One premiere to rule them all and in the darkness bind them.
Middle-earth mania was in full force as an estimated 100,000 Kiwis turned out to hail Peter Jackson and stars Martin Freeman, Hugo Weaving, Andy Serkis and Cate Blanchett at the world premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Wednesday night in the New Zealand capital of Wellington.
The blockbuster, the first installment of a new trilogy that's serving as a prequel to the director's trio of Oscar-winning Lord of the Rings films, earned rave reviews from those in attendance at its first showing at the Embassy Theatre, whose entrance was decorated to look like a Hobbit house.
Excited fans—many of whom wore homemade hobbit feet, elven cloaks and wizard costumes—cheered as Jackson and company walked a massive red carpet. Along with new cast members including Richard Armitage, who plays the dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield, were veterans of the first trilogy, among them Elijah Wood, who briefly reprises his role as Frodo in The Hobbit and lavished praise on Freeman in the lead as Bilbo Baggins.
"He was brilliant, the right amount of funny," Wood told The Hollywood Reporter. "He has strange qualities but also real heart. He is the heart of the movie, and he really pulled it off."
For his part, Jackson was extremely humbled by The Hobbit's reception.
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"It's great to have so many people come out to celebrate the movie," the filmmaker told the New York Daily News. "It's very humbling. New Zealand is a very small country, it's a very young country. I just think we like to celebrate when we punch above our weight. We sometimes do quite well in sports, and now we're doing OK in moviemaking too."
It was quite a welcome switch-up from the mood a few hours earlier at a Hobbit press conference, where Jackson again denied claims that two-dozen animals died during production due to poor conditions on a farm where they were housed.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey hits theaters in the U.S. on Dec. 14.