Editorial: Defamed by a plastic Gandalf

17:00, Apr 27 2014

Young children might sometimes get cross with Lego. Grownups really shouldn't.

So spare us the sort of brittle indignation that has met a lighthearted line in The Lego Movie.

At one point a Gandalf-like figure describes a place called Middle Zealand as a "wondrous land full of knights, castles, mutton, torture weapons, poverty, leeches, illiteracy and, um, dragons".

The problem, it seems, is that this description is in places not only unkind but unrealistic.

Apparently we should expect scrupulous accuracy from a film such as this - one that is enacted using tiny toy figures in a not-fooling-anyone Lego universe.

People's capacity to take offence should not be underestimated.


But how silly we look if we stamp our feet on the basis of inaccuracy in (and let's count the steps away from gritty realism, shall we?) . . . a few satirical comments . . . in an animated film . . . based on our own public relations campaign . . . to cash in on a special effects movies . . . depicting a series of fantasy novels.

You have to wonder about people's priorities, though. Weirdly, the first complaint to make headlines was at the references to poverty and illiteracy.

Surely though, if viewers are to be so staggeringly literal that they accepted those comments as some sort of reliable travel-guide description of Aotearoa, you might think that the main cause of concern would be the impression that dragons soar over our skies while we torture one another below. But apparently not.

In truth what's really behind the complaint seems to be nothing more than the fact that, hey, someone's making fun of us. A bit.

It's all far too precious.

We can't have it both ways, here. We have done all we could to promote ourselves as the home of Middle Earth so we can cash in on the monumental success of the Peter Jackson Tolkien films. And it's a reasonable claim, given the extent to which these films used our natural wonders and human talent.

Truth to tell, not all that many people are going crook. It's just that they've made the sort of headlines that attract defensive types, and people who are over the whole Hobbit thing anyway, and, inevitably, politicians.

Strengthening the impression that Labour are humourless, the Opposition tourism spokeswoman Darien Fenton says John Key should tell Warner Bros that these references were not on.

These are, of course, the same pack of moviemaking Hollywood ingrates who received a $67 million tax break to film The Hobbit here. And that's why New Zealand First leader Winston Peters says the movie line is a reference to our "financial illiteracy".

Peters should be careful. If he keeps up this sort of commentary he runs the risk of one day being called a conspiracy theorist.

There are times when we should cry foul at cinematic inaccuracy, such as the Oscar-winning Argo which, while largely based on a true story of a campaign to help US embassy staff escape from Iran in 1979, wrongly depicted New Zealand as refusing to help. In fact our diplomats Chris Beeby and Richard Sewell played an entirely honourable role.

Should the Lego guys one day, unexpectedly, commit that sort of deception then we should wade into them with all due reproach and recrimination.

The Southland Times