Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: The politics of The Hobbit

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Sir Peter Jackson steps off The Hobbit aircraft that arrived in Wellington from Auckland this morning. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Sir Peter Jackson steps off The Hobbit aircraft that arrived in Wellington from Auckland this morning. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Hollywood, by and large, swung in behind Barack Obama in the recent US presidential elections. Our own leader's relationship with the 'dream factory' is somewhat different, involving John Key swinging the Government, its limos, our taxes and even our laws in behind Hollywood. With the red carpet again being rolled down Courtney Place tomorrow there are many keen to re-capture the excitement of the original Lord of the Rings trilogy. But, as Key has found this year, the shiny precious things that seemed to enchant the voting public only a few years ago can quickly lose their lustre. There are undoubtedly more sceptical voices this time when it comes to the value and sustainability of luring major studios to 'Middle-earth' New Zealand.

Capitalising on the global profile to boost tourism is a major part of the strategy, and normally a write up on the front page of the New York Times would be marketing gold. But the article, New Zealand Wants a Hollywood Put on Its Map is no puff piece.

It critically evaluates, not just the subsidies, employment law changes and perceived subservience to movie studios, but also questions how sustainable an industry can be if it's based around career of just one person, Peter Jackson. And it emphasises that while one of New Zealand's big advantages is lower cost, the higher kiwi dollar is also now a problem. Gisella Carr, the chief executive of Film New Zealand admits the competition for studio business is growing: 'Northern Ireland now claims to be the "new New Zealand," while Serbia says it is "New Zealand, but cheaper." China has an extra attraction that we will never be able to match 'offering access to a vast market in exchange for a stake in American studio pictures'.

And there are some critical voices here that are willing to be heard above the red carpet backslapping. Far from uniting the country as the Lord of Rings did, The Hobbit production seems to have divided us says Dave Armstrong with the resulting Hobbit fatigue setting in already. Armstrong does, however, have some praise for the hype: 'We may laugh at the pride that the citizens of Ohakune have in their crass giant carrot but we should be just as proud of our Wellington kitsch, including The Hobbit stuff. It's up there with the best kitsch in the world'.

In Hobbit land far from reality, Chris Trotter ponders why we have been so desperate to accommodate Warner Brothers, and he theorises that colonial nostalgia may be one explanation: 'Pakeha New Zealanders have been given reference points that owe nothing to their country's indigenous culture. In our post-modern world, where reality has taken on an alarmingly subjective quality, "Middle-earth" is a much more comfortable fit than "Aotearoa".'

Blogger Steve Cowan is clearly just over it all, and would be advised to impose a media blackout on himself tomorrow - see: That's all folks. For a detailed breakdown of the public money that has gone into The Hobbit so far, see TVNZ's Hobbit tax rebate swells to $67.1m - which also reports that pressure is growing to raise the subsidy to compensate for the higher value of the kiwi dollar. This morning Peter Jackson maintained his claim that New Zealand nearly lost the Hobbit production offshore and that to keep the work here we need to be prepared to to offer more attractive conditions than other countries - see RNZ's NZ must keep up with overseas film incentives - Jackson.

Jackson has provoked multiple responses accusing him of trying to re-write history. Martyn Bradbury quotes one of Jacksons own emails that contradicts his public statements - see Peter Jackson tries to re-edit history of The Hobbit. Jackson's talent for telling stories is crossing over into real life says Robert Winter, especially the director's statement that the stoush over collective bargaining was a 'misunderstanding' - see: The Stories of Peter Jackson. Dave Kennedy links to a downloadable New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations report for those who are really interested in some independent analysis of the dispute - see: Lest We Forget: The Real Hobbit Story.

Of course, trying to figure out if all the effort and taxpayer funding has actually been worth it is notoriously hard to pin down. As with the Rugby World Cup and new stadiums, the numbers thrown around as justifying the investment seem to depend on who is actually doing the counting. For a good attempt to sort the hype from reality see Karyn Scherer's 2010 Herald article The Big Picture. Nevertheless Tourism Industry Association head Martin Snedden was on TVNZ's Breakfast this morning claiming the tourism spin-off from The Hobbit will be bigger than LOTR (estimated at $33 million) and, yes, even bigger than the Rugby World Cup.

Of course not all the information about the negotiations with Warner Brothers is available, and won't be if the Government has its way. Radio New Zealand reports that National is continuing to block the release of information about the concessions, particularly a Crown Law opinion claiming collective bargaining on the movie sets was illegal - see: Information on film worker decisions still withheld. Despite this, a book has just been released about Warner's wheeling and dealing with the New Zealand Government, written by entertainment attorney and Hollywood Reporter journalist Jonathan Handel - see: New US book: the New Zealand Hobbit Crisis.

The Labour Party might be expected to boycott the week's celebrations, but Claire Trevett reports today that Hobbit critics will walk red carpet. David Shearer, Grant Robertson and Annette King will all put their so-called 'Hobbit-hating' objections aside and attend the film's premiere.

Even those who are sceptical about the value for money can find some positives. Blogging on the International Herald Tribune website (the global edition of the New York Times), Charles Anderson reports on the build-up in Wellington for the premiere and quotes local John Edwards who doubts the subsidies will be worth it: 'But if it gets Courtney Place resealed' he says, 'then it can't be all bad' - see: New Zealand Goes Over the Top Over Middle Earth. Maybe Courtney Place could be designated the first completed 'Road of National Significance'. Once the red carpet is gone, however, yellow brick paving may be more apt than tarseal.

Other recent items of interest or importance include:

* The New York Times is not only reporting on New Zealand's Hobbit issues, but is also causing controversy here with it's story, New Zealand's Green Tourism Push Clashes With Realities. The Herald has admonished the source of criticism - Massey University scientist Mike Joy - for exaggerating New Zealand's environmental degradation - see: 100 Pure critic needs to be fair and accurate. The editorial and others attacking Joy are strongly admonished by Russell Brown in Fact and Fantasy. Mike Joy will appear on Media 3 this weekend. Meanwhile it's caused the Prime Minister to have to justify the 100% pure slogan once more - this time with reference to McDonald's advertising - see Isaac Davison's PM dismisses '100% Pure' criticism.

* The latest issue of Metro has a notably in-depth look at David Shearer in the lead up to his recent landmark conference speech. Simon Wilson interviews Shearer about his political style: "'In Politics, he said, 'You play it hard. It's a blood sport.' Then he asked me not to write that'. But why not? I asked. Doesn't he like going hard? He thought about this, and said, "I used to like a hard game of rugby".' Wilson also shows how bitter the current caucus divisions are: 'One senior Labour MP tells me, off the record, "It's time the treacherous fuckers are made to pay".'

* Shearer's would-be nemesis, David Cunliffe, is profiled by Phil Taylor in The other David, and this provides an alternative to the dominant media narrative about the MP, suggesting Cunliffe's flaws have been exaggerated. And he gets some support from Fran O'Sullivan in Shearer needs to sharpen his sword.

* The apparent demise of Cunliffe is also explained by John Armstrong, but he says Cunliffe could still make a comeback if Shearer does badly in 2013. Armstrong is also extremely critical of Labour's new constitutional changes which give the wider party more say - see: Shaky, flaky Labour makes the job harder. But for a more forceful critique of Cunliffe and his supporters - see Matthew Hooton's heavily sarcastic account of what's been going on in A miserable failure.

* So what happens now? It all depends on factions and alliances in the Labour Party, and Cameron Slater has put together a fascinating and gossipy account of what he believes is going on - see: Some notes on Labour's problems. There has already been some internal fall-out with a defection at The Standard - see: Why I will party vote for the Greens. For an irreverent take on the current state of the Labour Party see Steve Braunias' Secret Diary of David Cunliffe. See also Simon Day's 'Gay' Labour has lost its way, says Field, and my own blogpost, Images of Labour's post-conference conflict.

* John Key is back from his trip to Myanmar - the first NZ PM to visit - and what was the trip all about? Enhancing democracy or human rights? According to a Waikato Times editorial, it was all about helping New Zealand exporters 'get a slice of the action' in this emerging market - see: Key wants slice of Myanmar trade action. Andrea Vance makes the argument that Trade should not be priority.

* In last year's general election campaign, newspapers apparently gave John Key much better photographic coverage according to research by Associate Prof Claire Robinson - see Laura Heathcote's Goff disappointed with newspaper coverage. Over the campaign, Key's image was published 138 times in the four papers studied, while Goff featured only 80 times. David McLoughlin disagrees - see: Fundamental flaws in Massey research that accuses four newspapers of bias against Labour at 2011 election. Goff may need to look closer to home writes David Farrar, pointing out that Labour didn't even use Goff's photo on their billboards during the election - see: Goff blames lack of photos on 2011 loss!.

* Finally, it's become an almost fervent and religious experience in our increasingly patriotic country - but Bob Jones hates the singing of the New Zealand national anthem, especially at sporting events - see: Defend us from gawd-awful, overplayed anthem.

- NZ Herald

Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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