Pay day for Jackson's billion-dollar gamble
Taking off … Air New Zealand unveils a Boeing 777 with its new Hobbit livery. Photo: Lawrence Smith
ALREADY facing controversy about the death of horses during filming, director Peter Jackson has every reason to be anxious before the first Hobbit movie has its world premiere this week.
Jackson has reunited the team behind The Lord of the Rings movies for the first instalment of a trilogy that Hollywood insiders estimate will cost up to $1 billion to make and to market.
The long-awaited adaptation of J.R.R.Tolkien's fantasy novel, about Bilbo Baggins's adventure with 13 dwarfs to recover treasure guarded by a dragon named Smaug, premieres in Wellington on Wednesday.
English actor Martin Freeman plays Baggins in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, with the returning cast including Ian McKellen as Gandalf, Cate Blanchett as Galadriel and Hugo Weaving as Elrond.
Even with the goodwill generated by Jackson's return to Middle Earth, the Hobbit is a financial gamble for studios Warner Bros and MGM.
The trilogy will also have a multibillion-dollar effect in New Zealand, given how much The Lord of the Rings boosted tourism.
From 1999 to 2004, spending by international visitors doubled to $6 billion a year.
But arguably the biggest risk is for Jackson's revered status with millions of Rings fans.
The New Zealand director overcame countless setbacks while filming that trilogy that grossed almost $3 billion at the worldwide box office and won 17 Oscars.
While it is almost unthinkable the Hobbit could be so successful on every level, Jackson is being even more technically and creatively adventurous this time round.
He has shot the movie in 3D at 48 frames a second rather than the usual 24 to give audiences a visually richer experience, while extending the novel using Tolkien's notes for a planned revision.
Members of the animal rights advocacy group PETA are already upset with The Hobbit and plan to protest at the premiere about the deaths of more than two dozen horses and other animals during the shoot.
Jackson and trilogy's producers said they ''completely reject'' the claims, with a representative saying some animals died of natural causes. A studio spokesman blamed the controversy on animal wranglers who were dismissed during filming.