Hobbit fever is upon us all in New Zealand’s capital, Wellington and soon will be throughout the film going world! Adrian Bridge is my brother, he recently wrote for the Daily Telegraph newspaper in the UK, a wonderful article about the Hobbit and ‘Hobbit fever’ when he came to visit me in New Zealand last March 2012.
Of all the Tolkien characters to have been asked to play it had to be Gollum, that wretched creature who has such a pivotal role in those great works of fiction that translate so spectacularly to the big screen.
My moment of stardom came during a tour of the wonderfully open countryside around the small town of Twizel on New Zealand’s South Island. We had been driving through some of the areas used in the filming of the Battle of Pelennor in the last of the Lord of the Rings trilogy when Dawn, our tour guide, said it was time to stop talking and to start acting.
At the back of the van she had a few costumes. Fellow passengers grabbed the cloaks and weaponry of the warriors of Gondor and the garb of Éowyn, the fabled female slayer of the witch-king of Angamar. I looked in vain for the noble attire of Aragorn, son of Arathorn, or indeed of the great wizard Gandalf himself, but all that was left was the mask of Gollum…
I slipped it on – to widespread acclaim – and despite it all soon found myself prancing around in a contorted manner, hissing somewhat sinisterly, “Preciousssss… my preciousssss”.
There’s something about New Zealand that brings out the Tolkien lover – and the child – in all of us. Perhaps it’s that felicitous mix of vast uncluttered landscapes, open skies and roads, an infectious can-do mentality and the sense that you really can travel back in time – to an England long lost, and to the altogether more magical, mythical world of Middle-earth.
The filming of the Lord of the Rings trilogy just over a decade ago led to a huge surge in the number of visitors here as people sought to discover for themselves this country of truly astounding natural beauty, and the tour I took in Twizel is one of many catering for those wanting to visit the places featured in the films.
More are expected to follow in their wake. This year New Zealand has again been gripped by Middle-earth fever with the filming of what will be a three-part series on Tolkien’s earlier work, The Hobbit.
Once again camera crews have been shooting on location the length and breadth of the country; stars such as Stephen Fry, Sir Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman and Billy Connolly have been familiar faces on the streets of the country’s buzzy little capital, Wellington (sorry, “Wellywood”); and New Zealanders have been throwing themselves heart and soul into the country’s latest fantastical journey.
Warner Brothers, the distributor of The Hobbit, has been secretive about the precise content and locations used for the films, promising lots of surprises when the first of the series is premiered in Wellington in late November.
Those wanting to get a sneak preview, however, need not be deterred. Many of the places used for the filming of The Hobbit were the same as or similar to those used in Lord of the Rings – and can already be visited.
They will look particularly appealing as New Zealand moves into the southern hemisphere spring and summer. Anyone heading out there in the coming weeks, moreover, will be among the first to catch sight of “Hobbiton”, a re-creation of Tolkien’s Shire, a place redolent of England in the 18th century and the spot from which Bilbo Baggins, together with 13 dwarves, sets off on a mission to the Lonely Mountain involving encounters with trolls, elves and goblins in the quest to reclaim the ancient treasures stolen by the dragon Smaug.
It doesn’t take long to discover what it is about New Zealand that made it the obvious choice for the setting of The Hobbit. All you need to do is arm yourself with a copy of Thrór’s map, fill your mind with the words of Tolkien – and let your imagination run wild.
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