WELLINGTON, Nov 28 (Reuters) - New Zealand's capital city was taken over by pointy-eared, costumed Hobbit fans on Wednesday, many of whom camped overnight to grab the best spots for the red carpet world premiere of the film later in the day.
Wellington, where director Peter Jackson and much of the post production is based, has renamed itself "the Middle of Middle Earth", and fans with prominent Hobbit ears, medieval style costumes, grey beards, wigs, and wizard hats claimed spaces along the 500 metre (550 yards) red carpet.
Tens of thousands are expected to pack the route to the theatre, along which the cast, crew, and celebrities will travel.
"It's Tolkien, so it's absolutely huge, it's one of the most adored books ever after Lord of the Rings, everyone's really excited," said student Chelsea Thomson.
The theatre screening the "Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey" has been decorated with the entrance to a Hobbit house and the wizard Gandalf, while three giant trolls and other creations from the film are in the street.
New Zealand has virtually claimed the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings as national treasures and emblems since Jackson started making the Oscar-winning movies, based on the epic fantasy books of J.R.R Tolkien, more than 12 years ago.
The first film of the Hobbit trilogy 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.
Many of the film's stars have flown in for the premiere, including British actor Martin Freeman, who plays the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins, Andy Serkis, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, and Elijah Wood. Ian McKellen, who plays the wizard Gandalf, is absent.
Tolkien's great grandson, Royd Tolkien, has also come out for the premiere.
Fans from the United States and Europe have travelled for the premiere of the film in what for some is almost a pilgrimage.
"We're on a 15 day tour, we're looking at every Lord of the Rings and Hobbit location that we know of and just having a lot of fun doing it," said a young man named Dave from Ohio.
The production has been at the centre of several controversies, including a dispute with unions in 2010 over labour contracts that nearly sent the filming overseas and resulted in the government stepping in to change employment laws, as well as giving Warner Brothers increased incentives to keep the production in New Zealand.
Animal rights activists have said they will demonstrate at the red carpet because of the death of more than 20 animals, including horses, pigs and chickens, 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.