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What does New Zealand have to be proud about?

(Other than 1 billion in gross ticket sales)

By Bert Ehrmann

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Fort Wayne Reader

2004-05-17


Way back in the 1990's (post Beavis and Butthead) Peter Jackson began filming his three-movie epic The Lord of the Rings. What was different with The Lord of the Rings series of movies was that they were not being filmed in California, or more likely on the mean Hollywood friendly streets of Canada, but in New Zealand; a country previously known more for sheep export than cinematographers.

After a bit of Googling for statistics on New Zealand, a country I've always thought of as being "to the left" of Australia, I found that New Zealand has a population of around four million. I also found it interesting that the people who migrated to New Zealand from Great Britain took the American way of settling land disputes with the native populations. They killed them.

In simpler terms - New Zealand is about equal in size of Colorado, with a population of about half that of New York City, and many sheep. Many, many sheep. These facts were what most people knew of New Zealand until recently.

Now people think of New Zealand as "that country where The Lord of the Rings was filmed" much like the rest of America thinks of Indiana as "that state where Hoosiers was filmed."

The first of the three movies that hit theaters, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, grossed something like $314 million in ticket sales. One year later the next movie, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, generated something like $340 in ticket sales. Then, in late 2003 the last movie, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, hit cinemas and grossed $364 million.*

That's about a billion dollars in ticket sales for The Lord of the Rings franchise. Or, if Mr. Peter Jackson and New Line Cinemas would be so kind, about $240 per person for everyone living in New Zealand.

The Lord of the Rings has been so successful that it's beginning to spawn imitators. Three movies already in the works follow the success of The Lord of the Rings in that they are based on multi-volume works of fiction. If a series of three movies can make a billion dollars, then what about five? Or nine? Or fifteen?

The first of the imitators is The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. (I'd like to see that registered as a movie's domain name.) The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe follows a group of children who travel to the land of Narnia through their wardrobe door and become involved between a war between The White Witch and the talking lion Aslan (unrelated as far as I know to the talking lion of The Wizard of Oz). CS Lewis wrote seven books about Narnia. Expect seven Narnia movies starting Christmas 2005.

The second of the imitators is John Carter of Mars: A Princess of Mars. The John Carter series was written by Edgar Rice Burroughs (aka Mr. Tarzan). The series focuses on John Carter, a Civil War officer mysteriously transported to Mars finding that he has a super-human strength in the quarter strong gravity of the red planet. On Mars he meets several different types of Martians, most notably the four-armed, green-skinned green men, and the red men, who look just like us, except their skin is (you guessed it) reddish.

The third movie set is The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a four-volume work of comedic fiction. Hitchhiker's follows Arthur Dent rescued from death by Ford Prefect, a being from a planet near the star Betelgeuse, when the Earth is demolished to make way for a space-bypass. Arthur and Ford meet up with the two-headed Zaphod Beeblebrox and Trillian, Arthur's almost girlfriend who was stolen away from him by Zapahod at a party several years prior. The four of them go to The Restaurant at the End of the Universe and find that the last things the dolphins say before the Earth is destroyed is So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish.

Still, even though The Lord of the Rings moneymaking franchise has already earned a billion dollars*, there's no reason that it can't make even more. Here's how I see the future of The Lord of the Rings unfolding:

A series of moderately successful cartoons will hit television screens starting in 2005 based on minor characters from The Lord of the Rings.

All three movies will be re-released starting in 2021 with new effects and "improvements" in the storyline. The fan base reacts negatively to the additional scenes. Web sites on the Ubernet (which has by now replaced the Internet) are launched to protest the storyline and to restore it back to the original. These protests fall on deaf ears when our robot masters quash resistance to the changes. This re-release will drive The Lord of the Rings series into the three most successful movies of all time, edging out Battlefield Earth VI.

Then, a new trilogy of movies written by director Peter Jackson hits theaters starting in 2023. These movies are based on the epic backstory told at the beginning of Fellowship of the Ring. Initial reaction is mixed, but the alien beings that have quashed our robot masters and now rule over the populous "like the movie." People being shipped to the alien's home world for food (it's a cookbook, you fools) report that they are disappointed that they'll miss seeing these movies in theaters, and must settle for Legally Blond 30 as the in-flight movie.

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