Huge crowds swarmed central Wellington yesterday for the world premiere of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit, an event that has sparked Middle-Earth mania and brought a touch of Hollywood to New Zealand.
Presenters on national radio greeted listeners in the fictional language Elvish, while newspapers came with Hobbit posters and sculptures of characters from the film dotted the capital.
Up to 100,000 fans, many in costume, hoped for a glimpse of stars such as Cate Blanchett, Elijah Wood and Martin Freeman treading the red carpet leading to the Embassy Theatre, which was decked out as a hobbit house.
"The whole of Wellington seems to be here, it's extraordinary," Wood said as he made his way past chanting spectators.
The city renamed itself "The Middle of Middle-Earth" for the event and the New Zealand tourism industry has launched a major promotional push on the back of the movies, hoping to revive flagging international visitor numbers.
An Air New Zealand Boeing 777 covered in Hobbit-themed livery made a flyover just before the screening of the first movie in a three-part prequel to Jackson's blockbuster The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
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.
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".
The Hobbit was filmed at a hyper-realistic 48 frames a second rather than the usual 24. Director James Cameron predicted the innovation would spark a revolution in movie-making similar to his own pioneering 3-D work with Avatar.
Jackson said only about 1,000 of the 25,000 theatres 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 3-D format.
At a news conference, Jackson said many younger people were 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.
Most of the film's stars attended the premiere, including British actor Freeman, who plays the hobbit Bilbo Baggins, Andy Serkis, Hugo Weaving, Blanchett and Wood.
Ian McKellen, who plays the wizard Gandalf, was absent.
Additional reporting by Associated Press, Reuters