Media swallowed Hobbit embargo while politicians blabbed
After all the hoopla surrounding The Hobbit there were just two questions on most people’s lips after the premiere.
Was the film any good and did it live up to everyone’s expectations?
Not unimportant questions, you might think, given that the trilogy cost the thick end of $700 million, including almost $100 million in taxpayer subsidies, and provoked a bitter industrial dispute.
So did anyone in the news media bother to ask any of the 850 lucky souls who attended the premiere whether they thought the vast sum of money was well spent?
People like Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee and Labour leader David Shearer, who were among a gaggle of politicians in the auditorium.
With one or two honourable exceptions the answer is a resounding No, all because they cravenly kowtowed to an embargo imposed by Warner Bros.
Perhaps the worst offender was Radio New Zealand’s flagship news programme Morning Report, which in three hours singularly failed to raise the issue, let alone discuss it.
Instead, we got to hear Council of Trade Unions’ president Helen Kelly bleating on about John Key’s “dishonesty” in a speech he made before the screening.
This was followed by a succession of gushy reports from the red carpet, where an endless stream of besotted fans were asked for their impressions of the occasion.
And adding to the mix were interviews with the Greens about how the movie would create a low wage economy and an animal rights activist harping on about alleged mistreatment of animals during its making.
Scintillating stuff, but as they say, there was more.
In the rural news section we were told the film could help boost sales of New Zealand wool or something to that effect.
Quite frankly, it defies belief that Morning Report ignored the most obvious and important questions about the entire event or, at the very least, failed to explain why it felt unable to ask them.
Or did I nod off while listening to other worthy but dull stories about the Privacy Commission, Felix Geiringer and the Novopay system and miss something?
To clear the matter up, NBR ONLINE contacted Radio New Zealand News.
Spokesman Tony Vale conceded there had been no review of the film but said it was because of a Warner Bros embargo.
“We were admitted to the media screening but like other media signed an agreement that we would broadcast no thoughts, comments, views or reviews until the film screened in the States.”
Which begs the question: why the state broadcaster did not show the same enterprise as Stuff, which thumbed its nose at the draconian demands of the Hollywood mogul?
Its reporters interviewed a raft of people as they left the theatre after the screening and beat everyone else to the punch, which is what good journalism should be about.
They even got to talk to Gerry Brownlee and Peter Jackson’s 16-year-old daughter Katie, who was bowled over by the movie.
“It was amazing,” she said. “It’s very close to home with Lords of the Rings and I think Hobbit fans will enjoy it very much.”
Comments from others were equally fulsome, ranging from fantastic and gorgeous, to awesome and arresting.
Of course, not everyone got to see the show, including the Greens – who were not invited.
Asked whether they would have attended had they been invited, Greens communications director Andrew Campbell told NBR ONLINE:
“I don’t know. That’s a moot point. We hadn’t discussed it because we weren’t invited.”
So were they miffed at not getting an invitation?
“Oh no. Obviously, going to those things is a bit of a perk of the job for some MPs, but we’re not overly fussed.”
The Labour party, though, was luckier and did receive some invitations.
As a result Mr Shearer and MPs Grant Robertson, Annette King and Jacinda Ardern turned up, notwithstanding the Hobbit-hating party’s shared distaste with the Greens of the way in which the film deal was put together.
In fact, Mr Shearer, unfazed by the embargo, told NBR ONLINE that he “really enjoyed the movie, particularly the amazing cinematography”.
“It was a great example of the fantastic skills we have in New Zealand when it comes to special effects technology and film making.
“The film showcased the amazing beauty of our landscape and the smart technology we offer.”
Mr Shearer said Labour is a strong supporter of the film industry and introduced an incentive scheme under the previous government.
“We did not support the current government’s decision to rush through changes to employment law without the proper process for New Zealanders being able to have their say.”
Not surprisingly, Mr Brownlee, who was heavily involved in the negotiations with Warner Bros to keep the movie in New Zealand, was mightily impressed with what he saw and did not let an embargo get in the way of a good news story.
Mr Brownlee, an embargo enforcer, launched an attack on NBR earlier this year for reporting major Christchurch announcements on their news value rather than when the government wanted them spun.
He told NBR ONLINE it was “very entertaining and a truly brilliant film”.
“I’m sure it’s going to be just as popular as the Lord of the Rings.
“The technology is incredible, you’ve got that 48 frames a second 3D, a sound system that’s quite unique and then all of the extraordinary work done by the digital people.
“It was most definitely worth all the money and taxpayer subsidies that went into it.”
Mr Brownlee says he is convinced New Zealand will receive “some extraordinary exposure from these films and also send out a message that New Zealand is a good place to do business in”.
“I will personally be paying to see the movie again – I want to take my younger kids along to have a look at it and I can’t wait for its public release.”
Mr Brownlee believes the arguments over the concessions which were made to have The Hobbit made here “have very much fallen by the wayside because we can all see the very clear benefits from engaging in this sort of activity”.
“I mean, we are really talking about an industry that sits in behind those movies that will have huge ongoing benefits.
“It was also pretty amazing last night to see Sir Peter Jackson and James Cameron, two of the most innovative movie-makers in the world, having a conversation about their projects and doing it right here in Wellington, New Zealand.
“I can tell you it was pretty impressive.
“The best bit for me, though, were the 3000 names on the credits at the end, all the people who worked on this production.
“That was great.”