Wellington in the grip of Hobbit-mania

Pedestrians walk past a giant model of the J. R. R. Tolkien character Gandalf mounted on the...
Pedestrians walk past a giant model of the J. R. R. Tolkien character Gandalf mounted on the front of The Embassy Theatre in Wellington yesterday. The theatre will host the world premiere of The Hobbit film today.Photo by Reuters
Final preparations are in place as Wellington wakes a city transformed - in the grip of Hobbit-mania.

The capital, renamed this week as the Middle of Middle-earth, will today host the world premiere of the first film in The Hobbit trilogy, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

Thousands of fans have swamped the capital ahead of the highly-anticipated film and its array of stars.

Council officials expect "tens of thousands" to cram into downtown Wellington today, similar to numbers seen at the first two The Lord of The Rings' premieres.

"It [will] probably be 10,000 to 15,000 in that area of Taranaki (Street), down to the Embassy," said council spokesman Clayton Anderson.

Accommodating crowds has been "quite smooth so far", he said.

Last night roads in much of the central city were closed to traffic and barriers were erected in preparation for the laying of a 500-metre red carpet along Courtenay Place leading to the doors of the Embassy Theatre ready for the movie's stars and its maker Sir Peter Jackson.

Five streets will be closed until 5.30am tomorrow, and motorists and commuters should factor in extra time to get across and around the city due to possible delays, said Mr Anderson.

Buses have been rerouted to accommodate the closures, and taxi stands have been moved to nearby areas.

An extra 45 police officers had been brought in to help with the expected enormous crowd.

Additional ambulance services will also be in place as a precaution. Twelve staff will be covering the event, all around the red carpet area including nearby Waitangi Park, with three ambulances on site from midday today until 11pm, said a spokesman.

Other emergency ambulances will be on-call.

A central city liquor ban prohibiting carrying and consuming alcohol in public places remains in force.

For those wanting to avoid the crowds, there will be a live feed of the event on a large screen in Waitangi Park, where a Hobbit Artisan Market has been set up.

An i-SITE spokeswoman said almost all hotels and motels had been fully booked since the end of last month, with only a handful of places coming free due to a few cancellations.

Those wanting accommodation were having to go to Hutt Valley and Porirua because there was nothing left in the city.

A lot of travellers coming into the city had left accommodation bookings too late, as they weren't aware of the event, and were unable to book the places they had wanted, said the spokeswoman.

Cast members of hobbits, dwarves and wizards and J.R.R. Tolkien's great-grandson Royd were among the arrivals in the city yesterday.

Royd Tolkien described New Zealand as a "perfect match" for the setting of the books.

"The idea of having something so perfect as a country ... for me, the landscape plays an important part in [the films]," he said on the flight.

"It kind of rekindles that magic I had back when I was nine when I read [the books]," he said.

Prime Minister John Key yesterday dismissed suggestions competing with other countries on tax incentives for films would help ensure future big budget movies are made in New Zealand.

His comments came after Sir Peter Jackson told Radio New Zealand more might need to be done to attract future movie deals.

The Hobbit films have already received $67 million in tax rebates under the existing incentive scheme.

"You can always have a race to the biggest incentive, but actually we've got to back ourselves on the quality of people we have, the flexibility of our crews, the nature of our scenery and the capacity for us to produce world class movies," Mr Key told Radio New Zealand.

I don't think getting into some bidding war would help us."


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