Editorial: The Hobbit: An unexpected wrangle

Last updated 05:00 23/11/2012

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OPINION: There is a saying that any publicity is good publicity.

Days ahead of the premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Peter Jackson may beg to differ. Animal rights activists, film company publicists, conservationists and even the Tolkien estate have all conspired to rain on his parade.

Self-inflicted damage was caused by a publicist who thought it appropriate to vet the invitation list of journalists and remove one considered too negative.

At corporate level the Tolkien estate has alleged the film producers have overstepped the mark in merchandising, continuing a dispute that dates back to the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Internationally, promotional advertising for New Zealand, built around the film (100 per cent pure Middle-earth) has been criticised for painting a fanciful picture of this country.

The campaign itself, and the unhealthy level of control Warner has had over it, is another matter.

But this week came the story which grabbed the biggest headlines - allegations from animal carers who worked on The Hobbit project that there had been inhumane treatment on a farm.

The country's investment in getting The Hobbit and other films shot here has been controversial - and it clearly serves some agendas for stories putting The Hobbit in a bad light to make headlines on the eve of the premiere.

Jackson's response to the animal treatment story was that they were treated very well, and two animal carers who were fired from the company were behind the allegations.

"Reports of their actions are documented in several written statements dating back to October 2011," Jackson told his Facebook fans, without actually presenting the statements.

But the damage has been done. An animal rights group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) is planning protests. In an article headed "The Hobbit - an Unexpected Cruelty" on its website, it claims five whistleblowers reported more than two dozen animal deaths during the production of the film; but their concerns were "outright ignored".

The organisation has used the claims made over The Hobbit to push its own barrow to take animals out of movies.

"He [Jackson] is the CGI [computer-generated imagery] master and has the ability to make the animals and other interesting creatures in his movies 100 per cent CGI, and Peta calls on him again to do so," the article states.

Peta is the organisation that describes America's love for a turkey dinner at Thanksgiving this month as "the mass slaughter of some 46 million gentle, intelligent birds".

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It is calling for a boycott of the film and will have been delighted to see the story picked up across the globe. Peta will argue, from its perspective, that any publicity is good publicity.

Jackson may be justified in wondering, though, why so many people would want to sabotage his latest project.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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