'The Hobbit' World Premiere in New Zealand Draws Stars, Thousands of Fans, Rave Reviews

Lisa Cruse

Big exhibitors in New Zealand are screening the film at its higher frame rate, drawing strong ticket demand from audiences.  

An estimated hundred thousand New Zealanders turned out along the 1,600-foot red carpet, which took the stars two hours to negotiate at the world premiere of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in the New Zealand capital of Wellington on Wednesday afternoon local time.

The event took place nine years after the red carpet was rolled out to host the premiere of the Fellowship of The Ring on the same streets.

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Elijah Wood, who reprises his role as Frodo Baggins in the Hobbit films, said he was relying on muscle memory to take him to the Embassy Theater, where many of the cast and crew saw the completed film for the first time.

A large international press contingent and others were the first to see the film at a screening Monday night, but were under a strict embargo that kept people from commenting on or reviewing the film before the end of the premiere.

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But Wood paid tribute to Martin Freeman in the lead role of Bilbo Baggins. "He was brilliant - the right amount of funny," he said. :He has strange qualities, but also real heart. He is the heart of the movie, and he really pulled it off."

Attendees also lauded the technical quality of the film and its higher frame rate.

Richard Armitage, who plays dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield, said about working with Jackson: “The thing that inspires me is that he’s as fascinated with technology and where film can go as he is with story and character. Something incredible has been created that’s never been seen before."

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Director/producer Bryan Singer tweeted:‏ "Just saw ‪#Hobbit‬. Having some serious frame rate envy. Amazing and involving. Loved it! And ‪@ianmckellen118‬, my friend, you are brilliant!"

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, who allowed the film to keep shooting in New Zealand by changing labor laws and underwriting an extra $25 million in incentives two years ago said: “New Zealand took a risk investing in The Hobbit,” and “it's paid off.” Jackson, he said, is a “genius.”

Oscar winner Joe Letteri, Weta Digital’s head of visual effects, was somewhat more reserved, saying that “after tonight we’ve got he rest of the story to tell. “Weta Workshop tweeted: “To all of you who have joined us for the wild ride leading up to this day - a big thank you from the Weta team."

It seems demand to see the film in its native higher bit rate of 48 frames per second is high, at least in New Zealand, with sessions at those cinemas screening at the higher frame rate selling out, according to reports. The film formally opens in New Zealand on Dec. 14. According to the NZ Herald, a decision by exhibitors Hoyts and Event Cinemas to dedicate a screen in every theater to projecting the film at the higher frame rate has created a rush for tickets.

It has been reported that only 1,000 cinemas worldwide will have the capacity to screen the film in the higher frame rate in 3D.

Fans worldwide were able to watch the red carpet proceedings live on the Internet thanks to a feed from Warner Bros.

Tourism New Zealand is expecting a boost in the tens of millions of dollars from the Hobbit films. Meanwhile, Jackson said he would take a short break before getting back to post-production on the second and third films after Christmas.

And Graham McTavish, who plays dwarf Dwalin, revealed that there would be another two months of film work in May next year for some of the cast.

As Jackson finishes work on the second and third films, another duo of blockbuster sequels is being created not far from Jackson’s hometown.

Avatar director James Cameron told reporters on the red carpet that he has taken up residence on his new farm in Wairapa, a short flight from Wellington, to write Avatar 2 and 3.

He told reporters that he needed the solitude so he could give the scripts his full attention. However, he was enjoying his new home so much that it was distracting him, he added.

And as befits a family film, Weta Workshop chief Richard Taylor acknowledged that he was waiting to see the finished Hobbit with his family, while Jackson walked the red carpet with his daughter Katie, who was just three years old when work on the Lord of the Rings trilogy started. Asked if she wanted to follow the family movie-making tradition – her mother Fran Walsh is Jackson’s co-writer and co producer – she quipped: “You never know, I might carry it on.” Jackson, obviously pleased at the prospect, said “she’s extremely clever. It’d be fantastic if she did.”

While Jackson was the first to arrive on the red carpet, he also had the last word.

“It's been two years with this narrow focus on the film where we were trying to keep everybody out," he said. "You have security, you don't want people to know what you're doing. Then you get to that moment where filming's over, and 100,000 people come along to the premiere. It's kind of like the whole world has turned upside down."