New Zealand appoints a minister of the ''Rings''
The little island down under wants to capitalize on its status as ''Lord of the Rings'' locale
Just how big a deal is ”The Lord of the Rings” in New Zealand, where native-son director Peter Jackson shot the three movies back-to-back? In September, the government created a cabinet-level position to help the tiny country piggyback on the films’ presumed success to lure more tourists and filmmakers. The first ”Minister of Lord of the Rings” — as the Kiwi press has dubbed him — is Pete Hodgson, 51, who also serves as minister of energy and of science, research, and technology. ”This film will really put us on the map,” says Hodgson, who boasts his own wizardly white beard. ”Not many people knew that ‘Star Wars’ was in Morocco, but everyone will know that Middle Earth is in New Zealand.”
So far, the strategy seems to be working. Local New Zealand companies are already offering 7- and 14-day tours of ”Rings” locations, many perfect for adventure travelers in the nation that reputedly gave birth to bungee jumping. And the films’ whopping $300 million budget — much of it spent locally — has dwarfed (no pun intended) other Hollywood projects previously shot there, including ”Vertical Limit,” ”The Piano,” and the syndicated TV series ”Xena: Warrior Princess.” Oddly enough, though, Hodgson says he’s never read the J.R.R. Tolkien trilogy that has inspired such a rabid following. ”Put it this way,” he says. ”I’m not going to be the first to dress up as a hobbit and go bungee jumping.”