OPINION: In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms ... " So began the journey that took Bilbo Baggins from Hobbiton to the Lonely Mountain and back again.
And so began a journey that has taken film-maker Peter (now Sir Peter) Jackson from Wellington to Hollywood and back.
Along the way J Tolkien's creation had to contend with trolls, goblins, giant spiders and Smaug, the dragon. Jackson has had to deal with accountants, jittery film bosses, Actors' Equity and the Council of Trade Unions.
Bilbo returned to his hobbit hole rich and possessed of a magic ring, but his neighbours never looked at him the same way again. About him hung the unsettling aroma of adventure.
Jackson returned from his first foray to Hollywood with a clutch of Oscars for his work on The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but he too found perceptions had changed. About him hung the aroma of success. He was no longer a hometown boy made good, but a movie mogul. Hence Actors' Equity's attempt to use The Hobbit as a vehicle for settling long-running industry grievances.
A dumber strategy is difficult to imagine. The Lord of the Rings gave thousands of Kiwis a start in the film industry and became the greatest marketing tool New Zealand has possessed. Tolkien fans flocked to see the places where the story they loved was brought to life.
The Hobbit is doing the same. Over the past year, 2000 people have been employed on the three films Jackson is making from the book and work will continue for another two years.
To organise an international blacklist of the project was close to being an act of sabotage.
Yes, The Lord of the Rings was shot in New Zealand, yes, Jackson wanted to make the films here, yes, other potential English-speaking locations were already unionised. However, for every argument to suggest Warner Bros would have no choice but to bow to union demands, there was another to suggest it would pack up and go elsewhere.
Ultimately there is only one reason The Lord of the Rings was shot in this country and only one reason The Hobbit is being shot here – Jackson.
If he had not picked up his parents' Super 8 camera all those years ago, there would have been no Weta Workshop, no Wingnut Films and Wellington would not have become a world-renowned film-making hub.
If Jackson felt Actors' Equity was jeopardising the project, he needed to be listened to. Fortunately he was by the Government, which changed the law to ease Warner's concerns and pumped even more public money into the project.
Some things are too important to gamble on a coin toss. New Zealand is a minor player in an industry in which tax breaks and publicly funded incentives are part of the furniture.
The choice before John Key's Government was simple – stand on its dignity or sweeten the pot. Today's red carpet premiere of the most eagerly anticipated movie of 2012 confirms it made the right choice. Other potential locations will be looking on in envy.
- © Fairfax NZ News