Hobbit fans eye up Middle-earth
21 May 2009
'Hobbit' hype is gathering international momentum as Tolkien fans again focus on Middle Earth and New Zealand's role in the making of the much-awaited Lord of the Rings prequel.
Devoted fans known as ‘Ringers’ are predicting The Hobbit will create even more excitement than the Lord of the Rings and, while the groundswell of interest for the award-winning trilogy has never waned, early indications confirm that The Hobbit could be an even bigger event for New Zealand.
Directors Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro have announced that The Hobbit will comprise two movies due in December 2011 and 2012, and already fans are keeping track of the action.
Hobbit anticipation builds
Film websites, fan clubs, movie magazines and Hollywood gossip columns are building with anticipation over who will take the lead roles, how the films will be treated and the exact locations to be used.
'Empire', a British movie magazine, recently headed their 20th birthday issue with an exclusive interview with del Toro and Jackson, who confirmed speculation that The Hobbit will span two movies covering the White Council and the comings and goings of Gandalf to Dol Guldur.
"We decided it would be a mistake to try to cram everything into one movie," said Jackson. "The essential brief was to do The Hobbit, and it allows us to make The Hobbit in a little more style, if you like, of the [LOTR] trilogy."
It had previously been suggested that the second film would bridge the 60-year gap between The Hobbit and the start of The Fellowship of the Ring.
Perfect Middle Earth
Last year Jackson revealed that there would be no reason to look outside New Zealand for film locations as he considered it "the perfect Middle Earth".
He said he wanted to use some of the same cast and New Zealand locations chosen for The Lord of the Rings trilogy and hoped to rebuild the elaborate Hobbiton village near Matamata in the Waikato region.
While much of Hobbiton was returned to its natural state after LOTR filming, the 17 of the 37 hobbit holes and structures left are visited by thousands of tourists each year.
Most visitors are from the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia and Germany and, at the height of ‘Rings fever’, more than 37,000 people visited the film site in a year.
Even now the Hobbiton movie set, which is located on a working sheep and beef farm, attracts more than 20,000 visitors annually.
Lord of the Rings had a significant impact on New Zealand’s tourist industry not only with avid fans keen to experience Middle Earth but also would-be visitors who were converted by scenes portrayed in the movies and the publicity surrounding them.
Te Papa - New Zealand’s national museum - says its top crowd-puller remains a collection of props from Lord of the Rings, which drew a total of 325,000 people over two stints in 2002 and 2006.
Red Carpet Tours, a New Zealand company specialising in 'Rings' tours says dedicated fans have continued their fascination with filming locations and New Zealand’s role in the movies, and indications are The Hobbit will incite even more interest.
A register for people wanting to pre-book a tour to coincide with the first movie premiere in 2011 is already filling up, and co-director Vic James says numbers will have to be restricted.
Erica Challis, also of Red Carpet Tours and the New Zealander who helped found theonering.net - the world’s best known website for Tolkien enthusiasts - says business is brisk with fans clamouring for news of The Hobbit.
Bigger than LOTR
As a long time Tolkien scholar and enthusiast herself, Challis says the depth of enthusiasm from fans today will make The Hobbit an even bigger event for New Zealand than the LOTR trilogy.
"This time the country will know what to expect. Before The Fellowship of the Ring came out people didn’t take much notice and most New Zealanders didn’t really realise the extent of what was going on around the country.
"The Hobbit is going to be so different - the groundswell of interest will continue and be even bigger than for LOTR. This time everyone is going to want to claim some connection," says Challis.
The One Ring website posts regular updates and snippets for fans and Challis says the relationship with the movie makers is now strong and has been built on trust.
Guillermo del Toro posts information on the website himself and in a recent interview praised Peter Jackson and the New Zealand setup.
"I really love how they have that setup in New Zealand, I call it 'Hollywood the way God intended it'. New Zealand has all the technical advantages when doing a big movie and you are shooting it in paradise, both in terms of artistic freedom and commitment," he said.
Del Toro down under
Del Toro says he and his family are moving to New Zealand for about four years during production of The Hobbit.
He says a lot of preparation is already underway in New Zealand including reforestation of The Shire: "Planting all those trees and plants will take months, and we're going to be as exact as possible."
Del Toro says he wants to avoid overuse of green screen photography and is keen to use locations as much as possible because The Hobbit is essentially a "journey movie".
He would be using Wellington company WETA Digital for effects and was keen to keep continuity with the other films, he said.
"What I’m trying to do is keep the elements in place but allow you to feel a progression from The Hobbit until The Return of the King," Del Toro said.
And a new development in the literary world has seen J R R Tolkien move into the digital age with the Lord of the Rings series released as e-books.
Last month HarperCollins began selling the LOTR trilogy, The Hobbit and The Children of Húrin as e-books which include the maps and runes contained in the traditional print books.
The company’s director of digital business development, David Roth-Ey, said the e-books were something that Tolkien fans clearly wanted.
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