NewsWire: For Tolkien's Middle Earth Read New Zealand - Reuters

By Paul Majendie

For Middle Earth read New Zealand.

The makers of the epic Lord of the Rings picked New Zealand as the perfect movie location -- a primal, untamed landscape representing the world as it looked 7,000 years ago.

"New Zealand is Middle Earth," said American actor Elijah Wood, who looks set to achieve international stardom as Frodo Baggins, the furry-footed hobbit creature.

For 50 years, J.R.R. Tolkien's classic fantasy about hobbits, trolls, elves and wizards has sold 100 million copies, with readers gripped by the tale of Frodo setting out to destroy the magic ring that would make the evil Saruman all-powerful.

Now the epic tale is taking to the silver screen with the release on December 19 of Fellowship of the Ring, the first in a trilogy of films bringing Tolkien's masterpiece to life.

The actors, who faced a gruelling 274 days on location making the three films, thought New Zealand was the perfect location.

John Rhys-Davies, who plays the dwarf Gimli, said: "New Zealand is such a primitive land it can take you back to a primitive time in history."

Director Peter Jackson was overjoyed that his homeland fitted the bill so perfectly.

"New Zealand has the essence of the old European countryside," he said in the production notes for Fellowship of the Ring, which has its world premiere in London on December 10.

"It also has a very hard to capture fantastical quality that makes it perfect for Lord of the Rings," he said.

New Zealand provided an eclectic mix of locations in a small country where the film crew had to move a cast of thousands around, often bedecked in weird and wonderful costumes.

"That is the beauty of New Zealand, with fields that resemble England, mountains that can double as the Swiss Alps or beautiful pristine lakes that you get in Italy," said associate producer Rick Porras.

But Jackson was not averse to stirring in a little high-tech magic too.

"With digital wizardry, we were able to add craggy little mountains, put buildings where they never have been," he said.

"New Zealand is an impressive landscape, but with a little extra help from the computer we turned it into a magical Middle-earth."

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