'Airline of Middle-earth': Hobbit-themed safety video hits web

WELLINGTON, New Zealand - Air New Zealand has set out to take passengers on a flight of fantasy in its latest in-flight safety video, enlisting hobbits, orcs and elves to urge passengers to fasten their seatbelts.

The video, a tie-in with Peter Jackson's upcoming movie "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey", features special effects from the director's Weta Workshop, including a digital Gollum pointing out airplane safety lights.

Jackson makes a cameo in the four-and-a-half minute clip before disappearing when he puts on the "precious" ring, which was at the centre of the quest in his Oscar-winning "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

The video also includes appearances by Mike and Royd Tolkien, great-grandsons of "The Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings" author J.R.R. Tolkien.

Air New Zealand marketing manager Mike Tod said the video was part of a major global promotion linked to the movie, which will premiere in Wellington later this month, the first in a three-part prequel to "Lord of the Rings".

"We will invest several million dollars in Australia, Asia, the United States and Europe on uniquely Air New Zealand marketing efforts related to 'The Hobbit' movies to attract more tourists to New Zealand," he said.

The airline has previously had safety videos featuring cabin staff wearing nothing but body paint, New Zealand's famous All Blacks rugby union team, and US rapper Snoop Dogg.

One safety briefing, featuring camp US fitness guru Richard Simmons taking passengers though pre-flight routines on a plane decked out like a disco, has attracted more than 2.6 million hits on YouTube.

"The Hobbit" stars British actor Martin Freeman, known for his role in TV comedy series "The Office", as Bilbo Baggins, who is swept into an epic quest in Middle Earth to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug.

Other big names appearing include Cate Blanchett, Ian McKellen, Stephen Fry, and Billy Connolly. - Agence France-Presse