Hobbit mania hits New Zealand
Huge crowds swarmed central Wellington yesterday 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 free Hobbit posters and sculptures of characters from the film dotted the capital.
Up to 100,000 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, which was decked out as a hobbit house.
“The whole of Wellington seems to be here, it’s extraordinary,” Wood said as he made his way past chanting spectators in scenes more reminiscent of a sporting event than a movie premiere.
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.
An Air New Zealand Boeing 777 covered in Hobbit-themed livery made a flyover just before the screening of the first in a three-part prequel to Jackson’s blockbuster The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
The normally reclusive director admitted he was anxious about how the movie would be received and said his rock star welcome at the premiere was “humbling” after a gruelling shoot.
“It will be the first time I will be seeing the movie with an audience, I only just finished it, so I’m very nervous,” he said.
Oscar-winner Blanchett was so keen to reprise her role of Galadriel in the films that “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 associator and somehow as a film-maker even though he’s got this enormous trilogy on his shoulders, he’s very, very nimble.”
British actor Andy Serkis, who plays the creature Gollum with a distinctive throaty whisper, said picking up the character after a near-10-year break was like putting on a familiar skin.
“I was reminded on a daily basis with Gollum (that) he’s truly never left me,” he said.
The movies, shot back-to-back in New Zealand with an estimated budget of US$500 million (€387.8 million), depict hobbit Bilbo Baggins’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. This included legal wrangling over book rights and a union dispute that threatened to move it from New Zealand.
Jackson was also struck down by ill health and last week there were allegations 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. They suggest 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 expects The Hobbit to repeat the success of Jackson’s first Tolkien epic, which won 17 Oscars to become one of the most successful franchises in movie history.
“It’s going to be different, not as dark (as Lord of the Rings),” she said. “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.
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.