By Chris Whitworth and Dan Rutledge
It’s been an unexpected and at times bumpy journey, but the first Hobbit film has finally arrived.
Wellington will today play host to the worldwide premiere of Sir Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, with around 100,000 people expected to line Courtenay Place for the celebrations.
Final tweaks were still being made on the film yesterday, with Sir Peter admitting it came down to the wire.
“The longer you spend on the film the better you can make it, so we fiddle and we like to think we’re improving it right up until the very last minute,” he told 3 News.
The film’s stars, including Martin Freeman, Cate Blanchett and Andy Serkis, will take to the 500m Red Carpet from 4:30pm onwards, alongside filmmakers Sir Peter, his wife Fran Walsh and co-producer Philipa Boyens. Later this evening, the world premiere of the film will be played to VIP guests at both the Embassy Theatre and Readings Cinema.
The only major star missing from today’s event is Sir Ian McKellen, who plays Gandalf the Grey. The Lord of the Rings star expressed regret earlier this month at not being able to attend the premiere but said his “heart is in Wellington”.
Fans of the bearded wizard will not go entirely without. A giant Gandalf statue will watch over the premiere after being erected atop the Embassy Theatre earlier this month.
The statue is one of many Hobbit-inspired transformations in the capital, which has been temporarily renamed ‘The Middle of Middle-earth’. Other features include a giant Gollum at Wellington Airport, Hobbit-inspired artwork and a premiere countdown clock.
The Wellington council has contributed more than $1.1 million to the premiere week celebrations.
Weta Workshop head Sir Richard Taylor says New Zealand deserves to celebrate today’s premiere.
“These films are part of our culture now and it’s critical that as a country we get to share that with the world.
But the Hobbit’s journey to the big screen has been far from trouble-free.
In 2006 Hobbit rights holders MGM announced interest in making the films with Sir Peter and New Line Cinema. Later that year Sir Peter and partner Fran Walsh withdrew from the project due to ongoing legal action with New Line Cinema over the company’s Lord of the Rings finance records.
In late 2007, Jackson and New Line Cinema announced a new agreement to make the films with Guillermo Del Toro directing. Del Toro then left the project in 2010, frustrated with delays in the filming process caused by MGM’s financial problems.
Later in 2010, The Hobbit faced a no-work order from the International Federation of Actors due to the film project’s contractual conditions. Sir Peter and Warner Bros began looking into moving the production to a different country.
Following protests and further concessions made by the New Zealand government for Warner Bros, it was confirmed in October 2010 that filming would take place in New Zealand with Sir Peter at the helm.
Principle photography took place over 2011 and 2012. The production has also been hit with claims of negligence leading to unnecessary animal deaths and in recent weeks the Tolkien Estate filed a lawsuit against Warner Bros over alleged exploitative merchandising.
Sir Peter will be hoping such controversies are put aside today, as New Zealand and the world celebrates the launch of a new Tolkien journey on-screen as The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey finally plays to an audience.