Wellington, NZ, Changes Name To 'Middle of Middle-Earth'

  @MarkJohansonIBT on October 10 2012 11:17 AM

Hobbit stamps, Hobbit coins and Hobbit markets are all in the works as the city of Wellington, New Zealand, prepares for the world premiere of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” on Nov. 28. But that’s not all. Mayor Celia Wade-Brown says the city will actually call itself “The Middle of Middle-earth” during the week of the premiere, a change that will be evident on postmarked letters and even the masthead of the city’s main newspaper.

“Wellington sits at the very heart of New Zealand’s innovative and thriving film industry,” she said. “It’s also the city that has been integral in bringing the fantasy world of J.R.R. Tolkien to life on the big screen.”

Mayor Wade-Brown unveiled a new Middle of Middle-earth logo Monday as she outlined Wellington’s plan to capitalize on the most anticipated movie of 2012.

“The city will be decked out in flags and banners with the Middle of Middle-earth logo. The city's businesses and retailers will be asked to get into the spirit of things and dress their shop fronts like something from Middle-earth.”

A 500-yard-long red carpet will extend through what Lonely Planet has named the “coolest little capital in the world,” and a nearby artisan festival will hawk a dizzying array of small-folk paraphernalia.

Director Peter Jackson, who at one point threatened to move the film outside of New Zealand due a strike by the Actors’ Equity union, said he was “absolutely thrilled” that the first Hobbit film would debut in Wellington.

“It’s special showing any film to an audience for the first time, but even more so when it's in your hometown.”

Jackson is credited with putting “Wellywood” on the map and transforming its film industry into one that has welcomed the likes of big budget blockbusters “Avatar,” “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and “10,000 BC,” among others.

The nascent film hub’s ambitious US$900,000 plan to mark the first Hobbit movie’s world premiere at the Embassy Theatre is part of New Zealand’s larger tourism campaign to rebrand the country under the tagline “100% Middle-earth.” The campaign includes advertisements in the U.S., UK, Australia and major Asian markets that show “epic and cinematic images of New Zealand” similar to those seen in Jackson’s films. Moreover, every DVD and download of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” will feature a Jackson-directed video promoting New Zealand as a tourist and filmmaking destination.

If New Zealand’s plan seems somewhat outlandish, consider this: The year before the first Lord of the Rings film came out and thrust a mythical vision of the islands in front of a global audience, the nation received 1.7 million visitors. Six years later in 2006, that number had surged 40 percent to 2.4 million.

The tourism sector now employs more people than any other field. Tourism itself generated $6.9 billion last year, with another $8.8 billion in indirect contributions, which, combined, represents 8.6 percent of the nation's gross domestic product (thanks in no small part to the pulling power of Middle-earth).

Tolkien tourism is big business in New Zealand, and the government has invested millions of dollars into the Hobbit franchise. Now, it hopes you’ll book a ticket to Middle-earth.

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