Inside 'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug' Premiere: Middle Earth Comes to Hollywood

Peter Jackson, Sean Astin and Ed Sheeran were among those at the event; star Evangeline Lilly tells THR that she hopes her character, Tauriel, will be a role model for young women: "There is nothing about her that is weak."
Peter Jackson, center, and his "Hobbit" cast and crew at the film's premiere
Peter Jackson, Sean Astin and Ed Sheeran were among those at the event; star Evangeline Lilly tells THR that she hopes her character, Tauriel, will be a role model for young women: "There is nothing about her that is weak."

Middle Earth returned to Hollywood once more as New Line, MGM, and Warner Bros. held the world premiere of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug on Monday night in Hollywood.

Director Peter Jackson was the man of the evening, at the Dolby Theatre screening and then at the afterparty, held at Hollywood & Highland’s Ray Dolby Ballroom, which, decorated with pillars and arches, was decked out to look like an ancient city that would have been right at home in the film.

“It’s an absolute triumph, no joke,” enthused Sean Astin, who played Samwise Gamgee in Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, to the filmmaker. “I saw at least nine things I’ve never seen before in movies. I mean, ever!”

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Directors such as Edgar Wright and Bryan Singer and producer Brunson Green also spent time orbiting Jackson, as did Jackson’s King Kong star Jack Black.

Smaug was enthusiastically received, especially compared to the reception of the first installment, An Unexpected Journey, which, while making over a billion dollars worldwide, got a mixed reception by critics and fans alike. Also coming into play was that the movie was the first major feature to be released in the traditional 24 frames per second frame rate as well as a new, faster 48 frames.

“Last year, there was a lot of focus on the frame rate, and the technology drove a lot of the reviews,” Jackson acknowledged. “This time around, we made a conscious decision that all the press screenings will be in 24, the premiere at 48. Forty-eight is the best way to see the film, personally. And we’ll see what the audience wants.”

Jackson said he spent a lot of time working on the color grading, trying to tone down the high-definition look. “I think it wasn’t just the frame rate; it was the high-definition look of the cameras that was a contributing factor. So I softened it up this year. And I think we’ve got a look now that feels quite nice.”

Partygoers munched on Hobbit-inspired fare such as turkey shepherd's pie with sweet potatoes and winter squash tortellini with brown butter and crispy sage (did Middle Earth also have black forest parfaits and pumpkin cheesecake pops?) as they took in a two-song performance by Ed Sheeran, whose song "I See Fire" plays over the closing credits.

Luke Evans was one of those in front of the elevated stage listening to the tunes. Evans plays Bard the Bowman, a human who helps ferry the company of dwarves and one hobbit one step closer to their destination, a lost city now occupied by the dragon Smaug,

“I started this so long ago!” he said. “I started this back in 2011, so it’s nice to finally see all this.”

A few feet away sat Evangeline Lilly, the former star of TV’s Lost, who plays one of the rare female characters in the J.R.R. Tolkien adaptations, an elf warrior named Tauriel. The part is somewhat controversial, as the character was created by Jackson and his co-writers, Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh, to make the movies less male-centric and broaden their appeal.

“I really am OK with the controversy,” she said.  “I invite it. I would rather be in the center of controversy than be on the periphery and an ignored character. Lost was a controversial show and people either loved it or hated it, so that gave me a really thick skin.”

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Lilly was enthusiastic about younger female audiences seeing the movie, and she said she hopes her character will be a role model.

“Tauriel is a wonderful option for young women. She is compassionate and soft-hearted, but there is nothing about her that is weak."

Smaug isn’t as long as An Unexpected Journey – it clocks in at two hours and 41 minutes as opposed to two hours and 49 minutes – but its hefty length did extend the festivities well past the midnight hour. And long after Warners, New Line, and MGM brass had departed, Jackson and many of the actors were still having a ball.

Length is something Jackson has had to deal with, not just in terms of running time but also the number of movies for the adaptation. (Some have criticized him for expanding a story that could have been told in one or two movies into three long movies.) He said he gets why fans ask why it is taking so long but explains that he and his team look at the movies as one continuous story.

“A year from now, after the third one comes out, at that point everything becomes a six-movie set: Three Hobbit movies, three Lord of the Rings movies,” he explained. “And that’s how people are going to see them, hopefully for decades to come. And they’ll forget what year they were made and how long they were.”