Super John saves the Hobbit

Take a brilliant but flawed cinematic genius. Add a dumb blonde called Robyn who becomes the naive but willing tool of an Australian predator. Mix in thousands of extras who want to be extras and more. Fly in some menacing fat cats from a gangster town who have power and cash and are ruthless about both. Sprinkle liberally with prejudice, rumour, gossip and agitation and propaganda of various kinds, and play nightly on television.

What have you got?  Hobbit Street, (subtitled Outrageous Misspending?)  our latest and greatest soap opera. But wait there's more. We forgot about the superhero, who takes the fat cats into his lair and sweet-talks them until they reluctantly take our money, and give us what we want.

Yes folks, Super John has pulled it off. We have the Hobbit. The masses cheer and a few sneer. We've sold out. Collective bargaining and workers rights have taken a backward step. And yes indeed they have. But a film (actually two films) have been saved, and that was what the public wanted.

Anyone who doesn't like the package Key has negotiated with Warner Bros is really saying that they preferred the alternative: that the Hobbit be made somewhere else.

Some have said that Key is just a patsy and a lickspittler of mercenary corporate interests, and yes there is an element of that. But he is also astute at reading the public mood, which was clearly about having the films made here. Given that, he then set about finding a way to make that happen.

Key is a dealmeister; that's his background, inclination and training from Merrill Lynch and previously.

The people who have been made to look foolish are the CTU, who have had the sense to back off in the last few days and Robyn Malcolm who is now saying nothing. Very sensible of her. Whether very foolish or an innocent dupe of the Australian  union, she should stick to acting, and leave industrial relations, film industry politics and corporate finance to people who have more intelligence and knowledge than her.  Her actions could well have wrecked the New Zealand film industry.

The saga demonstrates our vulnerability as a nation, that it takes a Prime Minister to negotiate a deal like this personally, and requires us to ante up more cash, and then rush through legislation all to enable a movie made here. How Mickey Mouse is that?  In what other country would that happen?

But it was necessary, because no deal would have meant no Hobbit. And given our position as a country, we just have to suck it up and look pleased.

The film industry - for big budget movies at least - is largely dependent on the talents of one person (Jackson), exists at least in part because of tax breaks ($65million and rising), and is sustained by the willingness of locals to work at just about any price (not that I am accusing anyone of exploitation here). Is that the basis of a sustainable competitive advantage? I think not.