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Herald on Sunday editorial: Hobbit suffers some cruel exploitation

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The film's red carpet premiere in Wellington on Wednesday faces a protest by PETA.
The film's red carpet premiere in Wellington on Wednesday faces a protest by PETA.

Animals die in the cause of many entertainments. Hunting and fishing obviously, and racing. It does not do to watch what may happen when a horse goes down, or wonder why all the retired greyhounds are not around. But movies? And of all movies, The Hobbit?

The nation recoiled this week at news that horses, goats, hens and a sheep have died in The Hobbit's care. They did not die in battle scenes and other dramatic moments when accidents may happen, they came to grief off duty, on a farm.

Their holding paddocks, according to the whistle-blowing wrangler - is The Hobbit a western? - had bluffs, sinkholes and other "death traps". It sounds like the average farm. Townies had not realised they were so dangerous.

It makes you wonder, how did the equine species survive before man tamed them, fenced the bluffs, filled the sinkholes and built racetracks? Obviously they are safer at the races and, it turns out, they are safer in movie scenes, too.

The American Humane Association monitors animal welfare in movies and it says none were harmed in the filming of The Hobbit. But it cannot vouch for their accommodation and training. Here, clearly, is an opportunity for more local participation in the lucrative project.

The SPCA is offering its services for a fee and the Hollywood affiliated AHA seems not to be competing for the role. Director Peter Jackson has welcomed the SPCA's oversight. He needed it this week when his disgruntled wrangler rained on his parade.

The Hobbit's red-carpet premier in Wellington on Wednesday faces a protest by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an American-based organisation that takes an interest in the movie industry. Its local campaign co-ordinator says: "Neglect on a set that is literally a multi-million dollar production is very concerning."

No doubt, but so is the impression that animal welfare interests are pursuing the movie industry because it spends big and its productions are highly vulnerable to public opprobrium.

It is probably not unusually cruel to animals among industries that use them.

Rodeos, as we report today, are monitored less vigilantly - nominally by the Ministry of Primary Industries and sometimes by unpaid inspectors for the SPCA.

The Tolkien stories, in Jackson's hands, are a fanciful mixture of innocence and cruelty. Off the set, the story was probably true to life.

- Herald on Sunday

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