The Razing of the Shire
Trip Start Nov 06, 2003
87Trip End Jan 24, 2004
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
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
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...