Wellington has been tarted up to the nines - tens even - and the hype machine could hardly have run hotter. Last night's world premiere of The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey, might have been less lavish than the Hollywood or Bollywood equivalent, but not by much.
Wellywood loves to party - the annual sevens extravaganza is testament to that - and the capital was starry-eyed as a gaggle of celebrities strutted their stuff on the red carpet. However, not all has been gold rings, hairy feet and feelgood fantasy during the production in this country of what will prove to be an epic box office success.
Sir Peter Jackson's star dimmed slightly when the Government changed New Zealand employment laws in response to Warner Bros' threats to take The Hobbit elsewhere, also contributing several million dollars towards marketing. There has been further bad press related to rows with the J R R Tolkein estate over merchandising, alleged animal deaths and mistreatment during the filming, and even questionmarks over the Key Government's favourable treatment for overseas film companies.
For example, New Zealand taxpayers contributed $67.1 million towards the making of the movie in the first two years of production. It scored $46.9m from a New Zealand "large budget screen production" grant in the 12 months ended March 31, and a further $20.2m tax rebate in 2011. By comparison, just $1 million in economic development funding was budgeted to provide support for the recovery of businesses affected by the Canterbury earthquakes during the current financial year.
So, clearly, wooing Hollywood remains a priority for the Government. The bad news is that the competition for the glamour end of the silver screen business is snapping at our heels ... and US corporates take few prisoners.
Gisella Carr, the chief executive of Film New Zealand, has been quoted as saying the international competition for studio business is growing. Northern Ireland, she says, is now claiming to be the "new New Zealand", while Serbia says it is "New Zealand, but cheaper".
China offers access to a vast market in exchange for a stake in American "studio pictures".
The New Zealand industry, meanwhile, is built on the back of its splendid scenery, the expertise of Weta Workshops, and the broad shoulders of one man: Sir Peter.
The backstories, however, will be swamped in the waves of euphoria out of Wellington last night and as excitement mounts over the movie "event" of the year. The Hobbit, part one, hits screens on December 13, and regardless of the politics, the economics, the corporate antics and the political capital being won - and spent - the power of this best-loved of fantasies is likely to transform even hardened cynicism, at least for the 160 minutes of screen time.
If the word from the privileged few at last night's premiere is anything to go by, this will be one film to rule them all - and New Zealand's role as "Middle-earth" will receive another tourism shot in the arm. Even with all of the marketing hype, there's plenty of magic in that.
- © Fairfax NZ News