(MENAFN - Arab Times) Tens of thousands of people packed New Zealand's capital city, clambering on roofs and hanging onto lamp posts on Wednesday to get a glimpse of the stars at the red carpet world premiere of the film "The Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey".
Wellington, where director Peter Jackson and much of the post production is based, renamed itself "the Middle of Middle Earth", and fans with prominent Hobbit ears, medieval style costumes, and wizard hats had camped out the night before to claim prized spaces along the 500 metre (550 yards) red carpet. Jackson, a one time newspaper printer and the maker of the Oscar winning "Lord of the Rings" trilogy more than a decade ago, was cheered along the walk, stopping to talk to fans, sign autographs and pose for photos.
The Hobbit trilogy is set 60 years before the Rings movies, but Jackson said it has benefited from being made after the conclusion of the J.R.R. Tolkien fantasy saga.
"I'm glad that we established the style and the look of Middle Earth by adapting Lord of the Rings before we did the Hobbit," Jackson told Reuters from the red carpet. Jackson, a hometown hero in Wellington, said the production had been on a "difficult journey", alluding to Warner Brothers' financial problems, and a later labour dispute with unions. "Fate meant for us to be here," he told an ecstatic crowd, which hailed him as a film genius, but also a down to earth local boy.
"I came here to see the stars but also Peter (Jackson)...I loved the Lord of the Rings and that made me want to be here, without him none of it would be here," said teenage student Samantha Cooper.
The cast was no less enthusiastic about the Hobbit, especially those who had starred in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
British actor Andy Serkis, who plays the creature Gollum with a distinctive throaty whisper, said picking up the character after a near-ten year break was like putting on a familiar skin.
"I was reminded on a daily basis with Gollum (that) he's truly never left me," he said.
Most of the film's stars attended the premiere, including British actor Martin Freeman, who plays the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins, Andy Serkis, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, and Elijah Wood. Ian McKellen, who plays the wizard Gandalf, was absent.
Freeman, known for his roles in the comedy The Office and Sherlock Holmes, said he looked for a different, lighter, slightly pompous Baggins from the older, wiser character played by Ian Holm in the Rings movies.
"Between us - Peter (Jackson) and me - we hashed out another version of Bilbo. There'll be others, but our version is this one and I hope people like it," he said.
The production was at the centre of several controversies, including a dispute with unions in 2010 over labour contracts that nearly sent the filming overseas and resulted in the government stepping in to change employment laws.
The only sour note at the premiere came when animal rights activists held up posters saying "Middle Earth unexpected cruelty" and "3 horses died for this film", after claims last week that more than 20 animals died during the making of the film.
Event organisers tried to block out the protesters' posters with large Hobbit film billboards. Jackson has said some animals died on a farm where they were housed, but none had been hurt during filming.
The movies have been filmed in 3D and at 48 frames per second (fps), compared with the standard 24 fps, which Jackson has likened to the quality leap to compact discs from vinyl records.
The second film "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" will be released in December next year, with the third "The Hobbit: There and Back Again" due in mid-July 2014.
One of the talking points of the film is the choice by Jackson to shoot it using 48 frames per second instead of the traditional 24 in hopes of improving the picture quality.
Some say the images come out too clear and look so realistic that they take away from the magic of the film medium. Jackson likens it to advancing from vinyl records to CDs.
"I really think 48 frames is pretty terrific and I'm looking forward to seeing the reaction," Jackson said on the red carpet. "It's been talked about for so long, but finally the film is being released and people can decide for themselves."
Jackson said it was strange working on the project so intimately for two years and then having it suddenly taken away as the world got to see the movie.
"It spins your head a little bit," he said.
Aidan Turner, who plays the dwarf Kili in the movie, said his character is reckless and thinks he's charming.
"I don't get to play real people it seems, I only get to play supernatural ones," he said. "So playing a dwarf didn't seem that weird, actually.
Perhaps the most well-known celebrities to walk the carpet were Cate Blanchett and Elijah Wood, who reprise their roles in the LOTR in the "Hobbit."
"Mostly I came here to see everyone. I like them all," said fan Aysu Shahin, 16, adding that Wood was her favorite. She said she wanted to see the movie "as soon as possible. I'm excited for it."
At a news conference earlier in the day, Jackson said many younger people are happy to watch movies on their iPads.
"We just have to make the cinema-going experience more magical and more spectacular to get people coming back to the movies again," he said.
Jackson said only about 1,000 of the 25,000 theaters that will show the film worldwide are equipped to show 48 frames, so most people will see it in the more traditional format. The movie has also been shot in 3D.
At the Cinema Con theater owner's convention in April, Jackson got a mixed reception for preview footage of "The Hobbit" shown at 48 frames per second. Some observers thought the images were too clear and the result so realistic that it took away from the magic of the film medium.
"You are dipping your toe in the water, and it's this new way of shooting and projecting a film," Jackson said.
Jackson and the cast of "The Hobbit" received a rock star reception at the Tolkien epic's world premiere in Wellington on Wednesday, cheered on by 100,000 screaming fans.
Crowds wearing crooked wizard hats and pointed elf ears packed the New Zealand capital's entertainment strip, jostling for position on balconies and rooftops for a glimpse of stars such as Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving.
After a flyover by an Air New Zealand Boeing 777 decked out in Hobbit-themed livery, a huge roar erupted as the cast slowly made their way down the red carpet.
The normally reclusive director, sporting his trademark tousled hair and beard, appeared more than a little Hobbit-like even in his premiere-night suit, admitting he felt slightly overwhelmed as he signed autographs and shook hands.
Jackson said it was a relief finally to present the first instalment of his latest saga to fans after a troubled shoot marred by lengthy delays.
"It's emotional and very humbling to see all these people in my hometown who've turned out," he told reporters.
"It's been two years with this narrow focus on the film where we're trying to keep everybody out. 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."
Mia Ramsden, who travelled from Melbourne in Australia for the premiere, camped overnight dressed as the elf queen Arwen to claim a prime position to view the stars.
She said Tolkien fans were a breed apart, determined to mark a new instalment in their favourite movie franchise in style after a hiatus of almost a decade since the last "Rings" film.
"There's a large online community who know every detail of this world and Peter Jackson brings it to life perfectly," she said.
"I've been dying for this one for ages, there was no way I was going to miss it."
Oscar-winning director James Cameron on Wednesday predicted Jackson's "The Hobbit" would do for high-definition film-making what his own hit "Avatar" did for 3D movies.
Jackson has filmed "The Hobbit" at a groundbreaking 48 frames a second rather than the standard 24, a move that drew mixed critical reactions when a preview was screened in Las Vegas in April.
But Cameron, a surprise guest at the premiere of the first instalment of "The Hobbit" in Wellington, said he faced similar scepticism pioneering modern 3D techniques on "Avatar", now the highest grossing film of all time.
He said Jackson's latest movie was destined to be a hit, making it easier for him (Cameron) to employ 48 frames a second which eliminated the "strobing" seen in standard films.
"If there is acceptance of 48, then that will pave the way for Avatar (sequels) to take advantage of it," Cameron told reporters.
"We charged out ahead on 3D with Avatar, now Peter's doing it with the Hobbit. It takes that kind of bold move to make change."
Jackson this week likened the higher shooting rate to the introduction of compact discs, saying it was the way of the future for film.
"I personally think it's fantastic, but it's different," he told Radio New Zealand.
"I remember when CDs came in and there was a nostalgic feeling that the sound of a needle on vinyl was what music should sound like - suddenly you've got this pristine clarity and a lot of people were nay-saying it."
Cameron said Jackson was a singular film-maker who had turned the New Zealand film industry into a global force.
"He's elevated the industry to a global level, where people from all over the world - artists, film-makers, special effects technicians and so on - come here to work, that's unique," he said.
"It's really only happened a couple of times before, in Los Angeles and maybe London... it's the first time it's been done by a single film-maker."
Cameron, who owns a farm in New Zealand, said he was on the property working on scripts for sequels to "Avatar", complaining: "Unfortunately it's too damn distracting because it's so beautiful".
He said he hoped to have the scripts completed by February and begin filming by the end of next year.
"I want to get these scripts nailed down, I don't want to be writing the movie in post production," the director said.
"We kind of did that on the first picture, I ended up cutting out a lot of scenes and so on and I don't want to do that again."
Cameron, originally from Canada, said he was enjoying the relaxed lifestyle in New Zealand.
"We knew our immediate neighbours in a couple of mile radius a heck of a lot better in the first few weeks than we did in Los Angeles in 10 years," he said.
The normally reclusive director admitted he was anxious about how the movie would be received and said his rock star welcome at the premiere was "humbling" after a gruelling shoot.
"It will be the first time I will be seeing the movie with an audience, I only just finished it, so I'm very nervous," he said.
"Once the film is out and a lot of people are seeing it, it becomes almost owned by the cinemagoers of the world. At the moment it just has left our hands."
Oscar-winner Blanchett said she was so keen to reprise her role of Galadriel in the films that "I did stalk him (Jackson) a little bit".
"I've long been a fan of Peter's," she added. "He's incredibly free, he's a free thinker, he's a free associator and somehow as a filmmaker even though he's got this enormous trilogy on his shoulders, he's very, very nimble."
"We charged out ahead on 3D with Avatar, now Peter's doing it with the Hobbit," he told reporters, taking a break from his New Zealand farm where he is working on scripts for Avatar sequels.
"It takes that kind of bold move to make change."
The movies, shot back-to-back in New Zealand with an estimated budget of US500 million, depict hobbit Bilbo Baggins's quest to reclaim the lost dwarf kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug.
Bringing the trilogy to the screen proved a saga in itself, taking more than six years since the project was first mooted. This included legal wrangling over book rights and a union dispute that threatened to move it from New Zealand.
Jackson was also struck down by ill health and last week there were allegations - strongly denied by producers - of animal cruelty and a US lawsuit filed by Tolkien's heirs over marketing rights.
Critics have also questioned if a three-part saga is necessary, given the original book is barely 300 pages long. They suggest box-office returns - 2.9 billion for the "Rings" trilogy - may have trumped artistic considerations.
There were no such reservations from fan Theresa Collins, who expects "The Hobbit" to repeat the success of Jackson's first Tolkien epic, which won 17 Oscars to become one of the most successful franchises in movie history.
"It's going to be different, not as dark (as "Lord of the Rings")," she told AFP. "It will still have that fan base from Lord of the Rings and will probably build on that."
The first movie "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" premiered in Wellington Wednesday will be released globally in December.
The second, "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug", is due in December 2013 and the final chapter "The Hobbit: There and Back Again" follows in July 2014.