One of the biggest film projects in history was the Peter Jackson directed Lord Of The Rings trilogy. Jackson brought stars like Christopher Lee, Liv Tyler, and Sir Ian McKellen to New Zealand where they worked in some of the world's most stunning landscapes. Special effects were created by Weta Digital which was founded by director Peter Jackson as well as Richard Taylor and Jamie Selkirk. This trilogy was nominated for 30 Academy Awards and won 17. The final movie in the trilogy 'The Return of the King' was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won all 11 of them. This equalled the most awards won by a single film along with Ben Hur and Titanic, although Return of the King got the largest sweep as it won in every nominated category. After the huge success of Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson also directed the following Hobbit trilogy, another huge undertaking.
It is not just Lord Of The Rings or the Hobbit that is putting Kiwi cinema on the map. Look at the evidence. Lee Tamahori, the director of New Zealand classic, 'Once Were Warriors', also directed 'Die Another Day'. Anna Paquin of Lower Hutt appears in X Men 1&2 while Jane Campion directed Holy Smoke are both Oscar winners for their part in the movie classic 'The Piano' which was filmed on Karekare Baech near Auckland.
Another Kiwi director is Roger Donaldson who directed the Tom Cruise movie Cocktail was also responsible for the Cuba Missile drama, '13 Days'. Then there is that typical Kiwi bloke Sam Neil (main actor in Jurassic Park, The Dish, Perfect Strangers) or Temuera Morrison (Star Wars, Attack of the Clones) and Vincent Ward who wrote and directed Aliens 3. We should also mention Andrew Niccol who wrote and directed The Truman Show, Gattaca, and S1m0ne.
In addition, New Zealand director Andrew Adamson gets a special mention as he is the man behind Shrek and Narnia movies. Narnia features New Zealand's forests, alpine plateaus, rolling countryside, and coastal areas such as Cahtedral Cove in the Coromandel.
It is not just New Zealander's who appreciate their country as a premier filming location. Non-Kiwi Hollywood directors recognize the country's outstanding landscapes as ideal locations for their movies too. Remember 'Vertical Limit' which was filmed at K2 (the world's second highest mountain)? Well it wasn't really K2 and not even the Himalayas, rather New Zealand's Mt Cook and the Southern Alps. Then there is Mt Fuji in the Tom Cruise movie 'The Last Samurai', but how did they film an 18 century Mt Fuji minus modern development near that mountain today? Well that was the easy part, technology had nothing to do with it. Mt Fuji has a double called Mt Taranaki located in the west of New Zealand's North Island. Then there is James Cameron who directed Avatar. The special effects were handled by Weta Digital in Wellington and James Cameron now lives in the Wairarapa, the same New Zealand district where Peter Jackson has a home. New Zealand is also the location for some popular TV series including Hercules, Xena, Space, and The Lost World.
In a country with every landscape imaginable and all packed into an area about the size of California, with extraordinary talent, and a favourable exchange rate; you simply have to admit that New Zealand is the perfect film set. Air New Zealand (the national carrier) once adopted the slogan, "The Airline to Middle Earth." And billboards for the airline in the Los Angeles area showed the country's tallest mountain with the caption, "Visit Middle Earth. They haven't taken the set down."
As for Wellington's Weta Digital, their computer-generated special effects have seen them win multiple Academy Awards and their following list of movies is impressive: