The Razing of the Shire

Trip Start Nov 06, 2003
Trip End Jan 24, 2004

Loading Map
Map Options
Show trip route
Hide lines

Flag of New Zealand  ,
Tuesday, December 30, 2003

A Japanese woman has just carried off our 5-month-old towards the Party Tree near Bywater. Asian tourists tend to cluck and woo the baby, but this is the first time someone's actually taken her out of Julie's arms and packed her around. Perhaps the woman has decided the ghost of Hobbiton isn't that interesting.

Like the rest of us, she's paid $50 to experience the last remains of Middle Earth in New Zealand, and finds herself trudging around a field with more dung than sheep - and there are a lot of sheep.

We're on a farm (with 500 hectacres and 12,000 sheep, more a ranch, really) near Matamata, experiencing what happens to a set when the movie magic leaves town. As with all of the location shoots in New Zealand, the Hobbiton set was dismantled when pickups completed, but bulldozers could only plow under half the hobbit holes before the winter rains set in. By the time spring rolled around, the owners of the farm, the Alexander family, had received visitations -- hundreds of Tolkien geeks and movie junkies, keen on seeing a last vestige of Lord of the Rings in New Zealand.

A farmer then did what the New Zealand government didn't have the foresight to undertake. He negotiated with New Line Cinemas and got permission to preserve what was left of Hobbiton.

The government is criticized in the press for their half billion dollar support of the Lord of the Rings franchise. I'm more puzzled why folks aren't outraged that the bureaucrats didn't win the country ownership of the abandoned sets. Instead, the Department of Conservation insisted on every site going back to its original state. I'm sure this would be a commendable environmental gesture if "original" meant pristine, but sheep have been overgrazing most of New Zealand for the past 100 years.

What the country could have reaped in tourism is only too clear from the busloads of tourists mucking about in the skeleton of Bag End. In the hour and a half we are on location, over 300 tourists go through the area, wandering the compact set -- and there are six of these tours every day, plus special bookings. The numbers are especially bewildering because there is so little left. New Line insisted the Alexanders cannot enhance or renovate in any way the remains of the set, so except for some concrete bunkers with holes in the side of a hill, you must rely on your memory of the movie to bring the experience to life. Even Bag End, which still remains, is just a shell. All the interiors were shot in a studio in Wellington.

Okay, I'd be lying if I said I wish I hadn't come. I get a kick out of trying to mimic a camera shot I remember from the movie, and the guide is entertaining and offers some fun anecdotes about the set and shooting. My favourite is the first encounter: when location scouts knocked at the door one afternoon, offering money to shoot part of the largest epic in film history on their sheep farm, the Alexamders told them to come back after the rugger on the telly ended.

Still, I wish that this family had gone one better and negotiated the preservation of the whole set from New Line. The national museum in Wellington showed "artifacts" from the movies for a short period, but there is so little for Middle Earth junkies to enjoy. Peter Jackson is said to be negotiating with the Tolkein estate for the rights to create a museum of props and sets from the film, so maybe someday...
Slideshow Report as Spam

Use this image in your site

Copy and paste this html: