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By David Perks• 14 Nov 2014
Walking into the Wellington i-SITE Visitor Centre, you’re now greeted by a life-size statue of Gandalf the Grey.
Created by Weta Workshop, he’s the centrepiece of an installation telling the Wellington Film Story. From the moment the statue first arrived, i-SITE visitors were queueing up to take their own ‘selfie’ with Gandalf. Luckily, the only thing more patient than a 2000-year-old wizard is a statue of one.
In the twelve months following the premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in 2012, sales of film-related products and tours through the i-SITE grew by 20% to well over a million dollars. After some pretty soft years, the UK, German and North American markets are back on track.
But with the conclusion of the Middle-earth saga coming to screens next month, people may well ask: where to from here? The production journey may be coming to an end, but the legacy is strong and the future bright. Here’s why:
The passion of the 150 international winners of Tourism New Zealand’s ‘Hobbit Fan Fellowship’ promotion was evident when they were in Wellington last week. From Sir Richard Taylor unveiling the new Smaug installation at Wellington Airport, to watching the final film with Sir Peter Jackson, as the Today show coverage reveals, many tears of joy were shed. The scale and passion of Tolkien fans is not to be underestimated – in long haul markets New Zealand is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I am certain there are many more visits to 100% Middle-earth yet to be ticked off bucket lists throughout the world.
While Wellington is an inevitable destination for a Middle-earth superfan’s pilgrimage, interest is high among all international visitors. Last year The Hobbit was a factor in stimulating interest in New Zealand for 13% of our 2.5 million visitors. With Wellington able to tell the film story with more depth and authenticity than anywhere else in the country, that’s good news.
New Zealand will remain associated with Middle-earth for many years to come. Salzburg has sold ‘Sound of Music’ tours for nearly fifty years, and Luke Skywalker’s Tatooine home is now a hotel experience in southern Tunisia. The legacy of a film series of this size can last for generations.
The legacy of a film series of this size can last for generations.
Wellington is in a unique position where our global film story neither begins nor ends with Middle-earth. Our world-leading facilities, creative talent and technical skill continue to attract high-profile film projects. Fans of James Cameron’s Avatar can’t visit the planet Pandora, but they can come to the place it was brought to life, touch authentic props and learn about the ground-breaking filmmaking processes developed in Wellington. Such is the demand for the Weta Cave Workshop Tour that Weta has just invested in a larger exhibition facility to host group tours and a ‘There and back again’ shuttle connection with the i-SITE.
Wellington has a well-deserved reputation for visionary thinking and imaginative problem-solving. A film museum is just one of the exciting projects under discussion and there is a huge will to bringing the concept to fruition throughout the city.
As you would imagine, from our perspective a Film Museum would be a dream product to promote to the world. And if you asked the people lining up to for a photo with Gandalf at the i-SITE, I reckon they’d be keen too.