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Hobbit Filming to Begin After Surgery, Fire Delays

Hobbit Filming to Begin After Surgery, Fire Delays
“The Hobbit” will be directed by Peter Jackson, who’s recovering after surgery for a perforated ulcer last month. Photographer: Marty Melville/Getty Images

“The Hobbit” will begin filming in New Zealand next month, ending a series of delays brought on by a fire at a production facility, the director’s hospitalization and a labor dispute that threatened to move the project.

The first day of photography for the two-film prequel to the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy will be March 21, according to an e-mailed statement from Wellington-based production company 3Foot7 Ltd. Filming will take place in Wellington, the nation’s capital, and in other New Zealand locations, the statement said.

“The Hobbit” will be directed by Peter Jackson, who’s recovering after surgery for a perforated ulcer last month.

Jackson’s illness was the films’ latest delay after Warner Bros Productions Ltd. considered moving production in October when workers threatened a boycott. Guillermo del Toro, originally slated as director, withdrew in May and also in October fire ripped through a Wellington studio where parts of the film were to be shot.

“Despite some delays we are fully back on track and very excited to get started,” Jackson said in the statement.

Cast members confirmed to appear in the $500 million production include Martin Freeman, Cate Blanchett and Ian McKellen, who’ll reprise his Rings role as Gandalf the wizard, according to the statement.

“The Hobbit” is J.R.R. Tolkien’s tale of Bilbo Baggins’ quest to win treasure guarded by Smaug the dragon.

Big Budget Bet

New Zealand is relying on big budget movie productions to boost its film and tourism industries after the country’s economy moved closer to recession in December. The Rings trilogy added about NZ$350 million to the economy in the three years to March 2002. The film series also boosted tourism to locations where Tolkien’s hobbits battled armies of orcs.

To ensure the films were made in New Zealand, the nation’s government agreed to pay producer Warner Bros rebates of as much as $7.5 million per picture. The studio threatened to move the production elsewhere in the wake of an actors’ union dispute, resulting in thousands of New Zealanders taking to the streets in protest.

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