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Hobbit, Sauron and Gollum makeovers in New Zealand as Lord of the Rings turns 20

Friday marked the 20th anniversary of when the first feature film of the J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies premiered at Odeon Leicester Square in London on December 10, 2001, bringing instant fame to New Zealand’s rolling hills, meadows and forests, which were the backdrop for the mythical Middle-Earth.

Screenings were planned in cinemas in Auckland and Wellington, including an outdoor screening on Friday in Hobbiton, a sheep and beef farm about 160 kilometers from Auckland, famous as “the home of the Hobbits”.

“This event was sold out quicker than any we have ever done,” said Shayne Forrest, general manager of Hobbiton.

Fans coming to the screening have been preparing their costumes for nearly 12 months, Forrest said, adding he expects to see many dressed as Hobbits, the Dark Lord Suaron, Orcs and Gollums.

“We have a Sauron coming who has a full armour suit and a full head dress, and he is not going to fit on our bus,” Forrest said.

New Zealand’s tourism industry has been hurt over the last 20 months by border closures and pandemic restrictions. Hobbiton received 650,000 tourists each year before the pandemic, but saw just 90,000 visitors in the last 12 months. It cut its staff to 50 people from about 320.

The celebrations this week were an opportunity to put New Zealand on the world stage again, Forrest said.

The hairy feet and pointed-ear Hobbits are set to hit the screens again as Amazon Studios began filming of the The Lord of the Rings”series in New Zealand last year, a TV show widely tipped to be the most expensive ever made.

But Amazon said the second season of the multimillion-dollar television series will be filmed in the United Kingdom, moving Middle-earth out of New Zealand for the first time.

The series’ success helped New Zealand’s 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 outbreak this year, the industry, which is worth around NZ$3.3 billion and employs about 15,000 New Zealanders, has faced challenges.

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

“Next year we are opening up and international productions are very keen to come back,” he added.

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