Lord of the Rungs

I recently watched Lord Of The Rings again with my family (Meg and Ruby hadn’t seen it). I was reminded of a heckling article I read at the time – and the follow up – which I dug out of my archives. I offer it up for a chuckle and a bit of history – not seeking to give any offence to my kiwi friends who are incredibly welcoming when we visit, and I’m sure will partake in right of reply …

Lord of the Rungs: so that’s a fulm about modern times, eh?

Middle-Earth is New Zealand, writes Martin Graham.

THE HECKLER : “What is it with the Kiwis and The Lord of the Rings?”

The way they’re carrying on you’d thing they’d split the atom. Look, Mum, moving pictures on a big wall! It’s the talkies!

I don’t want to bag New Zealand and the massive packet of Smiths they have on their collective shoulders. But it’s not like they just invented Vegemite or did anything useful.

The Lord of the Rings is a film. Quite a long film. A couple of hours of it are very watchable. But, come on, there is no reason for New Zealanders to portray Rings as though it’s the biggest single contribution to Western society since the Enlightenment.

The most pathetic part is that they can’t even boast about having really made the movie as such. Peter Jackson may be the fush and chups front man, but the film’s as Yankee as baseball. The sheep-shaggers have trouble funding a proper football team; international blockbuster movies are way out of their league.

What we are left with is the pathetic sight of our Kiwi cousins boasting about how great the scenery looks. The Government is even pumping what remains of its budget into an advertising campaign to tell the world about the national role as an extra.

It’s sad really. And desperate. Imagine Bikini Atoll advertising itself as a nuclear superpower and you can see what I mean.

Is it really something to boast about that Tolkien’s Middle-Earth could be so easily created in the Shaky Isles? A tale of simple people living a simple life without modern technology? We’re talking about New Zealand here – how hard can it be?

Mocking up the Middle Ages must have been a piece of cake in a country yet to discover crop rotation. I would have thought that the biggest problem faced by the producers was making Wellington look modern enough to pass for anything after AD1300.

You have to remember New Zealand is the only country in the world where you could film Xena without building any sets.

The more you think about it the more you realise that making The Lord of the Rings in New Zealand would have presented no great challenge. Filming conditions are ideal. No air force to accidentally get into shot. No smog from industry to get in the way. The biggest continuity issue would be the slightly more modern breed of merino in the background.

Let’s get this straight. The story in the Rings revolves around a race of short, slightly furry creatures who are none too bright but relatively loyal in a tight spot. If this doesn’t scream the middle bit of ANZAC, I can’t imagine what would. Kiwis would do anything for real currency, so finding the extras would have been easy. Apart from having to explain what “action” means.

“Hey, guys, imagine Dunedin, but with, like, pubs and stuff.”

Getting the extras to dress like serfs would hardly have been difficult. Just tell them there was a wedding on and ask them to dress it up a bit.

And what’s all this nonsense about the incredible attention to detail? I don’t think it would have been that hard to faithfully replicate Tolkien’s Goblin language. For your average Kiwi, Goblin comes easy. It’s English they have trouble with. Need a crowd of Orcs? Stumpy blokes as thick as two short planks who are ready to rip your head off at any moment. The All Blacks wouldn’t even have to wear make-up.

As I understand it, the movie goes for three hours and the entire plot involves one gold ring. Which they want to destroy. Only in the New Zealand economy would this be considered a worthwhile allocation of labour.

Middle-Earth your Kiwis can do. It’s more recent times they struggle with.

Let’s see them try a film about a contemporary multicultural society with an economy capable of producing elaborately transformed manufactures. Now, there’s a challenge.

An open apology to New Zealand

Follow up, written by Martin Graham.

Last week I suggested that New Zealand was the perfect setting for The Lord of the Rings trilogy due to its uncanny resemblance to a backwards Middle-Earth.

Since then I have received hundreds of emails from Kiwis eager to dispute the central thesis of my argument. I have also been sent many unsolicited suggestions for new ways of becoming more intimate with myself.

Following a visit from a Mr J. Lomu, careful reflection and a short period of traction, I offer this apology:

  • I apologise for suggesting that most of New Zealand could pass for the Middle Ages. Yes, I have been to Hobart on a Sunday. Point taken.
  • I acknowledge that a Nobel Prize-winning New Zealander, Lord Ernest Rutherford, was indeed the first to split the atom. In Manchester, England.
  • I agree that the Australian farming method – of wheat, eroded pasture and then salt – does not constitute a modern system of crop rotation.
  • I accept that Split Enz were a better rock group than Midnight Oil. I recognise Slice of Heaven as a high point of the songwriter’s art. Compared with Rolf Harris’s Six White Boomers, it’s almost opera.
  • I apologise for the Warriors rugby league team. They are not your fault.
  • Rupert Murdoch is an Australian.
  • Ditto for possums, anything to do with cricket, and the Tampa. Especially the Tampa.

That stuff about sheep? Just a lazy gag at the end of a long night. Although I will admit to finding ugh boots disturbingly comfortable. I shall seek counselling.

I recognise that the three- hour epic The Fellowship of the Ring could not have been filmed in Australia. With our convict history someone would surely have nicked the ring in the first five minutes. The only thing I do not apologise for is suggesting that Dunedin was too dated to be in Walking with Dinosaurs. Even Kiwis agreed with that.