Hobbit, Sauron and Gollum makeover in New Zealand when Lord of the Rings turns 20

The Hobbiton Movie Set, a filming location for the film trilogy The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, is pictured in Matamata, New Zealand on December 27, 2020. REUTERS / Praveen Menon

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WELLINGTON, Dec 10 (Reuters) – Middle-earth came back to life this week as New Zealand celebrated the 20th anniversary of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy premiere with special screenings, a costume display and art exhibits.

Friday marked the 20th anniversary of the premiere of the first feature film in the JRR Tolkien trilogies “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” on December 10, 2001 at Odeon Leicester Square, London, which brought instant fame to the rolling hills of New Zealand. Meadows and forests that were the backdrop for the mythical Middle-earth.

Screenings were planned in cinemas in Auckland and Wellington, including an open-air screening on Friday in Hobbiton, a sheep and cattle ranch about 160 kilometers from Auckland, known as the “Home of the Hobbits”.

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“This event sold out faster than any other,” said Shayne Forrest, Hobbiton general manager.

Fans who come to the show have been preparing their costumes for nearly 12 months, Forrest said, adding he expected to see many as Hobbits, the Dark Lord Suaron, Orcs and Gollums.

“We have a Sauron who is wearing a full armor suit and headgear, and it won’t fit on our bus,” Forrest said.

New Zealand’s tourism industry has been impacted by border closings and pandemic restrictions for the past 20 months. Hobbiton received 650,000 tourists each year before the pandemic, but has only seen 90,000 visitors in the past 12 months. It reduced its workforce from around 320 to 50 people.

This week’s celebrations are an opportunity to bring New Zealand back to the world stage, Forrest said.

Hairy feet and pointy-eared hobbits will be back on screen when Amazon Studios began filming in New Zealand last year on The Lord of the Rings, a TV show widely dubbed the most expensive of all time .

But Amazon said the second season of the multi-million dollar television series will be filmed in the UK, driving Middle-earth out of New Zealand for the first time.

The series’ success helped the New Zealand film industry attract some of the biggest Hollywood productions, including James Cameron’s “Avatar” and, more recently, Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog” and Netflix series such as “Sweet Tooth”.

Many productions chose New Zealand last year because of the country’s COVID-19 free status.

But with the Delta eruption earlier this year, the industry, worth around NZ $ 3.3 billion and employing approximately 15,000 New Zealanders, faced challenges.

“But we have a resilient industry,” said David Strong, CEO of the New Zealand Film Commission.

“We’ll open next year and international productions are very happy to come back,” he added.

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Editing by Gerry Doyle

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