How a court ruling could drive Hobbit sequels out of New Zealand

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Feb 7, 2013, 3:12 PM EST (Updated)

New Zealand has represented the rolling hills and mountains of Middle-earth for more than a decade, but a new court ruling could potentially drive production on the remaining Hobbit sequels out of the country.

There was a failed attempt in 2010 by workers on the film to unionize, and now the New Zealand government is effectively ordering the release of “confidential communications between New Line, Peter Jackson’s Wingnut Films and government ministers, all of which opposed the unionization attempt as well as the document requests.”

New Line is obviously pretty upset by the ruling, and issued a statement as part of the decision saying it would divulge “negotiations and innermost thinking, including certain strategic decisions, legal and personal opinions, offers from third party governments and other private information."

The New Line reaction went on to say that the decision to release the documents could even discourage the company from shooting any more films in New Zealand—including the Hobbit sequels coming down the pike. The location deal has been beneficial for both sides, with New Zealand receiving a huge economic boost and great press, while New Line enjoyed heavy incentives to keep the production happy.

But all that could change soon, according to New Line:

“If the government is not willing to adequately protect this sensitive information from disclosure, this will operate as a major disincentive to motion picture studios as well as local and foreign talent – to utilize New Zealand as a location for future productions.”

The document release ruling is only a recommendation now, but it apparently becomes a “public duty” on March 1, meaning this issue could get a lot more heated next month.

With production already well under way on the remaining two Hobbit films, it’s unlikely that the studio would pull up stakes and move somewhere else at this point. But you have to wonder how this could affect any future endeavors between the two sides. You know, like some potential J.R.R. Tolkien-inspired spinoffs a decade or so down the line? If something doesn’t change, Middle-earth could start looking a lot like Vancouver.

(Via The Hollywood Reporter)