Thousands of fans of JRR Tolkien's fantasy stories turned out on the streets of Wellington Wednesday to see the stars arrive for the world premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
With the city - temporarily known as the Middle of Middle-earth -- firmly in the grip of Hobbit mania, many dressed in character and waited all day under a hot sun on either side of a 500-metre red carpet laid overnight on Wellington's entertainment strip Courtenay Place.
The first of three planned Hobbit films was to premiere Wednesday, director Sir Peter Jackson's follow-up to his Oscar-winning trilogy The Lord of the Rings.
Jackson, with his wife and co-scriptwriter Fran Walsh and their daughter Katie, was the first to arrive on the red carpet leading to the Embassy Theatre, the main premiere venue. He was given a hero's welcome, fitting for the movie innovator who has challenged Hollywood and earned his home town the nickname Wellywood.
The veteran Australian actor Barry Humphries (better known as his alter ego Dame Edna Everage) who boasts he has a disgusting nude scene as the Goblin King, hailed Jackson as a genius.
The director had turned the Wellington suburb of Miramar, where his studio is based, into "the artistic centre of the southern hemisphere," Humphries told a TV reporter. "Now it's Hollywood," he said.
The Hobbit was "the most technically advanced movie you'll ever see," he said.
Jackson was quickly followed up the red carpet by British actor Martin Freeman, who plays the lead role of Bilbo Baggins, then the group of supporting including Andy Serkis, who reprises his Lord of the Rings role of Gollum, under heavy computer-generated imagery.
A notable absentee was Sir Ian McKellen, who plays Gandalf the Grey as he did in The Lord of the Rings films. But the wizard character was present in the shape of a 9.4-metre sculpture towering over the facade of the Embassy, where 750 invited guests will see the 2-hour-50-minute movie.
"We miss him terribly," said Cate Blanchett, who plays Elf Queen Galadriel and told a news conference earlier that she was in love with the 73-year veteran star. "He's a wicked, delicious man and an extraordinary actor."
Another 1,250 people will see the premiere at another venue on on Courtenay Place, the multi-screen venue Reading Cinemas.
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