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Last Updated: Monday, 1 December, 2003, 08:12 GMT
Rings works its magic in NZ
By Colin Peacock
in Wellington, New Zealand

The stars of the Lord of the Rings have thrilled crowds in Wellington at the world première of the trilogy's final film.

Fell Beast
The Fell Beast and Nazgul rider glare down on passers-by from the Embassy Theatre

The excitement in Wellington was obvious from the time the stars stepped off the plane to the moment they entered the première venue, the classic Embassy Theatre, on Monday.

The refurbished cinema was topped with a 20-metre model of the grotesque Fell Beast and Nazgul rider from the forthcoming film.

Last year, the outsized Gollum peered down from that same spot atop the Embassy as director Peter Jackson unveiled the Two Towers for his hometown audience.

Ownership

The likes of London and Los Angeles had already premièred the film, so Jackson coaxed New Line Cinema boss Mark Ordesky into promising the Wellington crowd the world première of The Return of the King.

"The people of Wellington have taken ownership of the films and quite rightly so," the Embassy's manager Kerry Roberts said.

Troll
A giant troll model towers over the city
"It is a Hollywood film but it was made right here. A lot of people here have worked on it and it has touched a lot of people's lives."

Some of the actors seem equally attached to Wellington's relaxed setting.

The seaside Chocolate Fish cafe was a regular haunt when they were making the films.

"I remember Elijah Wood (Frodo) telling Liv Tyler (Arwen) 'Hey! You don't need you sunglasses on or your collar turned up here,'" owner Penny Pennington recalls.

Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn) is often seen padding around town barefoot - and is now a local favourite.

Cave troll

Readings of his poetry on the three nights before the première sold out.

The Wellington City Art Gallery is exhibiting his photographs - with a life-size cave troll stationed at the entrance for good measure.

Special coins and stamps are now in circulation. Sir Ian McKellen says he is sending all his Christmas cards from here, using the stamps bearing his likeness as Gandalf.

"This première alone is worth several millions of dollars to the city," says Tim Cossar of agency Positively Wellington Tourism.

Stamps
Stamps featuring the main characters have been produced
He hopes it is just the start. One economic forecasting agency says the region could benefit by more than $10m (£5.8m) a year over the next decade.

The benefits of what has been dubbed the Frodo Economy have spread further afield.

Cheryl and Barry Eldridge raise rare grey-coloured sheep on their farm in the sparsely populated Wairarapa district, and spin the wool on antique manual looms.

Pushing boundaries

The wardrobe designers picked out their cloth for the hobbits and elves' magic cloaks.

"We had to produce a thousand metres of fabric on our two tiny looms. It really pushed our boundaries - but we did it," says Ms Eldridge.

Now their tiny family firm Stansborough Fibres supplies Saks Fifth Avenue in New York and Liberty store in London.

The trilogy has showcased New Zealand's exceptional natural beauty, and the $9bn tourism industry will be the biggest beneficiary.

Barry Eldridge and his daughter
Barry Eldridge and his daughter supply hobbit cloaks for the films
Slogans such as "You've seen it for three hours - now see it for three weeks" - and "Best Supporting Country in a Motion Picture" have pulled in tourists.

Rings fan Emma Abraham from Chicago came even though there is almost nothing of the movie set left anywhere in the country.

"I decided that when the third movie came out I wanted to go all over and see where the films were was made. And to be in Wellington when the final movie comes out. It's the trip of a lifetime".

But after, there is also the sense that the party is coming to an end.

Tim Cosser
Tim Cossar of Positively Wellington Tourism has seen the benefits of filming in NZ
"We hope it can carry on," says Mr Cossar. "Peter Jackson will begin making King Kong in 2004, and we hope he'll do it here".

It is a possibility. Visiting film industry top brass this week confirmed the studios and workshops he has developed in the Wellington suburbs - known locally as Wellywood - are world class.

The locals certainly have the enthusiasm for his work.

A recent newspaper poll asked readers if they would sit through the entire nine-hours-plus of the trilogy in one sitting - and 74% said they would.


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