Sunday, April 16, 2006

Bored of the Rings

Once upon a time, there was a country called New Zealand, full of lush green forests, deep, dark mountains and clear blue seas, that resided blissfully in the quiet of the Southern Hemisphere. Normal humans lived there in a mostly-British style though they had a flair for the outdoors. Few people from the Other hemisphere ever visited New Zealand and nary an elf, hobbit, orc, wizard, warrior or princess existed.

Then Peter Jackson returned like a king from Hollywood, filmed a fanatical triology in its varied, unspoilt midst and forever changed the landscape of New Zealand. The Lord of the Rings, completed ever-so-thoroughly, in three parts was a tour-de-force that changed the country's tourist and physical landscape forever. Crazy people come and visit New Zealand now from both hemispheres, with their "one ring" and capes and pointy Guendolf hats, searching the land for now-film-iar geography from The Lord of the Rings movies. Up hill, down dale and past sheep, these crowds go on tour looking for Mount Doom, Hobbiton and other glimpses of Middle Earth...and often in fully-painted 4WD vehicles advertising "Trilogy Tours" and "LOR".

The Government appointed a speical "Rings" ministerial post to manage the fall out and fall in of tourism from the movies, and he focused on publicizing location shoots, redesigning thousands of brochures to include this information, and putting up the small, cryptic to those not-in-the-know signs that read "LOR" in stark black on white with an arrow pointing off directionally in the middle of somewhere pristine, natural and beautiful. As seen in the photo, "LOR" signs can sneak up on you in New Zealand the middle of a nature preserve or on an idyllic cliff with views to heaven and the blue skies beyond!

And where there's "LOR", there are "LOR"-ers in groups, in cars and jeeps and Rovers, with books, capes, hoods, hats and hordes of cameras and video. Some of them even quote "LOR" lore when on jet boats, as witnessed by the author.

That puzzling phenomenon aside, The Lord of the Rings made a significant impact on New Zealand, in both pride and profit, and spurred a new segment within the tourist industry despite terrorism and SARS scaring the hell out of others in other hemispheres. People who visited before this triology will be surprised when they return and see towers of signage and advertising about "LOR" in New Zealand. Wellington now has a new affectionate nickname, "Wellywood", from the filming and production, and even though the Department of Conservation had most sets dismantled, there are books, maps and instructions with GPS coordinates (!) readily available and for sale for people seeking Middle-Earth.

The moral of the story is that movies can be good for the national economy to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, but it's a slippery slope when you're suddenly known as Middle-Earth and must decide if there's a gentle, non-invasive, genuine way to take advantage of the publicity. Even if Hollywood is your fairy godmother, the same rule applies: be careful what you wish for!

The End


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, I can't believe those LOR signs! I thought there would be a few tours not maps and signs everywhere. I guess the fellowship lives!
Love, Wendy

11:33 AM  

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