Chronicles of New Zealand film

A band of larger-than-life characters have emerged from remote corners of New Zealand to make their mark on the world film stage.

New Zealand's diverse landscapes and technical wizardry have contributed to the country's reputation as an international movie making destination.

So too, have a band of larger-than-life characters that have emerged from remote corners of New Zealand to make their mark on the world stage: an enormous hairy ape in suburban Wellington, a talking lion at Elephant Rocks, a knight riding a motorbike across one of the southernmost beaches in the world, and a series of mythical creatures from Middle-earth.

In one decade alone three New Zealand directors led their country to the forefront of world film-making with their contributions to the big screen.

The block-buster Oscar-winning trilogy The Lord of the Rings - The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Two Towers (2002), The Return of the Ring (2003) - first turned the world's eyes on to New Zealand's Middle-earth landscapes

They were followed by, and all in one bumper year 2005 - Sir Peter Jackson's King Kong; Andrew Adamson's Narnia Chronicles: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; and Roger Donaldson's The World's Fastest Indian.

King Kong

Peter Jackson's $200 million version of King Kong was released in December 2005. Filming was done entirely in Wellington, Jackson's hometown and headquarters for his film studios, which held the sets for Skull Island and its jungle.

On a vacant lot in the Hutt Valley, just north of Wellington, Jackson recreated 1930s downtown New York featuring Broadway, Times Square and Fifth Ave.

Two of New Zealand's grandest theatres were also used to film scenes - the 90-year-old Wellington Opera House and the 75-year-old Civic Theatre, in Queen St, in the heart of downtown Auckland. The Civic opened in the era in which the film is set, and the scene shot there was based around the unveiling of the giant ape to an incredulous New York audience.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe premiered in December 2005 with Andrew Adamson saying how proud he was to have brought a major movie home to shoot in New Zealand.

"I feel very happy about it. I mean it's good for one, and on a purely personal level, to be back in New Zealand," Adamson said.

"It's really nice to be able to bring a film back here and work with people I know very well, and at the same time maybe help foster a film industry in Auckland that hasn't existed in recent years."

Auckland, Adamson's home city, played host to many background scenes in the movie.

Studios were set up at an old Air Force base, and Muriwai - a black sand beach on Auckland's west coast - doubled as the camp of the White Witch (played by Tilda Swinton).

Filming moved to the South Island for battle scenes at Flock Hill Station near Christchurch, and the fantastic limestone formations of Elephant Rocks in North Otago.

Co-financed by Walt Disney Pictures and Walden Media, this film was the first in a series based on the seven books in C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia.

The World's Fastest Indian

The World's Fastest Indian, a story from New Zealand's history books, took the country's deep south by storm.

Thousands of locals in Invercargill, at the southern tip of the South Island, offered their services to the film, the story of local motorcycle legend Burt Munro, played by Sir Anthony Hopkins. Even colourful local mayor, Tim Shadbolt, played a role in the film.

Producer Gary Hannam described Invercargill as a great base for a film. "Having excellent industries there, like engineering, was just as important as having the right scenery."

"We could have filmed this movie anywhere, but we wanted to do it in Invercargill, where Burt Munro was from. The locals were incredibly cooperative and enthusiastic, and the quality of the extras was wonderful."

The crew spent several weeks at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah - where Munro set world speed records on his beloved Indian Scout bike - before moving to New Zealand to film the rest of the movie over 11 weeks. Much of the film was shot on Oreti Beach, a wide arc of white sand where Munro would test-drive his motorbikes, overlooking the waters of the southern ocean.

The wide streets of Invercargill, a city of 50,000, and the elegant Victorian and Edwardian buildings also played a part in Munro's life story set in the 1960s. The world premiere of The World's Fastest Indian was held in Invercargill's century-old Civic Theatre in October 2005.