'Hobbit-mania' begins today

Final preparations are under way in Wellington for tonight's world premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey as Middle-earth mania grips the capital.

Thousands of fans have swamped the city, renamed this week as the Middle of Middle-earth, ahead of the highly-anticipated first instalment of the Hobbit trilogy.

Council officials expect "tens of thousands" to cram into downtown Wellington today, similar to numbers seen at the first two Lord of The Rings premieres.

"It [will] probably be 10,000 to 15,000 in that area of Taranaki [St], down to the Embassy," said council spokesman Clayton Anderson.

Accommodating crowds has been "quite smooth so far", he said.

Last night roads in much of the central city were closed to traffic and barriers were erected in preparation for the laying of a 500m red carpet along Courtenay Place leading to the doors of the Embassy Theatre ready for the movie's stars and its maker, Sir Peter Jackson.

Sir Peter is expected on the red carpet at 4.30pm and the film's screening will start shortly after 7pm.

An extra 45 police officers have been brought in to help with the expected crowd.

There will be a live feed of the event on a large screen in Waitangi Park, where a Hobbit Artisan Market has been set up.

An i-SITE spokeswoman said almost all hotels and motels had been booked since the end of last month, with only a handful of places coming free after a few cancellations.

Those wanting accommodation were having to go to Hutt Valley and Porirua because there was nothing left in the city.

Many travellers visiting the city had left accommodation bookings too late, as they weren't aware of the event, and were unable to book the places they had wanted, said the spokeswoman.

Prime Minister John Key yesterday dismissed suggestions competing with other countries on tax incentives for films would help ensure future big budget movies are made in New Zealand.

His comments came after Sir Peter Jackson told Radio New Zealand more might need to be done to attract future movie deals.

* Visit nzherald.co.nz later today for full coverage of The Hobbit red carpet and premiere. Live updates will begin at 12pm and a live stream of all the action will start at 3:50pm.

- APNZ

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