A Hobbit-themed sculpture is being unveiled on top of the Embassy Theatre today, as Middle- earth fever sweeps Wellington less than a fortnight out from the world premiere of Sir Peter Jackson's new epic.
Workers have this morning been craning the huge installation pieces into place - including a Gandalf sculpture and what appears to be the front of a Hobbit house - since about 8am this morning.
Embassy duty manager Charlotte Weston said the installation was progressing well.
"It's just taking a bit to get it up there."
She said a group of passers-by had gathered to watch the action.
"We had a big crowd before, but it's died down.
"Gandalf was taking a while to get hoisted up."
It was business as usual for the cinema otherwise, she said.
Majoribanks St in Mt Victoria will be closed between 6am and 9pm as the sculpture is put up.
The production manager for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey would be speaking to media about the installation later this afternoon.
Wellington City Council spokesman Clayton Anderson said earlier this week that work on the installation could take until 8.30pm.
Wellington City Council has put $1.1 million towards activities in the week leading up to the November 28 premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, including outdoor screenings of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and a Hobbit-inspired "artisan festival".
The festival will showcase the talents of 30 artists who contributed to the films, and will run for five days from Saturday in Waitangi Park.
The Embassy Theatre's cinema has upgraded to Dolby's new Atmos sound system, and Swney said "all the new toys" would be in place for the film's general release on December 12.
A clock on the front of the theatre has been counting down to the premiere since October, when Wellington Mayor Celia Wade- Brown announced plans to rebrand the city the "Middle of Middle-earth".
Sir Peter Jackson's personal assistant, Matt Dravitzki, said preparations for the premiere were "progressing really well".
He would not confirm who of the film's cast - which includes Sir Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett and Orlando Bloom - would be attending.
Wellington Airport spokesman Greg Thomas said he "wouldn't be surprised" to see several private jets landing ahead of the premiere.
Last month, Air New Zealand released its Hobbit-themed safety video, An Unexpected Briefing.
Erica Challis, founder of Red Carpet Tours and the Tolkien fan site TheOneRing.net, is holding a Hobbit-themed costume party two days before the premiere.
Actor Jed Brophy, who plays dwarf Nori in The Hobbit, will be the MC, and Challis was hopeful that other cast members would attend.
"Some of them are working Kiwi actors who have long careers in New Zealand theatre, TV and film - and now they're going to be superstars.
"This might be their last chance to have a really great time before their lives are turned upside down."
Of the 700 tickets available, 350 had sold at $125 each. "A lot of people coming . . . have been saying they've got a whole suitcase for their costumes," Challis said. "It should be a really good knees-up."
Among the hundreds to turn up at a similar party for the Return of the King premiere in 2003 were McKellen, Sean Astin - who played Sam in Lord of the Rings - and Weta Workshop boss Sir Richard Taylor.
A 12-metre sculpture of Gollum, ducking his head beneath the water to catch a fish, was installed in Wellington Airport's main terminal building one night last month. Weta Workshop staff spent four months on the installation, which is made largely of polystyrene.
Silhouetted depictions of Bilbo Baggins and his band of 13 dwarves were unveiled on the NZ Post's Waterloo Quay building at the end of last month. Lining the fifth floor, the figures are lit from behind at night. They will remain on the building until about March - winds permitting.
- Sunday Star Times