|Millions of visitors have flocked to locations used in the Lord of the Rings films, helping tourism overtake dairy exports as the country's biggest earner. — AFP Photo|
WELLINGTON — US-based streaming giant Amazon announced on Wednesday its big-budget Lord of the Rings series will within months start filming in New Zealand, home to Peter Jackson's movies of the fantasy epic.
Amazon is reportedly spending US$1 billion-plus on the series as it seeks to emulate the runaway success enjoyed by Games of Thrones.
Showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay said the South Pacific nation offered the "primordial beauty" of Middle Earth, the setting for J.R.R. Tolkien's tales of elves, dwarf and hobbits.
"We needed to find somewhere majestic, with pristine coasts, forests, and mountains, that also is a home to world-class sets, studios, and highly skilled and experienced craftspeople," they said in a statement.
Amazon Studios said pre-production had already begun and shooting would start in Auckland "in the coming months".
It has already made a multi-season commitment to the series, which will explore storylines set long before the events depicted in Jackson's films.
The Kiwi director's Rings trilogy and the equally popular, but less critically acclaimed three-parter The Hobbit, sparked a tourism boom in New Zealand.
Millions of visitors have flocked to locations used in the movies, helping tourism overtake dairy exports as the country's biggest earner.
The movies also transformed New Zealand's film sector from a cottage industry into a world leader, particularly in digital special effects.
"It's great to see New Zealand's association with Middle Earth is continuing," Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford said.
Invest Auckland said the Amazon production would bring an "immense economic boost and job opportunities".
New Zealanders have also embraced Middle Earth as part of the country's cultural identity, even now -- five years after the last Hobbit movie's release -- giant models of dragons and wizards decorate Wellington airport.
Jackson has no direct involvement in the series, although last year he wished its makers well and said he was available for consultation if needed.
Amazon has previously confirmed that Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom director J.A. Bayona will helm the first two episodes of the series. — AFP