Hobbit films longer than the books

December 21st, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Walt Hickey at Five Thirty Eight looks at lengths of movies compared to length of books they are based on.

The only movies which are longer than a minute per page (which you could say is average reading speed) are the three Hobbit films with the third one being 144 minutes of film for 72 pages of a book!

The closest to the Hobbit films is the Great Gatsby which is 143 minutes for 180 pages 0.79 minutes per page.


The $676 million we almost lost!

October 6th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reported:

Making the movie trilogy The Hobbit has cost more than half a billion dollars so far, double the amount spent on the three movies in the “The Lord of the Rings” series.

That figure includes the major 266 days of filming with actors that was completed last year, although it doesn’t include an additional two months or so of “pick-up” shoots done this year. There will likely also be additional post-production costs as the next two movies are completed.

Through March 31, production had cost NZ$676 million New Zealand dollars, according to financial documents filed Friday.

Are Labour still vowing to reverse the law change that helped keep The Hobbit in New Zealand?

I can’t wait for The Desolation of Smaug in December.

The Hobbit tourism boom

June 5th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Olivia Wannan at Stuff reports:

It’s not just Bilbo journeying there and back again through Middle-earth – almost one in 10 international visitors are here for the same reason.

Tourism New Zealand figures published yesterday show overseas tourist arrivals were up 10 per cent from 2012 for the first four months of the year.

Of the one million international visitors in those months, 8.5 per cent said The Hobbit was a factor in their choice.

For one in eight tourists, a Middle-earth experience, such as visiting Hobbiton, near Matamata, was high on the to-do list.

Yet it almost all didn’t happen thanks to the Australian Hobbit Hater and his mates. And even today they attack the Government for keeping the film in New Zealand, after the Australian union initiated a global boycott of the film.

Now let us try to estimate how much money NZ has made from tourism, associated with the film (and it may increase once the DVDs go fully out with NZ tourism segments on them). 1,000,000 over four months is 3,000,000 over a year. 8.5% of that is 255,000 extra tourists.

That average spend by an international tourist is $2,697 so the direct extra spend is around $687 million a year. Recall that every time someone attacks the Government for saving the film. And no doubt if the Government had done nothing, and if the films had gone overseas, they’d blame the Government for that also.

Taylor says Govt made The Hobbit possible

April 12th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Hamish Rutherford at Stuff reports:

Weta Workshops founder Sir Richard Taylor has hailed Prime Minister John Key at a gala dinner in Beijing, saying The Hobbit movie “was made possible, in no small part” by his government.

The last major showpiece event in a week long trade delegation, Sir Richard used his keynote speech last night to indirectly praise Key’s controversial decision to give Warner Brothers a special subsidy to ensure the filming stayed in New Zealand.

The Hobbit has recently opened in China, with Key saying embassy staff had successfully lobbied to have it as one of the 40 or so foreign films released here annually, but also just after the Chinese New Year, to maximise its return.

Box office takings in China had seen the movie gross more than US$1 billion, Warner Brothers told Key.

The Hobbit is now the 14th highest-grossing film of all time. Three of the top 15 were made in NZ.

$3 billion from the screen industry

April 11th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stats NZ announced:

Revenue from filmmaking in New Zealand took off in 2012, powering the screen industry beyond $3 billion, Statistics New Zealand said today.

“This is the first time since the survey began in 2005 that the screen industry has surpassed $3 billion. The breakthrough has been aided by a surge in feature film revenue, which rose almost 50 percent in 2012 to more than $1 billion,” screen industry statistics manager Hamish Hill said.

“Forty feature films were completed in New Zealand in 2012, five more than in 2011. This shows New Zealand’s film industry is expanding from its success in creating and producing world-class content.”

I wonder what it would have been if the Hobbit haters working for the Australian union had won?

$3 billion of revenue is a great achievement for the screen industry. Long may it last and grow.

Disquiet from Dunne?

March 8th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Peter Dunne blogged:

This government prides itself on a business like approach to issues. It likes to cut through quickly and resolve issues before they get too bogged down in red tape. For many New Zealanders, this pragmatism is welcome, coming after years of stultification and wariness under successive previous governments.

A lot of this change is due to the attitude and style of the Prime Minister, who is focused on achieving things and making a difference. In general, it is an approach which has worked well and probably explains in part at least why the government remains so popular in its fifth year in office.

But, as a couple of recent examples show, there is a danger that the cut through which has been one of the government’s hallmarks will become a major problem for it.

Take the case of the Sky City Convention Centre proposal. There is no doubt Auckland needs a world class convention centre, and that in all probability, Sky City is arguably in the best position to develop such a facility. No problem with that, subject, of course, to the specifics of the deal stacking up. But as the Auditor-General’s report shows, while there has been no impropriety in the process followed by the government, it did play very fast and loose at times.

Similarly, with the Hobbit movies. No-one seriously opposed making the movies here, and the government would have been roundly criticised if let the opportunity slip through its fingers, but as the various documents recently released show, the government’s enthusiasm for the movies being made here did get in the way of the facts from time to time as deals were struck to ensure the right outcome.

There is a time-bomb warning to the government here. Support for the cut through approach will wither if it is seen to be a standard proxy for bending the rules or doing special deals to achieve the desired outcome. While the government is not immediately vulnerable on this issue, the clock has started ticking.

I think at the heart of what Dunne is saying, is that Governments should not be seen to be picking out individual companies to do “deals” with. There is a difference between measures which favour a specific sector such as relaxing RMA rules, making mining easier, tax rebates for films – and “deals” with specific companies.

In the two cases cited, there were unusual circumstances for both, which won’t generally apply across the board.

The Hobbit “deal” was basically triggered by the malign acts of an Australian union official who was trying to blackmail the production through an international boycott. The union represented almost no actual New Zealanders and was trying to muscle its way in. If MEAA had never triggered a global boycott, then the crisis that caused the deal would never have eventuated. It was an own goal. But the key point, is that it was forced on the Government. And in the end the agreement they came to with Warners did not apply just for that production or that company.

The proposed (not yet agreed) Sky City deal for some regulatory changes in return for building a $350 million convention centre is a deal with just one company. This is not ideal. But the reason it is that way is because we have a law that prohibits any further casinos in New Zealand – there is a monopoly in Auckland – Sky City. Hence there is only one company you can negotiate with if you want to negotiate regulatory changes in return for more investment. If I had my way I’d get rid of the silly ban on more casinos so we have multiple operators.

Anyway the point I think Peter Dunne was making is that these two cases should be exceptions, not the rule. And I agree with him.

The Hobbit e-mails

February 27th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Hamish Rutherford at Stuff reports:

Sir Peter Jackson was so frustrated by a “snake” union official he was unable to think about The Hobbit for three weeks.

Documents released under order by the Ombudsman reveal the award-winning director said Cabinet minister Gerry Brownlee was “played like a fool” by Simon Whipp, a former director of Australian union Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA). …

The Government had “engaged with a snake, who now feels quite fearless”, Sir Peter said.

“I really can’t [take] much more of this toxic nonsense. All I want to do is make films! I haven’t been able to think about the movie for 3 weeks.”

The full e-mails are here. I think they show the incredible strain that Jackson was under, caused by one Australian union official aided and abetted by barely a dozen locals. MEAA is not an NZ union, and it controls the NZ Actor’s Equity which represents less than 10% of NZ actors. It was a classic case of destructive behaviour and you see what was really driving it was MEAA trying to establish a massive income stream for itself.

The e-mail from New Line Cinema is also revealing. They state that “momentum was growing to find alternatives – including New South Wales” and detail how there would be less risk there. Anyone who claims the films were in no danger of moving is dreaming.

The Office: An Unexpected Journey

January 10th, 2013 at 5:52 pm by David Farrar

Very good.

The Hobbit and tourism

January 1st, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Elle Hunt at Stuff reports:

Travel websites have reported significant growth in searches and bookings for New Zealand this month, after the worldwide release of The Hobbit.

The flight search website Sky scanner.com recorded a 102 per cent increase in worldwide searches for flights to New Zealand this month compared with December 2011, including a 117 per cent spike in searches for flights to Wellington.

The foreign currency exchange group Travelex has reported a 26 per cent increase in pre-orders for New Zealand dollars compared with December 2011.

Air New Zealand bookings from the United States were reported to have nearly doubled on the day before the November 28 world premiere in Wellington, and increased by a third in Japan after a Hobbit promotion there.

Excellent. Let me tell you that travel industry people in Queenstown still rage about how certain groups and individuals tried to sabotage The Hobbit. And no I don’t bring the issue up.

And The Hobbit continues to dominate at the box office. Total revenue to date has been US$686 million. It currently makes up 38% of all box office revenue in the United States.

Guest Post: HOBBIT #1: An Unexpected Journey , Review – John Stringer.

December 31st, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

[There are NO spoilers here: we all know the story of The Hobbit].

I took Domestic Goddess to see this last night.  We watched the 48 frames per sec 3D version (there are three options) and this is the way to go, although 3D gives some people a headache. I loved it, there is no going back, and 3D/48 is the future (like talkies and colour TV).  The future is full immersion with the audience ‘inside’ the movie using 360 cameras (now achievable) and being able to shift yourself about as one of the characters with different perspectives (10 years time?).  I have already seen this done in live theatre with wrap around screens, projection and live performance.

Far o’er the Misty Mountains cold

To dungeons deep and caverns old

We must away ere break of day

To seek the pale enchanted gold.

I WAS STUNNED.  This is the best cinematic experience I have ever had.  Peter Jackson is brilliant.  I’ve had occasional doubts about him (Lovely Bones) but this proves (or reproves) he is a true genius and can do anything with film. I have no hesitation calling him the greatest filmmaker and story-teller alive.  Guillermo del Toro (Hell Boy, Pan’s Labyrinth) also a great director, was originally hired to direct, but moved on after the union delays. I am so glad Jackson was hands-on here to complete the tale in his characteristic style. Hobbit #1 is another stunning classic in the canon of film and will forever be the crossover movie into 48 frames.  Andy Serkis (Gollum) managed the second film unit, so establishes himself as a close Jackson colleague, having starred in many Jackson productions.

Sequel Syndrome Challenges

Telling The Hobbit on the tail of LoTRings is a daunting task.  Most sequels flop or arrive as re-hashed re-grooves.  But The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a completely new experience, with a different but complementary ‘feel’ to LotRings.  It is doubly awkward, because it comes before LotRings, so Jackson is working backwards with characters and plot. He fleshes out the Shire and Rivendell more within their contexts.  Gandalf is more wizened here and quirky (less the austere all-powerful wizard) and a maia with much more personality and obvious weaknesses. There are five mysterious maiar in Middle-Earth: Gandalf the Grey, Radagast the Brown, Saurman the White and two unnamed others.


The movie starts slowly as narrative, but this is fine, as we spend 20 minutes establishing rich characters (Bilbo and the dwarves).  Jackson fleshes out the Hobbit dwarves more deeply as a people (tinkers, tailors, toy makers, their lust for gold, their vulgarity and stubbornness) in contrast to the lithe gracefulness of the elves. Hob1 is perfectly paced, with action, back story, flashback, and appropriately placed drama roller coasters. One is never bored.


Martin Freeman (Bilbo) channels Ian Holm (Bilbo in LoTR) to create a seamless transition between the two actors. Ian Holm is in this too, as the older Bilbo in the first 20 minutes, along with Elijah Wood as Frodo to establish the latter’s connection to the earlier story, when in the book he is not present. Freeman is perhaps best know to us from The Office (UK). I was dubious about his casting at first, but he is fantastic. Hugo Weaving returns as Elrond and Cate Blanchett as the magnificent Lady Galadriel with gorgeous dresses.

Thorin II Oakenshield, son of Thráin, son of Thrór, King Under the Mountain has a nemesis. Azog is a pale, scarred orc captain who rides a warg, visceral and threatening, like some zombie SS Einsatzgruppen at work in Poland. His son Bolg features later in the Hobbit story.

Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield (so-named after fighting Azog with a real log of oak) is perhaps a little pretty for me here, with his Jesus eyes; he also sounds very like Boromir which I found distracting.  I would have cast him more bulbous-nosed, stumpy and war-scarred (not Fabio meets Conan).  Bombur looks like a cartoon Obelix, but otherwise the dwarves are brilliant, with Mark Hadlow of Christchurch the dwarf with plaited white hair.  Jackson captures the essence of Tolkien’s dwarves, with their Celtic livery, accents and roguish lustiness. I love their head-butting greeting. They are best characterized as a dwarfish army in a flash back to a great battle with the orcs, where we witness classic Tolkien epic brought to visual extravaganza.  The allusion of the dwarves to the Jewish Diaspora is obvious (which I have written on elsewhere) as well as the adoption of Jewish mythical “golem.”

Barry Humphreys (Dame Eda) unrecognizable as the Goblin King is brilliant with his hideous neck goiter.  His voice and dialogue is gripping, and ghastly, evoking chilling isolated terror of being caught down there in his kingdom with nowhere to go, in the hands of some psychopathic serial killer who will kill you long and slow.  Ugh.  (“Be good children, or the goblins will get you!”). His demise by Gandalf is apt. The variety and design of the goblins is great. I loved the messenger goblin with deformed feet on a flying fox.  The goblins (small orcs) with their long ears are well characterised (if moving a little too quickly for my eyes).  I would have preferred more medieval hoods and armor much like they were portrayed in Labyrinth (David Bowie) but this is Jackson’s style.

Gollum is a real star in this, and obviously should be.  His character and schizophrenia are crafted more and he is portrayed a little blacker than in LotRings and slightly more dangerous, perhaps with the added confidence of having his Ring. The riddle scene with Bilbo is critical and Jackson carries this off.  There is a gut-wrenching scene where Gollum has lost Precious (after 500 years) and is arched, gasping desperately at the water’s edge, lamenting the loss of his everything and all.

I don’t know what happened to Christopher Lee’s Saruman in this movie, he is pallid and ordinary, like a school headmaster lecturing a student on his way to a fancy dress party.

Special Effects CGI

The special effects are amazing, but 48 frames a second is unforgiving and a few fakes are evident.

  1. The two heavy axes on the bald dwarf’s back appear obviously plastic at times, they sway and move as if light.
  2. Hobbit feet seem prosthetic and rigidly clumsy at moments.

However, the covering of horses in wool and packing them out to make them seem like little ponies as the company ride out of the Shire is brilliantly convincing.  I am not a huge fan of CGI.  Most CGI creations move too quickly, to mask the limitations of the technology; I would have liked the orcs and wargs to slow down a bit so I can take them in. The underground dwarf kingdoms contrasted with the ramshackle maggot labyrinths of the goblins, also underground, are among the most startling special effects and cinematography of the film (and rival LotRings) are gob dropping in their sweep and creativity.

Jackson does well to restrain Smaug in Hobbit #1; we get only tantalizing glimpses, and never a full view, but enough to evoke the terror and power of this Fire Drake from the North, of which more later.The three stone trolls are brilliant and just how Tolkien wrote them.  I enjoyed this episode for its humor and fleshing out trolls more as viable creatures with personality rather than as mindless oxen of LoTRings.

Gawihir Windlord and his wonderful giant eagles are again the cavalry hooray factor, and they play across the other star in this show, New Zealand, with gorgeous sweeping vistas and landscapes (no need for CGI here).  Jackson uses visual hyperbole: precipices drop not hundreds of feet but thousands, toppling trees hang inches from chasms, destinations lay on horizons swathed in mist, etc.


There are moments of real dramatic pathos here, although the film lacks a romantic element (like Arwen and Aragorn) hinted at only slightly by collegial affection between Galadriel and Gandalf.  The two moments that stand out for me, are:

1) BIlbo invisible with the ring on about to stab Gollum through the throat, who cannot see, but senses the hobbit.  They stare at each other full of loss, hatred, desperation, fear, loathing, compassion all-in-one. This evokes the central line of the movie, spoken by Gandalf at the beginning, “true courage is to know when not to take a life” obviously setting up Gollum’s critical role in the whole long epic.  Frodo confronts the same crossroads. Bilbo’s insight and compassion are moving, a lesson to us all.

2) The second scene is similar, as Thorin and Azog eye each other up in the dramatic forest burning scene.  Thorin heir of Durin marches magnificently towards Azog through fire, like the Terminator, to avenge his fathers, a gripping moment of goody vs baddy that ends not quite as you expect.

Weak scenes

A few implausible scenes that bordered on the annoying rollicking of Tintin:

1) Toppling down in to the goblin tunnel that no one would have survived.  Not one compound fracture; are dwarves made of concrete?

2) The collapsing platform inside the goblin kingdom with everyone onboard, after mass slaying of goblins, is too Indiana Jones. We need plausibility to create real terror throughout the epic.  If they survive anything, it becomes ho hum. Good fantasy is ‘real.’

3) The Stone Giants scene was a bit slo. mo. Transformers for me, and the characters hanging on to them as Ragnarock is played out, might have been best edited out of the movie.  Although, how can you omit the Stone Giants smashing mountains?


Somewhat contradictory, I still enjoyed the Disney-esque rabbit Santa sleigh of Radagast the Brown.  He is a wonderful character, and adds breadth to Gandalf’s valar order.  Radagast played by Sylvester McCoy (the 7th Dr Who) is reminiscent of Catweazel played by Robin Davies. I especially enjoyed the assault on his quaint dilapidated forest cottage by large shadowy spiders, a hint of things to come. He adds real humor while contrasting completely the sinister yet mysterious Necromancer in the ruined tower (the Witch King of Angmar returned) that preoccupies Galadriel so much.

There is no Jackson cameo here, that I could see.  Also, Radagast is using Gandalf’s staff from the LotRings movies.  I don’t know if this is significant to later Hobbit films, or whether it was an unnoticed prop share between the actors (unlikely).  So watch for that in Hob#2.

Music and Title Lettering

Light reflecting across uneven (ie handmade) brassy title  lettering in Tolkien script, tick. Theme sung by Neil Finn, excellent.  I liked how Jackson sub-titled his movie “An Unexpected Journey” about 20 minutes in, the dual titles and how they fitted with LotR three sub-titles was always going to be problematic.  Jackson’s ability to chop visual story-telling into related and coherent chapters is one of his strengths.

Length and How to End Hob#1?

I wondered how Jackson could spin this out across three movies, but he achieves this admirably.  Hob#1 is a coherent self-contained movie in its own right, but obviously part of a whole.  It has its own drama (fights, the riddle episode, the three stone trolls, the burning forest, the goblin kingdom) and we await so much more: Beorn, the Battle of Five Armies, Smaug, Dale, the Lonely Mountain. This is such a rich and deep tale that it can easy stretch three movies (good on New Line Cinema for agreeing to that).

But how to end Hob#1?  I wondered as we drew to a close how Jackson might do this.  I won’t spoil this for you, but let’s just say it is a genius segue to LotRings but using the context of the Hobbit with an eye for detail.  Nuff said.

This was so good I would go back the next day and watch it all again.  Enthusiastic 10/10. I recommend 3D 48 frames version (take your glasses to save $1).

Looking forward to Hobbit #2 next Christmas.

BASIC STORY for the Uninitiated: Hobbit #1

  • Dwarves live in magnificent opulent kingdoms of power and wealth underground toiling and mining.
  • They are corrupted by lust for gold and the jewel Arkenstone (the heart of a mountain).
  • A fire drake name of Smaug attacks the realm of the Dwarves like a flaming Exocet missile entering a terrorist bunker.
  • Dwarves flee and are dispossessed (sack of Jerusalem 70AD by the Romans).
  • Smaug snuggles into a mountain of gold and gems plunder (Scrooge McDuck’s swimming pool of money).
  • Not heard of for 60 years.
  • Durin’s-heir Thorin Oakenshield  gathers willing dwarves to seek to retake their homeland.
  • Birds have started returning to the Lonely mountain, a prophetic sign the dragon will be dispossessed.
  • No one will help.  Enmity between dwarves and elves for past grievances.
  • Gandalf gathers 13 dwarves and 1 hobbit (Bilbo).
  • Adventures on the way towards the Lonely Mountain and Smaug’s stolen lair with monsters and battles.
  • While lost in the heart of the mountain and the goblin kingdom, Bilbo meets an unusual creature called Gollum in a fetid lake.

He finds a magical invisible-making ring, the possession of Gollum for 500 years.

Some Hobbit facts

December 18th, 2012 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Got an e-mail a week or so back from Film NZ, declaring NZ the winner of “Best Supporting Country” to film makers. They said:

“Today we are highlighting just a few of them, individuals, businesses and community groups like the Glenorchy Volunteer Fire Brigade and the entire population of gorgeous Otago town of Naseby,” she said.

Gisella Carr said the range of skills required to support a production with scale as large as The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, is incredible.

“We’re saying ‘thank you’ to people like the Canterbury weather planner, the resource consent expert from Ohope, the Queenstown based helicopter pilot, the Wellington sushi maker, the digger driver and his wife in the King Country – and of course those wonderful folk who kept the crew fed and fuelled.” 

They also had some interesting facts about the filming of The Hobbit:

  • 99 sets were built
  • 6750 domestic flights were taken
  • 19 commercial properties were leased long term
  • 93,000 hotel bed nights were sold
  • 1800 rental cars were hired
  • 1650 work vehicles  were used                                                                                            
  • $380,000  was spent on coffee
  • $9,180,000 was spent on set construction materials (with local suppliers) 
  • approximately 16,000 days were worked by New Zealand actors
  • $1,450,000 was spent with local food suppliers 

The NZ film and TV industry is now worth $3 billion a year to the NZ economy. Long may it keep growing.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

December 15th, 2012 at 9:39 pm by David Farrar

Just got back from seeing Part I of The Hobbit films.

The 48 rate frame speed is quite incredible, especially combined with 3D. It definitely does take around 10 minutes to get used to it, and the early scenes with the dwarves seem almost unreal and you wonder if it is CGI. But then when you get some NZ scenic shots, you realise how amazing it is.

The movie starts with a history of the dwarf kingdom under The Mountain and the coming of Smaug. You never see Smaug, just his tail and devastation.  His full glory will be in Part II. The scenes of Erebor in its glory are amazing.

The Bag End scene is very faithful to the book, and a lot of fun. It did drag on a few minutes longer than necessary in my view, but overall the movie was well paced for what it got through in 140 minutes.

The troll scene was quite comic, and in fact there were many laughs during the movie – tinged with a bit of darkness.

The wargs were absolutely terrifying, and Jackson’s battle scenes remain unsurpassed.

Radagast the Brown was generally okay and funny, but I can see how one reviewer said he had a tinge of Jar Jar Binks about him. But they pulled him back just in time. His rabbit powered sleigh was absolute genius though. Radagast plays a key role in uncovering the growing evil at Dol Goldur, which will be a major aspect of Part III I am sure.

The dwarves are difficult to distinguish at times, despite their physical differences. The best guide to their different personalities is actually in the Air NZ monthly magazine.

Saruman and Galadriel play minor roles which add little, but help set up Part III also. Azog makes a great baddy, and you see how Thorin got the name Oakenshield.

The highlights are the scenes in the Misty Mountains. Great battle and running scenes. Barry Humphries excels as the Great Goblin and Andy Serkis captures Golum in all his complexity. I especially like it where Bilbo spares Gollum’s life, as this is so significant later on.

Seven of us viewed it, and everyone loved it. Can’t wait for Part II which will have a lot of action also – Beorn, Wood Elves, Giant Spiders, Bard and Smaug.

The Hobbit breaks records

December 15th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Hitfix reports:

Peter Jackson‘s “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” has finally finished making its journey to the big screen, and Middle Earth fans sure missed the director-co-writer’s take on the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien.

The film, the first of three based on the slender 1937 tome “The Hobbit,” picked up an estimated $13 million in midnight screenings in the U.S. on Thursday night. It’s the best December midnight performance of all-time.

Opening on 3,100 theaters (it’s adding nearly 1,000 more today), and aided by inflated IMAX, 3D and 48 fps ticket prices, “The Hobbit” is expected to gross somewhere between $80 million to $90 million for the weekend, which should easily pass the previous December champ — the Will Smith’s epic “I Am Legend,” which scared up $77.2 million in 2007.

I’m off to see it today. Can’t wait.

Colbert and Hobbits

December 6th, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reported:

Stephen Colbert is devoting a full week of his internationally syndicated showThe Colbert Report to The Hobbit.

Colbert, a US comedian, is a rabid JRR Tolkien fan who recently won a cameo role in one of The Hobbit films from director Peter Jackson.

He is taking his commitment to Middle-earth to the next level starting today by celebrating “Hobbit week” on The Colbert Report, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis – who play Gandalf, Bilbo and Gollum – and Jackson will all guest on the show.

McKellen is reportedly first in line to be interviewed.

Colbert visited the set of The Hobbit trilogy during filming.

He reportedly beat film producer and Tolkien expert Philippa Boyens in a Hobbit quiz.

Jackson called him the biggest “Tolkien geek” he had ever met.

Beating Boyens is an impressive feat. We should arrange a play off against Judge David Harvey who won both NZ Mastermind in 1980 and Mastermind International in 1981 on the subject of Lord of the Rings. The questions and answers that were put to him are here.

The Colbert Report gets a million or so viewers. Having The Hobbit and NZ feature on it for a week is great free publicity.

Hide on Peter Jackson

December 2nd, 2012 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Rodney Hide writes in the HoS:

Three cheers for Sir Peter Jackson. He’s done it again. Another blockbuster movie. Made right here in New Zealand.

Sir Peter proves anything is possible. I would never have believed that a Kiwi down in New Zealand could make blockbuster movies. Not just blockbuster movies but movies that bust the Hollywood block.

Sir Peter’s Lord of the Rings trilogy was the biggest movie project ever undertaken. The trilogy grossed $3 billion at the box office. It won 17 Academy awards. The final in the series, Return of the King, won 11 Oscars, tying it withBen Hur and Titanic for the most Academy Awards ever.

The Hobbit is even bigger. And, again, Sir Peter has delivered.

I was lucky enough to attend the premiere of The Unexpected Journey. The crowd and the enthusiasm for the movie was incredible. It wasn’t just hype. The stars were genuinely overcome by their reception. And their warmth for New Zealand, and for working with Sir Peter, was real. It was a tremendous feeling to be there.

I doubt there is any other city, where a significant proportion of the population would turn up for a movie premiere!

James Cameron, director of Avatar and Titanic, attended. He said the The Hobbit sets a new movie-making standard.

He also had this to say about Sir Peter, elevating the movie industry in New Zealand to a global level: “It’s really only happened a couple of times before, in Los Angeles and maybe London. It’s the first time it’s been done by a single film-maker.”

Jackson’s contribution to New Zealand, and especially Wellington, is almost unprecedented for an individual. I believe his legacy will outlive him and Wellington (and NZ) is well placed to continue as a moviemaking city, even when Jackson is not making films himself.

It’s easy for us to have an inferiority complex. Ours is a small country a long way from the rest of the world. We can easily believe we can’t do as well as the rest of the world. The rest of the world seems richer, bigger and closer to the action.

But Sir Peter proves that wrong. He entered one of the biggest, toughest industries in the world and did it bigger and better than anyone else.

We no longer suffer the tyranny of distance. And, yes, ours is a small population, but that no longer hampers us because now the entire world is only a nanosecond away.

Jackson can be finalising a film on the Sunday, and have it transmitted to Hollywood within a couple of hours.

Oh, The Hobbit has had its share of knockers – political activists, unionists, Peta, the disgruntled and the envious. Our biggest impediment may be the tall-poppy syndrome. But we shouldn’t let nagging ninnies blind us to achievement and opportunity.

Indeed, the Hobbit haters have had their share of publicity. For me, I can’t wait to see the film – especially at the faster frame rate.

Dom Post on The Hobbit

November 28th, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

Along the way J Tolkien’s creation had to contend with trolls, goblins, giant spiders and Smaug, the dragon. Jackson has had to deal with accountants, jittery film bosses, Actors’ Equity and the Council of Trade Unions.

Bilbo returned to his hobbit hole rich and possessed of a magic ring, but his neighbours never looked at him the same way again. About him hung the unsettling aroma of adventure.

Jackson returned from his first foray to Hollywood with a clutch of Oscars for his work on The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but he too found perceptions had changed. About him hung the aroma of success. He was no longer a hometown boy made good, but a movie mogul. Hence Actors’ Equity’s attempt to use The Hobbit as a vehicle for settling long-running industry grievances.

A dumber strategy is difficult to imagine. The Lord of the Rings gave thousands of Kiwis a start in the film industry and became the greatest marketing tool New Zealand has possessed. Tolkien fans flocked to see the places where the story they loved was brought to life.

The Hobbit is doing the same. Over the past year, 2000 people have been employed on the three films Jackson is making from the book and work will continue for another two years.

To organise an international blacklist of the project was close to being an act of sabotage.

And it was done by an Australian union that had probably just a few dozen members in New Zealand, almost none of whom were even involved in The Hobbit. People forget that in fact the terms and conditions for The Hobbit were better than arguably any other production in NZ.

Yes, The Lord of the Rings was shot in New Zealand, yes, Jackson wanted to make the films here, yes, other potential English-speaking locations were already unionised. However, for every argument to suggest Warner Bros would have no choice but to bow to union demands, there was another to suggest it would pack up and go elsewhere.

In the end I believe Peter Jackson when he says the films were at serious risk. I do not think he is a liar. Those who argue otherwise base their arguments on speculation.

If Jackson felt Actors’ Equity was jeopardising the project, he needed to be listened to. Fortunately he was by the Government, which changed the law to ease Warner’s concerns and pumped even more public money into the project.

Some things are too important to gamble on a coin toss. New Zealand is a minor player in an industry in which tax breaks and publicly funded incentives are part of the furniture.

The choice before John Key’s Government was simple – stand on its dignity or sweeten the pot. Today’s red carpet premiere of the most eagerly anticipated movie of 2012 confirms it made the right choice. Other potential locations will be looking on in envy.

Yey the hypocrites who spent two years attacking the deal constantly, and vowing to repeal it, are now out there at the premiere. They had a choice of supporting jobs for New Zealanders or supporting a malignant Australian union, and they chose union solidarity over the best interests of New Zealand.

The Hobbit jobs

November 28th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Tracy Watkins at Stuff reports:

As Hobbit fever builds, the Government is touting job creation as the biggest win from incentives that add up to hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer subsidies for movie producers.

But Green Party co-leader Russel Norman says those jobs did not come cheap – and at tens of thousands of dollars a job, he questions whether the Government should be backing other industries instead.

Taxpayers have reportedly shelled out more than $500 million in the past decade subsidising Hollywood productions like Sir Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. The Hobbit is expected to snare as much as $60 million in subsidies.

Hollywood Studios have pressed the Government to raise the subsidies even higher – and Hobbit director Sir Peter Jackson reiterated that call yesterday.

Prime Minister John Key suggested that was unlikely, but said the Cabinet would be looking at extending them to television productions.

The Hobbit had created 3000 jobs, he said.

But Dr Norman said there needed to be a cap on the cost of producing those jobs. If 2000 jobs were created over a year at a cost of $100 million that was a cost of $50,000 a job.

“If the Government is willing to pay $50,000 a job for a Hobbit job, it does beg the question why they won’t give any support whatsoever to the manufacturing sector and are happy to see us lose tens of thousands of jobs there and do nothing about it.

Firstly it is good to see Russel Norman concerned about inefficient job subsidies. I hope his concern extends to his proposals for massive investment on “Green Jobs” as these tend to represent a subsidy of over $100,000 a job.

I’m not a huge fan of the film subsidies, but as I understand them they are close to fiscally neutral. They basically represent the a refund on the GST spent by the production. Now as the movies can be made anywhere, the argument is that if there was no subsidy then they would not be made here and the Government would not gain the GST on the production.

This is a reasonable argument. It is also quite different from subsidising a particular industry over another, where the investment would be happening regardless.

So the argument is that the taxpayer doesn’t actually lose money on the subsidy, as they gather it back from the increased GST take. And on top of that you have the wider economic activity from the production.

The Hobbit hypocrites

November 27th, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Claire Trevett reports:

Three Labour MPs, including its leadership team of David Shearer and Grant Robertson, will attend the red-carpet premiere of The Hobbit tomorrow despite strong criticism over the deal to appease the movie’s makers, Warner Bros.

The absolute hypocrites. You see it is not as if Labour just opposed the deal at the time – they have attacked it scores and scores of times over the last two years. Labour MPs rail against the deal constantly. Their policy is to reverse it. In fact their policy is to basically turn all contractors into employees, which would absolutely destroy global film production in New Zealand.

Mr Robertson denied it was hypocritical to attend the event after criticising the deal with Warner Bros which included a change to employment law to set out the legal status of film workers as contractors rather than employees. “I remain staunchly opposed to the legislation passed by the National Government in this matter. We thought it was wrong and unnecessary and still do.

Labour still seem unable to understand or accept that restrictive labour laws discourage films like this being made in New Zealand. They think you can have your cake and eat it also. Worse of all they backed the Australian union that instituted a global boycott against The Hobbit against the thousands of Kiwis who gained employment on it.

Normally I am an advocate of civility in politics, but this hypocrisy stinks to hell. If you see the Hobbit hypocrites on the red carpet tomorrow I encourage you to let them know what you think of their hypocrisy.

Mr Robertson said it was appropriate for him to attend – he was the MP for Wellington Central and The Hobbit had employed a large number of people in his electorate.

No thanks to you. Your union backers almost saw the film move overseas – and you backed them – and still do. Grant has a history of not backing his constituents – as when he filibustered his own local bill on behalf of the Royal Society of NZ based in his electorate.

The Green Party also criticised National at the time and a spokeswoman said none of its MPs were going.

Not hypocrites.

In 2010, the stoush was exacerbated by the Actors Unity proposing a “blacklist” on the Hobbit movies to push for a collective contract – a blacklist which was subsequently lifted. Actors Equity has said it was a scapegoat after official papers showed Mr Brownlee had advised that the real concern of Warners was the employment law change rather than a blacklist.

The very change that Labour fights against, and has vowed to repeal. They want contractors to be employees, even if the parties have agreed to be contractors, which is hideously complex and expensive for film productions.

And if you think there was no danger of The Hobbit moving, then read this:

“[Warner Bros] had sent a location scout around England and Scotland to take photos, and they literally had the script broken down to each scene, and in each scene there were pictures of the Scottish Highlands, and the forests in England… and that was to convince us we could easily just go over there and shoot the film,” he told Radio New Zealand.

All thanks to the Australian union and its supporters in NZ.


Lies from PETA

November 21st, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Hobbit haters are out in force, determined to smear Sir Peter Jackson and the film.

The Associated Press reported:

 Animal wranglers involved in the making of “The Hobbit” movie trilogy say the production company is responsible for the deaths of up to 27 animals, largely because they were kept at a farm filled with bluffs, sinkholes and other “death traps.” …

Sir Peter has responded on Facebook:

The Hobbit production has always instituted swift and immediate investigations in to any concerns of any kind over the treatment of animals under its care.  A prompt and thorough investigation into the recent unsubstantiated allegations by the American organisation, PETA, in to the ‘hobbling’ of a horse during the making of The Hobbit was undertaken.  No evidence of such a practice was found to have occurred at any time.  Further, the production contacted the owner of the horse concerned who provided the following statement:  “I am 100% happy with the return of Shanghai and his condition. In the term that he was leased he was picked up and returned to me two times. On both occasions there was not a mark on him and he was healthy and happy. He has shown no signs of ill-treatment. I would not hesitate in leasing him to the movie again.” 

 To date, the only horse wranglers whose treatment of animals fell below the production’s standard of care seem to be the two wranglers who have chosen to level this new  accusation on the eve of the premiere of the first Hobbit film and who were dismissed by the production over a year ago.  Reports of their actions are documented in several written statements dating back to October 2011.

Dr Julia Bryce, Vet:

“From December 2010 till July 2012, this practice was the primary Veterinary care giver for the horses and livestock in the care of “Three Foot Seven”.

During this period we were consulted promptly in cases of injury and illness. We were also consulted routinely about ongoing veterinary care and preventative medicine.

If referral was required to a specialist clinic or Massey Equine Clinic, this occurred promptly.  As occurs in normal practice there are incidences and injury which may result in an unfavourable outcome and others that recover completely; like the young goat who fractured a front leg but recovered completely after 6 weeks in a cast and hospital rest, or the rooster who spent two weeks at our clinic with a foot infection. 

These and other animals in the care of Three Foot Seven Limited received the best available treatment to ensure their recovery, their welfare and return to good health was paramount to those in charge.  At no time were we concerned about the welfare and on-going treatment of animals under our care.”

Joy Gray, farmer:

“I was appalled to hear of the wild claims being made in the media by PETA.  I and my family own the farm which the Hobbits used to train their animals.  Myself, my manager, my children and grand-children saw nothing to make us uncomfortable or give us cause for concern. We all had totally free access to all activities at all times. In fact, the animals were wonderfully looked after, being well-fed, well-housed, and well-treated. As both farmers and dedicated horse people ourselves we would have stood for nothing less. I myself ride horses, all my children rode competitively and now my grandchildren ride.

I was involved in Pony Club for many years and was District Commissioner for the Wellington Pony Club. My manager was totally aware of all that was happening with the Hobbits and he is outraged at these false claims.

And Jed Brophy who played Nori:

“As an actor and animal trainer who has worked on large scale productions here in New Zealand, in particular The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and more recently, The Hobbit, I am flabbergasted to read this morning of the accusations levelled at the production by PETA. With a production as large as The Hobbit, filmed over such an extensive period the care of the animals used in filming was exceptional. The entire time we were on set, and when we were training with the animal wranglers employed to look after and train the animals for filming, I observed no mistreatment – in fact the opposite is true.  …

I feel that there is a certain amount of personal vindictiveness levelled at the production from individuals with their own agenda.  As is often the case in these situations, organisations will leap at the chance to gain publicity for their cause without seeking the truth.  Being an experienced horseman and having worked as a wrangler and rider in the past, I would not have allowed myself to be a part of any production that knowingly employed unsafe practice in the workplace in this way. I can say with absolute certainty the production went out of their way to treat animals with the upmost respect and care.”

Basically it seems a couple of horses died after falling down a ledge. It’s sad, but it is a world away from mistreatment.

The Desolation of Smaug

September 2nd, 2012 at 11:56 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The release date for the final film in The Hobbit trilogy has been announced.

It will follow more closely on the heels of the second film, the name of which has been re-titled.

The final instalment, titled The Hobbit: There and Back Again, will have its international release on July 18, 2014 – just seven months after film number two, which has been re-titled The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

Warner Bros executive Dan Fellman said the studios wanted the final two films in the trilogy to be closer together.

”We wanted to have a shorter gap between the second and third films of The Hobbit trilogy. Opening in July affords us not only the perfect summer tent pole, but fans will have less time to wait for the finale of this epic adventure.”

This confirms my theory that the first movie will end with the finding of the ring, or maybe just after they escape the mines.

The second movie I think will end with the killing of Smaug.

The third will be the fallout over the treasure, the battle of the five armies and the linking to Lord of the Rings such as driving out the Necromancer (Sauron).

Three Hobbit movies

July 31st, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

More filming for The Hobbit will be done in Wellington after Sir Peter Jackson confirmed the movie will be split into three.

The film-maker today announced plans for the third film, with more shooting for the US$500 million (NZ$639m) project planned in the capital next year. The third, as-yet-unnamed part will be released in mid-2014.

Jackson said the decision to the turn the two-part film into a trilogy was based on “the richness of the story of The Hobbit, as well as some related material in the appendices of The Lord of the Rings”.

“[It] gave rise to the simple question: do we tell more of the tale? And the answer from our perspective as film-makers and fans was an unreserved ‘yes’.”

Jackson said he and co-writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens were keen to make a third film after viewing a cut of the first film, An Unexpected Journey, to be released in December, and part of the second, There and Back Again.

Much of the tale of Bilbo Baggins, the dwarfs, the rise of the Necromancer (arch villain Sauron in The Lord of the Rings), and the Battle of Dol Guldur, would not be told “if we did not fully realise this complex and wonderful adventure”, he said.

“It has been an unexpected journey indeed, and in the words of Professor Tolkien himself, ‘a tale that grew in the telling’.”

Neither Jackson nor Hollywood studios New Line Cinema, Warner Bros and MGM detailed how the three parts would now be structured or whether the Battle of the Five Armies – the climax of The Hobbit novel – would be moved to the third film.

Yay. Even though it means a further year until the final film, it is worth it if more of the story is captured on film. Hopefully it will plug some of the gap between The Hobbit and LOTR also.

I loved the LOTR films but have always been sad that time constraints meant they never covered the scouring of the shire, which was so hugely important from the hobbit’s point of view – showing how they had changed and grown.

It will be a difficult decision whether to have the Battle of the Five Armies in the second or third film. If you have it in the second, what gets people to come to the third – except hard core fans. But if left for the third film, what is the climax for the second film?

I’m guessing that Bilbo acquiring the ring will be the climax of the first film. Maybe the climax of the second film is the killing of Smaug?

Tourism hopes on Hobbit

May 19th, 2012 at 9:42 am by David Farrar

Alan Wood at Stuff reports:

Shudderomg, broken buildings, bloodied, terrified people, swarms of orange-jacketed rescuers probing huge piles of concrete for signs of life, these were the images of February 22’s earthquake that beamed around the world last year.

And after every major aftershock in the past year there have been more pictures of destruction.

Little wonder that international tourists are giving the region and the South Island a wide berth. How does an industry recover when its lifeblood, international tourists, has shrunk massively? …

Rotorua’s Kay Clarke says her central North Island clients, a range of tourism operators, have certainly been hurt.

Her Stay and Play NZ Tourism Connections business has 46 clients in businesses ranging from accommodation, lake cruising to fly fishing adventures, with many reporting traveller numbers have dropped off.

Her team helped to market and promote these clients to Australia, Europe, the Americas and Asia, putting them in touch with wholesale buyers in these markets who bring tourists direct to the operators.

Clarke says the Canterbury earthquakes have “absolutely” impacted her clients in several ways. For some it’s having to change itineraries on tours. For others it is much more.

The perception that the whole of New Zealand was damaged is a real issue.

“Some of that is ongoing. Even when there is a little shake, sometimes the international media are showing old footage.

“We’re hearing even from some of the people at Trenz that it’s still impacting on their businesses. It therefore impacts on ours.”

The industry is made up of hundreds of small businesses. Some were noticeably downbeat at the Trenz tourism industry conference in Queenstown last week but they are looking for a silver lining to their troubles.

Tourism is one of our best ways to earn money, as it brings money directly into New Zealand. So what is the silver bullet?

All around the conference centre were billboards of the upcoming Hobbit films, one to be released at the end of this year and the second 12 months later.

This is the great hope of the industry – hope that it will set off a pilgrimage of tourists to New Zealand and showcase the glorious scenery and leisure and adventure options this small country can offer, just as the Lord of the Rings films did 12 years ago.

Just as well then that the Australian union did not succeed in killing off the Hobbit, supported by the hobbit haters in Labour. Everytime someone in Labour spits bile at the name Warners, consider what would have happened if they had won.

At the moment, New Zealand’s tourism industry is worth $9.7 billion in foreign spending a year, it keeps nearly 180,000 people in jobs and makes an 8.6 per cent contribution to gross domestic product.

I say keeping an Australian happy is more important than that.

Middle Earth under Labour’s new workplace policy

October 19th, 2011 at 8:29 pm by David Farrar

Whale shows us what Middle Earth would look like under Labour’s industrial relations policy. Enjoy and share.

BSA on Holmes & Hobbit Interview

April 6th, 2011 at 9:59 am by David Farrar

The BSA has rejected complaints from Pat Bolster and Anne Latimer over Paul Holmes interview of Helen Kelly over the Hobbit debacle.

I saw the interview, and Holmes was merely doing his job – applying the acid to a politician (and the CTU President is most definitely a politician). And the reality is, that Helen Kelly had shown appalling judgement around this issue with her comments over Peter Jackson etc.

But anyway I always wonder who actually complains to the BSA – is it just a concerned citizen, or a repeat complainer or political activists?

A quick bit of Google and it turns out Anne Latimer likes to campaign for Labour on the North Shore.

But even more interesting Pat Bolster is actually employed by the CTU!

I don’t know why Helen Kelly didn’t just complain herself, if she thought the interview was unfair – rather than have one of her staff do it, apparently as a member of the public.

The Hobbit dispute

December 22nd, 2010 at 9:55 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports an e-mail from Peter Jackson:

“There is no connection between the blacklist (and it’s eventual retraction) and the choice of production base for The Hobbit,” he wrote.

Sir Peter will no doubt put the e-mail in context at some stage, but I wonder if the word “now” is not missing. In otehr words what he is saying is that just because the blacklist has been or will be retracted doesn’t mean that The Hobbit is safe here.

“What Warners requires for The Hobbit is the certainty of a stable employment environment and the ability to conduct its business in such as way that it feels its $500 million investment is as secure as possible.”

It has always been clear that to some degree Warners used the dispute as a way to get better terms. But if the global boycott had never been instituted, I don’t see that they would have done so – the location had been long agreed.