New Zealand's Hobbit crisis spurs national rallies

Mon Oct 25, 2010 7:11pm EDT
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WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Thousands of New Zealanders took to the country's streets on Monday to protest against possible plans to move production of Peter Jackson's "Hobbit" movies overseas.

With some dressed as hobbits or other characters from Middle Earth, they carried banners saying "New Zealand is Middle Earth" and "We Love Hobbits," aiming to reassure nervous Hollywood studio executives rattled by a short-lived union boycott.

The rallies were held a day before representatives from Warner Bros. Pictures were due to arrive in New Zealand to decide where to shoot the lucrative $500 million adaptation of the J.R.R. Tolkien fantasy.

Jackson made Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy in his native New Zealand, boosting the local film industry and enhancing the tiny country's international image.

He had planned to shoot a two-part adaptation of "The Hobbit" locally as well, but union protests about working conditions infuriated Jackson and unnerved the studio.

The Time Warner division said last week it would seek film locations outside New Zealand, a move that economists said could cost the country up to $1.5 billion.

The unions have backed down, and industry analysts believe Warner Bros. will use the Hobbit crisis to extract financial incentives when executives meet a high-powered delegation led by Prime Minister John Key on Tuesday.

Key told reporters on Monday that he thought there is a 50-50 chance of the movies being filmed in New Zealand.

"I'd love to tell you it's a done deal, but we're a long way away from being a done deal. There are a number of issues that we'd need to resolve," he was quoted by the New Zealand Herald as saying.   Continued...

<p>Elijah Wood as Hobbit Frodo in a scene from "The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring". REUTERS/Handout</p>