'Hobbit-mania' kicks off in Wellington

Hobbits, elves, wizards and all manner of Middle-earth creatures were part of a crowd of thousands that gathered in downtown Wellington today ahead of the world premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

A 500-metre red carpet was rolled along Courtenay Place to the doors of the Embassy Theatre, where the first film in the trilogy was to be shown to a select audience tonight.

A large stage depicting part of Hobbiton was erected near the theatre from where the film's director, Sir Peter Jackson, addressed the crowd.

"This is an incredible experience because you spend so long shooting a movie where you're just focusing on the film and you want to keep everybody out ... and then suddenly one day the film's finished and the next morning you wake up and there's 100,000 people coming to celebrate. It sort of flips your head upside down.''

The crowd cheered as Sir Peter called cast members onto the stage. One notable absence was Sir Ian McKellen, who instead gave his thanks via a video message beamed to the crowd.

"I wish I were there, my spiritual home in Wellington. I hope you have a wonderful time together,'' said the man who plays Gandalf the wizard.

"Those of you who are about to see the film will see one of the most talented groups of actors and technicians who ever gathered together to make a movie, so I know you're in for a good time.''

Prime Minister John Key said tonight was a time of celebration, and an opportunity to pay tribute to Sir Peter.

"The man's a genius,'' he said.

Mr Key said about 6700 domestic flights were taken as a result of the making of the film, 93,000 hotel beds were filled, 18,000 rental cars were used and $380,000 was spent on coffee.

People could be seen peering down at the action from roofs and windows all around Courtenay Place.

Barely a breeze could be felt in the famously windy city, much to the pleasure of the crowd, some of whom waited for hours to secure a good spot near the red carpet.

Chris Hallett flew over from the Gold Coast to be at today's premiere and had been waiting since 6am.

He was also here a decade ago for the world premiere of the final film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

"If it's anything like 10 years ago it will be off the chart.''

Mr Hallett said he had been a huge fan of The Hobbit since his teacher read it to his class in grade six.

Barry Humphries, who plays the Goblin King in the film, said the premiere would be something everyone who attended would remember.

"This will be the most advanced movie ever made.''

Mr Humphries said Dame Edna - his famous alter ego - would have loved to have been in the film, but unfortunately she was too old.

He said he would be watching it for the first time tonight.

Sir Peter Jackson arrived at 4.30pm, and was the first star to walk the red carpet.

He told a crowd of about 100,000 how special it was that so many had turned out for the premiere, and Wellington had put on a great show.

He said he loved escapism, and that was the sort of movie he tried to make.

Sir Peter said the film was finished at the last minute. "I might have to ask John Key to extend this part.''

He brought his daughter Katie to the premiere, who said she had grown up with the J.R.R Tolkien stories and was excited about seeing the movie for the first time.

Martin Freeman, who plays Bilbo Baggins, said the movie was fabulous and it was wonderful working with such inspiring characters.

James Nesbitt, who plays the dwarf Bofur, said doing the movie "changed my life''.

As well as being a great place to make movies, he said New Zealand also had "good wine''.

The screening of the first in the Hobbit trilogy was to start at 7pm.

- APNZ

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