennium might come from an ancient Scandinavian poem penned five centuries before the first human toe dented a New Zealand beach.

Mr. and Mrs. Tolkien's little boy, on whom they first laid eyes on January 3, 1892, and grandly named John Ronald Reuel, somewhat strangely developed a childhood taste for the gory and gloomy tale of Beowulf. He later migrated—in his imagination and reality—to the land of Merlin and Arthur to become a student and professor of literature and languages at British universities.

In 1937 J.R.R. initialed the last page of a story he wrote for his children, a book about little people called hobbits. Twenty years later, he completed his expansion of the magical theme in a trilogy embraced by the title The Lord of the Rings. The elaborate and sonorous tale of good versus evil, and triumph in adversity, in the alternative world of Middle Earth quickly became a literary cult—well before the arrival of Mr. and Mrs. Jackson's little boy, Peter. And the rest is, well, recent history.

From Book to Film

Film director Peter Jackson's Fellowship of the Ring, the first of a cinematic trilogy matching Tolkien's tales, is already being hailed as a masterpiece, one of the best 10 movies ever made—films that have changed cinematic history. And that was before it had been released to the world's public. The Fellowship, and next year's The Two Towers and The Return Of The King, are going to do for New Zealand what Paul Hogan's Crocodile Dundee did for Australia—but in wizard-sized multiples, and not only of intellect, as the effect hits the country's hobbit-sized economy.

The spotlight on New Zealand, where the movies were filmed, is perfectly timed. Travelers with lingering wariness about Northern Hemisphere routes will be itching to travel to the perceived safe haven of a down under Middle Earth. Matamata has already renamed itself Hobbiton, where they sell hobbitburgers. A dozen other film locations are busy marketing themselves—with rare energy and unity for the sleepy and fractured tourism industry.

The global film industry, too, is awakening to New Zealand's unique diversity of landscapes within a small area, close to accommodating cities—and cheaper than anywhere else in the world. At practically no cost to Kiwi taxpayers, the massive U.S. $700 million film series has put New Zealand on the map in dimensions no agency could dream of. It is a true tale almost as magical as Tolkien's.

© 2001 Daily News (New Zealand)

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