Hobbit-mania: Could Chch ever throw such a party?

JAMES CROOT
Last updated 05:00 28/11/2012

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OPINION: The stage is set. The actors are in place.

Yesterday, Wellington's CBD was going about its regular business, but overnight a group of elves have been busy transforming Courtney Place into the Middle of Middle Earth, ready for the world’s Sauron-like gaze to be fixed upon this most cultural and indeed, central, of capitals.

Everyone you talk to, from taxi drivers to retail workers to those involved in the film industry, which is now such a part of the social fabric here, are all excited about the premiere and what it means for their fair city. They don't mind that almost all of them will have to wait two weeks to see the film.

They write off the recent negative media reports surrounding the project as sour grapes, either from those with particular interests or jealous eyes. People just want to be part of the big party (with many international tourists having flown in especially), even if they’re just on the periphery.

And as we know well, Wellington knows how to throw a good party. The annual rugby sevens tournament sells out in minutes now as the windy city transforms into party central organically, not as dictated by committee.

For this world cinematic premiere, retailers have clearly been brought (and gotten) on board, rather than excluded by rights contracts etc. The results are like Wellington itself, understated and diverse.

Walking the buzzing streets on the eve of this major event, one wonders whether a reborn Christchurch could ever host such festivities. After all it is a city of similar size, population-wise at least.

At the moment we have some terrific post-apocalyptic, western and warzone sets available in situ (hopefully John Key has pointed this out to his Warner Bros mates while they’re visiting the country), so now may be our one chance to seize a slice of the action.

But we’ll need a sizeable theatre to screen the resulting film in (the proposed Theatre Royal cinematic upgrade sounds ideal) and a well-thought and laid out CBD.

The proposed frame feels a little too over-planned, Wellington’s precincts have developed for more haphazardly and organically.

And we must learn from our own past. Christchurch once thought it could steal the sevens from Wellington simply because of our reputation as a rugby mad city.

We forgot that our main ground wasn’t as integrated into the city as the Cake Tin and that it was four-stands instead of a purpose-built bowl, pretty much killing any kind of potential atmosphere. Hopefully, those seeking to build a new stadium will have taken that on board.

Of course it has never helped the Garden City that Wellington’s CBD gives tourists a sense of vibrancy and security. Pre-2010 Christchurch’s, particularly since the demise of Cathedral Square’s cinema precinct in the late 1980s, always had an over-riding feeling of violence.

We would do well to find somewhere where the wide-avenue of Courtney Place could be replicated.

But such things are but a pipe-dream for Christchurch in its current state.

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For today, let’s get behind our real sister city and celebrate Kiwi ingenuity, entrepreneurship and our short hours in the world’s spotlight.

- The Press

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