Amazon Studios will film the second season of its multimillion-dollar Lord of the Rings television series in the UK, moving fictional Middle-earth out of New Zealand for the first time.
New Zealand's rolling mountains, meadows and forests were made famous as the backdrop for The Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit film trilogies, shot in the country by Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson.
The filming of the epic fantasy is currently under way in New Zealand, but the studio plans to move filming of the second season to Britain, Amazon Studios said on Friday.
"The shift from New Zealand to the UK aligns with the studio's strategy of expanding its production footprint and investing in studio space across the UK, with many of Amazon Studios' tentpole series and films already calling the UK home," the company said.
The New Zealand government said it was told of the move on Thursday and was disappointed at the decision.
"Amazon Studios advised that post-production work on season one will continue in New Zealand till June 2022," New Zealand's Economic Development Minister Stuart Nash said.
Amazon Studios said pre-production on season two will begin concurrently in the UK next year.
The TV version of The Lord of the Rings is scheduled to launch in September 2022, Amazon Studios announced earlier this month.
The production house is spending about $465 million filming the first season of the show, according to the New Zealand government.
Nash said an extra 5 per cent incentive offered by New Zealand's Screen Production Grant in addition to a 20 per cent grant the production already qualifies for would be withdrawn. Amazon Studios said it would not pursue the 5 per cent financial uplift.
The company is expected to produce five seasons of the show, making it one of the most expensive TV series ever.
Amazon Studios has said the first season will be available in more than 240 nations, with new episodes released weekly.
The epic fantasy plot will take place thousands of years before the events narrated by writer Tolkien in his books The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The large ensemble cast includes Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Morfydd Clark, Ismael Cruz Cordova, Sophia Nomvete and Lloyd Owen.
New Zealanders have embraced Middle-earth as part of the country's cultural identity, and even now – seven years after the last Hobbit movie's release – giant models of dragons and wizards decorate Wellington International Airport.
International tourism also leaned heavily on the fantasy epic before the pandemic, with attractions such as the Hobbiton film set and numerous operators offering Lord of the Rings location tours.
- Additional reporting by AFP