New Zealand will be Middle-earth again, after all

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A dispute that threatened to move production of the two $500 million Hobbit films out of New Zealand has been resolved, ensuring that the movies will share the idyllic landscapes that stood in for Middle-earth in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The Associated Press reports that New Zealand’s government will offer tax breaks for Warner Bros. and kick in $7.5 million for marketing. Also significantly, actors and others in the production will be classified as contractors rather than employees, a move opposed by unions that actually will require an ad-hoc change to laws by the country’s Parliament.

Native Kiwi Peter Jackson, who wrote and directed the Rings trilogy and will direct The Hobbit after Guillermo del Toro left the chaotic production, had said local actors’ demands for the same kinds of deals available to international superstars, and the associated boycotts that have now been lifted, were doing irreparable damage to movie studios’ trust in the New Zealand film industry. The nation got a tourism jolt following the Rings movies and 2005’s King Kong, which Jackson also filmed there.

The news comes just days after the first round of casting announcements for The Hobbit were made. They include Martin Freeman as the titular hero Bilbo Baggins and Richard Armitage as the dwarven leader Thorin Oakenshield.

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