Filmmaking in Middle-earth

Fans of Bilbo Baggins’ exploits will be tickled pink as The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey DVD hits stores this month. The film, shot in New Zealand, is the first chapter in Peter Jackson’s new epic trilogy set in Middle-earth 60 years before J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings saga.

An exciting aspect of the release is the new DVD’s special feature, “New Zealand: Home of Middle-earth.”

Magical and intriguing, New Zealand has drawn storytellers and filmmakers for decades. They have used the nation’s unique, lush landscapes to create both intimate films and monumental blockbusters.

At Home in Middle Earth Photo Credit: Hobbiton Movie Set

At Home in Middle Earth
Photo Credit: Hobbiton Movie Set

New Zealand’s capital, Wellington, is the home to several multi-million dollar studios, sound stages, and pre- and post-production facilities, including Weta Digital and Weta Workshop.

Weta Digital is where James Cameron created the special effects for Avatar. Weta Workshop is where Peter Jackson filmed The Lord of the Rings and King Kong. Weta Cave, in Miramar, is a popular tourist attraction showcasing all Weta’s work. It includes with a mini museum, gift shop, behind-the-scenes interviews and interactive experiences.

Fans of the Lord of the Rings trilogy will want to go on a tour, such as the Hobbiton Movie Set Tours that SWAIN sells, to visit the most recognizable sites in the film. A few of the sites include:

  • The original hobbit holes and structures from the film set. They are open to the public to visit in the Waikato town of Matamata.
  • In the Central North Island, the eerie volcanic landscape of Tongariro National Park is Mordor. Rivendell, temporary home of the elves in Middle-earth, is located in Kaitoke Regional Park, north of Wellington.
  • In South Island’s 
Queenstown, the Southern Alps and Southern Lakes district were all featured in The Lord of the Rings.
  • Aoraki Mt Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain peak, became Middle-earth’s Misty Mountains.
The Shire Photo Credit: Hobbiton Movie Set

The Shire
Photo Credit: Hobbiton Movie Set


The lush countryside of The Shire Photo Credit: Hobbiton Movie Set

The lush countryside of The Shire
Photo Credit: Hobbiton Movie Set

Other notable films shot in New Zealand include:

The Piano: a 1993 drama about a mute pianist and her daughter, set during the mid-19th century in a rainy, muddy frontier backwater on the West coast of New Zealand, including a beautiful stretch of sand west of the Waitakeres. Directed by Jane Campion, this critically acclaimed film starred Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Sam Neill and Anna Paquin.

Dead Alive (1992) was released as Braindead in New Zealand, and is a cult zombie comedic horror film directed by Peter Jackson. The film is famous as one of the goriest films of all time.

Once Were Warriors (1994) tells the story of an urban Māori family and their problems with poverty, alcoholism and domestic violence. Directed by Lee Tamahori, it stars Rena Owen and Temuera Morrison.

The Last Samurai (2003) an active volcano towering above the coast and pastures of the Taranaki region was transformed into Japan’s Mt Fujiyama for this Tom Cruise pic.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) an American action film based on Marvel Comics’ fictional character Wolverine. The film is directed by Gavin Hood and stars Hugh Jackman as the title character.

Heavenly Creatures (1994) is a Peter Jackson film about the notorious 1954 Parker-Hulme murder case in Christchurch, New Zealand. Filmed on location in Christchurch, it features Melanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet in their screen debuts.

The World’s Fastest Indian (2005) is a biographical film that tells the story of speed bike racer Burt Munro and his highly modified Indian Scout motorcycle. Tourists can visit the southern city of Invercargill in the South Island to experience the place, which inspired Burt Munro in his quest for speed. A city of 50,000, Invercargill has a small town appeal, complete with wide streets and elegant Victorian and Edwardian buildings.

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