Hobbit heaven at capital premiere
Stars on the red carpet, the sun shining brightly in a deep blue sky, the wind on a welcome "take five", and tens upon thousands of adoring fans, many in costume, lining Courtenay Place.
As if there aren't enough special effects in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the real magic lay on the streets of Wellington, where people had come from near and far to do some star-gazing, some having camped for a perfect view from as early as Tuesday night.
Throughout the sweltering day - by Wellington standards that is, with the mercury nudging 22 degrees Celsius - the crowd kept growing, eventually getting close to an estimated 100,000. And they weren't disappointed.
From about 4pm the red carpet turned into a conveyer belt of the rich (Sir Peter Jackson), the famous (Elijah Wood), the hunks (Richard Armitage and Aidan Turner), the gorgeous (Cate Blanchett), the important (John Key and Celia Wade-Brown) and the crowd favourite (Martin Freeman, aka Bilbo Baggins).
Far from the super-stage-managed affairs that premieres can be - with over-zealous bodyguards and PR minders ever circling - this event had the lightness of being.
The big names mixed freely with the little people (incidentally, the ones who ultimately fund the movie), autographs and photo opportunities were easy to come by, and Bilbo seemed charmed that so many young women, some overcome with emotion, wanted to "bag him".
New York, London and Tokyo are next on the premiere circuit, but there was no doubting that the affection of the hobbits, elves and wizards - in fact, everyone involved with The Hobbit project - lies deeply in the heart of the capital.
Barry Meyer, chairman and chief executive of Warner Bros, said: "It is hard to imagine a more fitting backdrop for the launch of the premiere of The Hobbit than downtown Wellington."
The film's director, Sir Peter Jackson, said there was no better place to release the film. "It's the home crowd, isn't it? You can't do better."
He did admit, however, that he'd had little choice in where the premiere would be held. "I do know that if I didn't have a movie here for the premiere, I'd be in awful trouble. I'd be in the poo, as we say."
Work on the film had gone down to the wire and he had seen a full version only a few days ago.
"It was OK," he joked.
Bofur the dwarf, aka Irishman James Nesbitt, raved about how much he and his family loved Wellington.
"Wellington was a great place to be. I can't say enough of Wellington and New Zealand. You have a better pace of life, a good education system and good wine."
Even Sir Ian McKellen, who plays Gandalf in The Hobbit but could not make it to the capital for the premiere, said in a video message from London that he wished he was "there in my spiritual home in Wellington".
Mayor Celia Wade-Brown tapped into the mood of the tens of thousands of fans when she said: "Today is the day we've been waiting for. Today is the day we go on an unexpected journey."
And Australian actor Barry Humphries likened The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey to the same fervour over the release of Gone with the Wind in 1939.
The comedian, who plays the Goblin King, said a few years ago he was performing in Atlanta and met "old-timers" there who had attended the Gone With the Wind premiere and saw Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh come down the main street in an open car.
"That is very similar to today in Wellington, New Zealand. It's an event the kids are going to remember, I think."
Despite the huge crowd around Courtenay Place, very few problems were reported.
A spokesman for Wellington Free Ambulance said they treated four people for mild heat exhaustion, but they were back in the crowd after being given fluids.
Inspector Terry van Dillen, who ran the police operation, said he was impressed with how well behaved the crowd was.
While one child got separated from their parents, they were quickly reunited and otherwise the day was headache-free.
A few, however, had an unexpected journey of their own when about 30 cars were towed as roads were cleared for the premiere. A further 90 tickets were issued in and around Courtenay Place.
Wellington City Council spokesman Richard MacLean said most of the tickets issued on Tuesday night and yesterday morning were for $40, and the majority were on the side streets off Courtenay Place.
Almost 30 cars were towed to nearby locations.
THE STARS SAY
"It was really a lesson in speed signing. I've heard of speed dating but this was different. And I was the winner, I got through 300,000 signatures."
Jed Brophy, Nori
"I felt a lot of love. For a baying mob, they were really well behaved. Everyone's been very good."
Martin Freeman, Bilbo
"It's very rare to have a film that the whole country gets behind. But every single person in New Zealand seems like they're on the credits somehow."
"It was OK."
Sir Peter Jackson on his first viewing of the completed film, a few days ago
"Let's pay tribute to Peter Jackson - the man's a genius."
"Today is a day to celebrate Wellington at its very best."
Mayor Celia Wade-Brown, pictured with partner Alastair Nicholson
"He's a wicked, delicious man. It's such a shame he's not here today. We miss him terribly."
Cate Blanchett, Galadriel, on Sir Ian McKellen's absence
"I genuinely love this country. Even though 10 or 12 years have passed, it feels like nothing's changed in some ways. It's always a thrill to come back."
Hugo Weaving, Elrond
"Wellington sure knows how to turn on a party, doesn't it?"
Peter Hambleton, Gloin
"I do know that if I didn't have a movie here for the premiere, I'd be in awful trouble. I'd be in the poo, as we say."
Sir Peter Jackson
"If they said we needed to start again tomorrow, I'd do it."
John Callen, Oin, on the enjoyment of making the film
"Every time I land in Wellington Airport, it feels like I'm coming home. I love it here."
Elijah Wood, Frodo
"It's so great for all these people to come out and wait so long. We really appreciate it."
Sir Peter Jackson
"It's amazing, it's so surreal. It's like the wackiest St Paddy's Day party ever."
Aidan Turner, Kili
"It's just so good to be back here. This wasn't just another job, this was a whole lifestyle change. This is a great place for making movies and a great place to live. I just can't say enough about Wellington."
James Nesbitt, Bofur
"I think Peter knocked this one out of the park. I just hope people like it as much as we enjoyed making it."
The Dominion Post