New Zealand becomes Middle Earth as Hobbit mania takes hold
WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand's capital city was rushing to complete its transformation into a haven for hairy feet and pointed ears on Tuesday as stars jetted in for the long-awaited world premiere of the first movie of the Hobbit trilogy.
Wellington, where director Peter Jackson and much of the post production is based, has renamed itself "the Middle of Middle Earth", as fans held costume parties and city workers prepared to lay 500 m (550 yards) of red carpet.
A specially Hobbit-decorated Air New Zealand jet brought in cast, crew and studio officials for the premiere.
Jackson, a one-time printer at a local newspaper and a hometown hero, said he was still editing the final version of the "Hobbit, an Unexpected Journey" ahead of Wednesday's premiere screening.
The Hobbit movies are based on J.R.R. Tolkien's book and tell the story that leads up to his epic fantasy "The Lord of the Rings", which Jackson made into three Oscar-winning films about 10 years ago.
It is set 60 years before "The Lord of The Rings" and was originally planned as only two movies before it was decided that there was enough material to justify a third.
New Zealand fans were getting ready to claim the best spots to see the film's stars, including British actor Martin Freeman, who plays the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, and Elijah Wood.
"It's been a 10-year wait for these movies, New Zealand is Tolkien's spiritual home, so there's no way we're going to miss out," said office worker Alan Craig, a self-confessed Lord of the Rings "nut".
The production has been at the centre of several controversies, including a dispute with unions in 2010 over labour contracts that resulted in the government stepping in to change employment laws, and giving Warner Brothers (TWX.N) increased incentives to keep the production in New Zealand.
"The Hobbit did come very close to not being filmed here," Jackson told Radio New Zealand.
He said Warners had sent scouts to Britain to look at possible locations and also matched parts of the script to shots of the Scottish Highlands and English forests.
"That was to convince us we could easily go over there and shoot the film ... and I would have had to gone over there to do it but I was desperately fighting to have it stay here," Jackson said.
Last week, an animal rights group said more than 20 animals, including horses, pigs and chickens, had been killed during the making of the film. Jackson has said some animals used in the film died on the farm where they were being housed, but that none had been hurt during filming.
The films are also notable for being the first filmed at 48 frames per second (fps), compared with the 24 fps that has been the industry standard since the 1920s.
The second film "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" will be released in December next year, with the third "The Hobbit: There and Back Again" due in mid-July 2014. (Editing by Paul Tait)
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