* Costumed fans and Hobbit devotees turn out
* Peter Jackson says movie was a "difficult journey"
* Animal rights protesters claim cruelty
* Two more Hobbit movies in next 18 months
By Gyles Beckford
WELLINGTON, Nov 28 Tens of thousands of people
packed New Zealand's capital city, clambering on roofs and
hanging onto lamp posts on Wednesday to get a glimpse of the
stars at the red carpet world premiere of the film "The Hobbit:
an Unexpected Journey".
Wellington, where director Peter Jackson and much of the
post production is based, renamed itself "the Middle of Middle
Earth", and fans with prominent Hobbit ears, medieval style
costumes, and wizard hats had camped out the night before to
claim prized spaces along the 500 metre (550 yards) red carpet.
Jackson, a one time newspaper printer and the maker of the
Oscar winning "Lord of the Rings" trilogy more than a decade
ago, was cheered along the walk, stopping to talk to fans, sign
autographs and pose for photos.
The Hobbit trilogy is set 60 years before the Rings movies,
but Jackson said it has benefited from being made after the
conclusion of the J.R.R. Tolkien fantasy saga.
"I'm glad that we established the style and the look of
Middle Earth by adapting Lord of the Rings before we did the
Hobbit," Jackson told Reuters from the red carpet.
Jackson, a hometown hero in Wellington, said the production
had been on a "difficult journey", alluding to Warner Brothers'
financial problems, and a later labour dispute with unions.
"Fate meant for us to be here," he told an ecstatic crowd,
which hailed him as a film genius, but also a down to earth
"I came here to see the stars but also Peter (Jackson)...I
loved the Lord of the Rings and that made me want to be here,
without him none of it would be here," said teenage student
The cast was no less enthusiastic about the Hobbit,
especially those who had starred in the Lord of the Rings
British actor Andy Serkis, who plays the creature Gollum
with a distinctive throaty whisper, said picking up the
character after a near-ten year break was like putting on a
"I was reminded on a daily basis with Gollum (that) he's
truly never left me," he said.
Most of the film's stars attended 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, was absent.
Freeman, known for his roles in the comedy The Office and
Sherlock Holmes, said he looked for a different, lighter,
slightly pompous Baggins from the older, wiser character played
by Ian Holm in the Rings movies.
"Between us - Peter (Jackson) and me -- we hashed out
another version of Bilbo. There'll be others, but our version is
this one and I hope people like it," he said.
The production was 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.
The only sour note at the premiere came when animal rights
activists held up posters saying "Middle Earth unexpected
cruelty" and "3 horses died for this film", after claims last
week that more than 20 animals died during the making of the
Event organisers tried to block out the protesters' posters
with large Hobbit film billboards. Jackson has said some animals
died on a farm where they were housed, but none had been hurt
The movies have been filmed in 3D and at 48 frames per
second (fps), compared with the standard 24 fps, which Jackson
has likened to the quality leap to compact discs from vinyl
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.