WELLINGTON, New Zealand (UPDATED) – Huge crowds swarmed central Wellington on Wednesday, November 28, for the world premiere of Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit”, an event that sparked Middle Earth mania and brought a touch of Hollywood to New Zealand.
Presenters on national radio greeted listeners in the fictional language elvish, while newspapers came with complimentary Hobbit posters, and sculptures of characters from the film dotted the capital.
Thousands of fans, many in costume, staked out spots hoping for a glimpse of stars such as Cate Blanchett, Elijah Wood and Martin Freeman treading the red carpet leading to the Embassy Theatre.
“I can’t see Leicester Square putting on a premiere like this, with a week of events leading up to it and getting the huge crowds all dressed up,” said British fan Becky Allsop, referring to the London venue of movie openings.
Walking the red carpet, Wood said: “The whole of Wellington seems to be here, it’s extraordinary.”
The city renamed itself “The Middle of Middle Earth” for the event and the New Zealand tourism industry has launched a major promotional push on the back of the movies, hoping to revive flagging international visitor numbers.
Jackson admitted he was nervous about the reception his three-part prequel to the blockbuster “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy would receive, saying he had “lost all objectivity” during a lengthy and grueling shoot.
“Nothing’s ever perfect and it never will be, it’s a real mistake if you say we’re stopping now because we’ve made the perfect film,” he told Radio New Zealand. “You never have and you never will.”
Oscar-winner Blanchett admitted she was so keen to be in the films “I did stalk him (Jackson) a little bit”.
“I’ve long been a fan of Peter’s,” she added.
“He’s incredibly free, he’s a free thinker, he’s a free associater and somehow as a filmmaker even though he’s got this enormous trilogy on his shoulders, he’s very, very nimble.”
The films, which were shot back-to-back in New Zealand with an estimated budget of US$500 million, depict Bilbo’s quest to reclaim the lost dwarf kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug.
Bringing the trilogy to the screen proved a saga in itself, taking more than six years since the project was first mooted in September 2006.
Mexican film-maker Guillermo del Toro was initially poised to direct, but quit in 2010 after years of delays due to legal wrangling between Hollywood studios over the rights to the book, forcing Jackson to take over.
When a green light to begin shooting was finally obtained, a union dispute threatened to move the production offshore — robbing it of its sweeping New Zealand backdrops — until the government intervened by changing labour laws.
Jackson was also struck down by ill health and last week there were allegations — strongly denied by producers — of animal cruelty and a US lawsuit filed by Tolkien’s heirs over marketing rights.
Critics have also questioned if a three-part saga is necessary, given the original book is barely 300 pages long, suggesting box-office returns — US$2.9 billion for the “Rings” trilogy — may have trumped artistic considerations.
There were no such reservations from fan Theresa Collins, who was confident Jackson could repeat the success of his first Tolkien epic, which won 17 Oscars to become one of the most successful franchises in movie history.
“I think it’s going to be different, not as dark (as “Lord of the Rings”),” she told AFP. “It will still have that fan base from Lord of the Rings and will probably build on that.”
The first movie “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” will be released globally in December following its 0600 GMT premiere in Wellington.
The second, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”, is due in December 2013 and the final chapter “The Hobbit: There and Back Again” follows in July 2014. – Neil Sands, Agence France-Presse