Star-gazers thrilled at red-carpet premiere

Actress Cate Blanchett walks the red carpet during yesterday's premier of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Actress Cate Blanchett walks the red carpet during yesterday's premier of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Photo by Craig Baxter.

A gentle Wellington zephyr flapped flags welcoming the traveller all the way into the "Middle of Middle-earth" as Gandalf waved his wizard's staff from atop the Embassy Theatre.

•  Hobbit Premiere photo gallery

Everywhere, Gandalf hats and elven ears bobbed among the crowds, some of whom were already dressed as hobbits, medieval wenches and hairy men.

It was buzzing indeed, and the vibe transferred to the hundreds of journalists in Wellington from all over the globe to enjoy gifts and dinners, interviews and tours before finally joining the happy throng on the red carpet for a few hours of Tolkien fever before the official world premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

What was clear to see was that while Sir Ian McKellen might not have been able to attend the premiere, Gandalf was there at every turn. Certainly, the city must have sold out of elf ears and Gandalf hats, and I'm sure, at 27degC, many were thankful for wide-brimmed wizard headgear.

By 1pm, the fans were one or two deep, sitting, sleeping, playing cards, reading books, singing or eating lunch all along the black barriers that would separate them from the stars.

Many came in costume, some came in school uniform, almost all clutched a copy of The Hobbit.

By 3pm, they were six deep, standing, transformed into an excited mass, weaving and waving in anticipation.

By 6pm, everyone was caught up in the adrenaline rush of spotting stars, and, if you were lucky, talking to them.

The stars themselves had been rather reserved at a media press conference earlier in the day, and were still trotting out the same "Well it's interesting actually ..." sort of answers when they arrived on the red carpet, but a 300m walk and an hour of the adoring public later, they were noticeably perkier.

James Nesbitt, who plays dwarf Bofur in The Hobbit, took a break from gripping, posing and signing to say a few good things about Otago.

"It's a great part of the country. It's one of my enduring memories of this film."

He said he enjoyed staying in an old church in Naseby while filming in the Rock and Pillar Range area, and he took a fancy to the region's wine while there.

"I'm a big fan of Central Otago wine. A big fan. I certainly tried a few," he said with a wink as his publicist dragged him off.

Richard "the hot dwarf" Armitage, who plays Thorin Oakenshield, the would-be king of the dwarves and leader on the Hobbit's unexpected journey, was a fan too. He made a point of coming over to the Otago Daily Times' spot to say: "I like your wine".

The Rock and Pillar Range area was his favourite of all The Hobbit locations, he said.

"There was a wonderful day, where we were helicoptered up on to the hill, but we had to stop filming for the day because this mist rolled it. It was just incredible. It's a wonderful place."

Then it was time for his publicists' tap.

"I have to go now," he said, "but it was lovely to meet you." Indeed.

Queenstown, where many scenes in the film were shot, was the most beautiful place in the country, screenwriter and co-producer Philippa Boyens said, and the Rock and Pillar Range area was a total find, and "a bit of a star" in the film.

"Otago gave us such a wealth, and the people there were just so accommodating and friendly. It was fantastic."

There were a few more, including Stephen Hunter (Bombur), who said he would like to inform his host Barry Williams, of Middlemarch, that the first 30km of the rail trail out of Middlemarch is not downhill all the way. And then they were gone.

Sir Peter was whipped past half the crowd in a blur, after spending far too much time signing, talking and shaking hands further down the line.

The biggest cheers were reserved for Sir Peter, Andy Serkis, Martin Freeman, Elijah Wood and Cate Blanchett, but they were whipped off; the frenzy was over.