Hobbit fever grips New Zealand

Hobbit fever grips New Zealand

WELLINGTON - Agence France-Presse
Hobbit fever grips New Zealand

Up to 100,000 people are expected to attend the film’s premiere. AFP photo

Up to 100,000 people are expected to line the streets of Wellington on November 28 for the world premiere of director Peter Jackson’s long-awaited Middle Earth epic “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”.

Stars including Cate Blanchett, Elijah Wood, Barry Humphries and Hugo Weaving will tread the red carpet for the opening, the first installment in a three-part prequel to Jackson’s blockbuster “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

Hobbit fever has seized New Zealand ahead and the capital is dotted with giant sculptures of key characters such as Gandalf the wizard atop the Embassy cinema and a bug-eyed Gollum greeting visitors at the airport.

Images of British actor Martin Freeman playing the central role of Bilbo Baggins cover the entire facades of office blocks and have been plastered on everything from coins and stamps to the side of an Air New Zealand plane.

Freeman, acclaimed for his work in “The Office” and “Sherlock”, acknowledged his part as the hairy-toed adventurer in the much-loved J.R.R. Tolkien children’s story was the biggest of his career.

“This is proper, epic film making... I don’t know any actors, apart from those who worked on ‘The Lord of the Rings’, who’ve made a film that’s this big or taken this long,” he told the Dominion Post.

“I certainly don’t think I’ll ever do another film that’s like, or as long, as this again.” The films, which were shot back-to-back with an estimated budget of US$500 million, depict Bilbo’s quest to reclaim the lost dwarf kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug.

Bringing them to the screen proved a saga in itself, taking more than six years after the project was first mooted in September 2006. Guillermo del Toro was initially poised to direct, but quit in 2010 after years of delays.