'The Hobbit' World Premiering to Eager New Zealand Audience

Hobbit New Zealand Gollum Display

As the New Zealand capital braces for the arrival of the eagerly awaited epic, director Peter Jackson lashes out at PETA at a press conference earlier in the day.

When cast, international media and VIPs sit down in the Embassy Theatre in the New Zealand capital of Wellington Wednesday night for the world premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, director and producer Peter Jackson says he’ll be feeling humbled.

"It hasn't really sunk in that it's done, and I hope to get the real feeling after tonight's premiere," Jackson told a press conference in Wellington ahead of the premiere. "But as long as we have some petrol in the car to drive the movie to the Embassy in time, we're fine.”

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Wellington has been undergoing a transformation of late. Unofficially renamed The Middle of Middle Earth, the city is currently in the midst of Hobbit mania, which is likely to hit a fever pitch when the film’s stars and filmmakers walk the red carpet. Just how Hobbit crazy is Wellington? A sampling:

  • An aircraft in the fleet of national airline Air New Zealand was been decked out in Hobbit livery to fly key cast from London and Los Angeles to New Zealand this week, while huge dwarf sculptures guard Auckland airport and an oversize Gollum greets visitors at Wellington airport.
  • A 30-foot Gandalf statue has loomed over the Embassy Theater for the last two weeks. The theater marquee is also adorned with Bilbo Baggins’ door as well as a large clock that has been counting down to the premiere for a month.
  • An estimated 5,000 fans, most dressed in Hobbit attire, have already lined the 1,600-foot-long red carpet for the premiere in just under three hours, while thousands have attended the Hobbit Artisans Market which has been in place in nearby Waitangi Park park for two weeks.

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Walking the red carpet tonight are Jackson and co-writers/producers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins), Richard Armitage (Thorin Oakenshield), Cate Blanchett (Elf Queen Galadriel), Hugo Weaving (Elf Lord Elrond) and Andy Serkis (Gollum), as well as the full company of dwarves and a range of other cast and crew.

New Zealand resident James Cameron will also attend the premiere, as will Lost star Evangeline Lilly, who appears in the second film. Additionally, New Zealand dignitaries including Prime Minister John Key and Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown will be on hand as well as a full complement of Warners executives headed by Warner Bros. Entertainment chairman and CEO Barry Meyer.

However, one key castmember will be missing. Ian McKellen, who reprises his role as wizard Gandalf the Grey, said in a statement that "it is thrilling that Peter and my other friends from the cast and crew will be reunited for the world premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. I know they will have a wonderful welcome from the fans and I envy them. As ever, my heart is in Wellington, and I send my love."

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After finishing the film Sunday night, Jackson, his production team and key cast have done back-to-back interviews with the huge contingent of international press which has descended on Wellington.

Jackson says the local response to the film has been overwhelming.

“One of the great things about this country is that there’s a sense of pride about its achievements,” he said. “We get up in the morning, we make the film … then suddenly you look around and there’s all these signs in the shops and this support we have. It's pretty extraordinary.”

One of the biggest mysteries surrounding the film is how it will look and sound. When The Hobbit premieres tonight, guests will see the epic in what its director has described as its “full technical potential.” That is, in 3D, projected at a high frame rate, and with Dolby’s immersive new sound format Atmos.

The Hobbit is the first Hollywood movie to be made at 48 frames per second. Jackson described this as “a more immersive and, in 3D, a gentler way to see the film” in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter in the spring.

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Meanwhile, Dolby’s new Atmos sound system will reproduce the sounds of Middle Earth. Introduced in the spring, Atmos was designed to create an immersive sound experience by placing speakers behind the screen, along the side and back walls and suspending them from the ceiling, positioned for as many as 128 simultaneous sound elements.

But while New Zealanders for the most part are busy wishing one another “Happy Hobbit Day” today, animal activist group PETA is reportedly planning a protest on the red carpet tonight in response to reports that animals died during the production.

Jackson dismissed the PETA action as “pathetic,” adding, “We care about what we do, we care about all the animals." 

When asked if there was any abuse, the director was blunt: “Absolutely none,” he said. “You have got a very radical, political organization that has jumped on this and personally it's an insult to anyone who worked on the film.”