New Zealand is living proof that Nature is still The Greatest Show on Earth.
For some years now, in the stunning South Island of New Zealand, Nature has served as a backdrop for big budget TV commercials and feature films. And, when it comes to car ads, especially, there’s one road that will be familiar to most. That’s because it’s used the most.
Skirting the lightning bolt-shaped Lake Wakatipu is the Glenorchy Road heading west out of Queenstown. More than any autobahn or autostrada, this stretch of winding lakeside road is new car nirvana – partly because it features steep, snow-capped peaks that lend a kind of otherworldliness to the product. And, it seems, interest in filming here shows no sign of letting up according to this article from earlier in the year.
It’s impressive to note that, in the southern half of the South Island, the six local councils are not only film-friendly, they’re proactive to the point of having set up a dedicated film division.
I have a great deal of admiration for the Kiwis’ quirky, can-do outlook. Their entrepreneurial spirit sees them punch well above their weight in so many ways on the world stage. In terms of film and TV production, instead of turning their back on the opportunity, they’ve turned their backyard into a fabulous film set. (Though, it has to be said, Nature did give them a pretty good head start.) In a word, in EVERY sense of the word, it is “epic.” That’s why it was used as the setting for this epic parody ad.
Dramatic landscapes are also important when establishing an authentic sense of time and place in feature films.
New Zealand is custom-made for movies. Oddly enough, even Queenstown’s famous mountain range – “THE REMARKABLES” – sounds like the name of an animated, action hero blockbuster dreamt up by Pixar.
Ever since Willow was filmed near Glenorchy in the late eighties, New Zealand has been the location of choice for filmmakers – especially, though not exclusively, within the Sword & Sorcery/Fantasy genres.
When it comes to blurring the lines between art and life, set location and location tourism, the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) trilogy certainly set the bar, but it wasn’t to be all Tolkien’s show. His old Oxford friend and rival C.S. Lewis’s work would soon share in the grandeur when The Chronicles of Narnia was shot here, too.
It’s no secret the Kiwis really embraced the Lord of the Rings phenomenon. Air New Zealand became the “Official airline to Middle-earth”; covering its jets in huge characters from the film. Organised LOTR tours got popular and detailed guidebooks revealing all the set locations, such as Poolburn, Paradise, and the Arrow River, started popping up in book stores. Nature, herself, was even personified receiving an imaginary Oscar in this 100% PURE print campaign at the time.
They really got their collective act together on this one.
One ring to bind them, indeed.
A few years ago, on a flyfishing trip to New Zealand, I got a glimpse into why it’s become such a filmmaker’s Mecca. I made the journey up to Poolburn Reservoir, a few hours’ drive east out of Queenstown. A long, dusty, corrugated four-wheel-drive track takes you miles from anywhere into an almost Lunar landscape with distinctive rock formations. This place is remote, desolate, and surrounded by hills covered in tussock grass and an eerie silence.
Poolburn Reservoir is a high country dam formed from a river called “Pool Burn”. (The area was settled by Scots, hence the “burn” suffix found in many of the local names – it means “stream”.)
And where else are you going to “burn” a replica Dark Ages-style village but at a place called “Poolburn”?
With such unusual surroundings, I can see why it was chosen as the filming location for the Rohan village in Lord of the Rings. During production, the handful of fishing shacks dotted around the water’s edge were “camouflaged” with thatch; and extra prop huts built to represent the settlement in the burning village scene.
There’s a sense of timelessness in New Zealand that lends itself to making big statements on a big canvas. For example, I’ll leave you with a link to a beautifully-shot car commercial. One that I think captures the rugged essence of Queenstown and Otago. It’s for Mitsubishi’s Pajero – a fine four-wheel-drive and the right vehicle to tackle the terrain – but the real hero here is the scenery. It’s hard to compete with the majesty of mountains, especially in Aotearoa, Land of the Long White Cloud.