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The one research study to rule them all

14 November 2012

Dr Carolyn Michelle

Lead researcher Dr Carolyn Michelle: Will be looking at international perceptions of, and hopes and expectations for, The Hobbit film.

Just a stone's throw from Hobbiton, a group of researchers are embarking on their own quest – to look at international perceptions of, and hopes and expectations for, the Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

Lead researcher Dr Carolyn Michelle of the Audience Research Unit at the University of Waikato in Hamilton, a short drive from Hobbiton, says she’s hoping for an international response to the survey, which is similar to one done for the James Cameron movie Avatar in 2009.

"Whether or not you’re a serious Tolkien fan, and even if you’re a Hobbit hater, we want to know what you are thinking and feeling about The Hobbit prior to its release," she says. "You can participate in the one research study to rule them all at http://goo.gl/4vsvf."

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, directed by Peter Jackson, was filmed in New Zealand and is due to be released on December 12.

Global interest

Dr Michelle and colleagues from the University of Waikato’s Screen and Media Department, working with collaborators in Canada and Denmark, are hoping global interest in The Hobbit will help generate more than 1,000 responses to their survey from around the world.

"We want to see how prefigurative discussion, debate, marketing and promotion of a film shape subsequent responses to it," says Dr Michelle.

"We’re also interested in looking for response patterns linked to identity and location so the wider the reach of the survey, the better the data. Here in New Zealand the making of the Hobbit has already fuelled discussion on a range of issues; elsewhere in the world the response may be quite different."

Local interest

Locally, The Hobbit has generated debate about the power of Hollywood to dictate terms and conditions in the local film industry – and wider.

An industrial dispute during filming nearly derailed the project until the New Zealand government agreed to introduce new employment legislation, a controversial decision which drew widespread criticism.

Leveraging from the film

Tourism New Zealand has launched a multi-million dollar campaign based on the movie to attract more international tourists to the country.

The campaign includes footage of the original Hobbiton set in Matamata, in the central North Island, yet individual tourism operators in areas where The Hobbit was filmed are being told they can’t reference the movie in any advertising because of copyright issues.

Q methodology survey like no other

The researchers say the study is set to be the first large-scale international sentiment survey using Q methodology. Q methodology takes a quantitative and qualitative approach to create a conceptual map of people’s subjective responses. Survey participants are asked to rank a set of statements, rather than simply agree or disagree.

The survey is the first part of a three phase project. "Next we’ll be looking at people’s responses to the film once it’s released, and also undertaking a multi-lingual cross-cultural study analysing the differences in the responses based on socioeconomic variables, values and beliefs," says Dr Michelle.

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