Lifestyle & Belief

New Zealand plans "Wellywood" sign, arousing Hollywood's ire

Wellington International Airport in New Zealand has plans to erect a huge "Wellywood" sign on an empty hillside, an obvious riff on another famous sign. Hollywood is not happy.

The plan, intended to raise New Zealand's increasingly high profile in the film world -- a result of the "Lord of the Rings" movies -- has aroused the ire of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, the Los Angeles Times reports. The chamber, which holds the trademark for the 45-foot-tall sign on the hillside in Hollywood, California, says the airport needs permission to use the image and it is threatening legal action if the plan proceeds, according to the New York Times.

The Chamber of Commerce had heard about the project more than a year ago, and had warned the airport then. There was no further word. The chamber thought the project had died. But then, over the weekend, the airport released a statement indicating that it was planning to proceed with the sign. The sign, the statement said, "will be the city’s newest photo opportunity and is expected to appear on more than a few holiday snaps in the coming years."

J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy of movies was filmed in New Zealand, and tourism boomed. More Middle Earth-themed projects, two movies based on Tolkien's "The Hobbit," are also to be filmed in the country, with expectations that tourism will be further boosted, the New York Times said.

But the planned sign, which is expected to be about 26 feet by 98 feet, isn't just creating a furor in the U.S. The response in Wellington, New Zealand's capital, has been less than positive as well, the Sydney Morning Herald reported:

Cars with beeping horns blocked up the airport's departures terminal in protest at the move, and it seems most of the city's politicians, comedians, marketing gurus, not to mention residents, have panned the idea as crass and "painfully copycatish."

The prime minister of New Zealand, John Key, has admitted he doesn't like the idea. Even the Wellington City Council voted to order the airport to reconsider the project. And a Facebook page entitled "Wellingtonians Against the Wellywood Sign" has more than 25,000 adherents.