Stars of The Hobbit have begun returning to the middle of Middle-earth as Wellington gears up for the film's world premiere.
At least four leading actors arrived in the capital yesterday in preparation for Wednesday's big event, when tens of thousands of people are expected to line the streets for a glimpse of the stars on the red carpet.
Martin Freeman, who plays Bilbo Baggins, Elijah Wood (Frodo), Andy Serkis (Gollum), and Richard Armitage (Thorin Oakenshield) were all spotted at Auckland Airport. They flew on to Wellington yesterday afternoon.
Wood and Serkis both attended the parade through central Wellington in December 2003 for the world premiere of the final Lord of the Rings movie, The Return of the King.
But while they relax in and around the city, director Sir Peter Jackson has revealed he is still flat-out adding the finishing touches to the first film.
In a video posted on Facebook, he said it would "hopefully" be finished today.
Hobbit fever is already building in the city, with the launch of The Hobbit Artisan Market at Waitangi Park on Saturday, along with a big-screen showing the Rings films, and Air New Zealand's unveiling of an official Hobbit aircraft, decked out with a 73-metre-long image of the stars.
About 30 artists are hawking Tolkienesque wares at the market. Stallholder Barry Eldridge said the new films had ramped up interest in the replica "fellowship cloaks" and scarves made from the wool of sheep raised on the family's hill country station in Wairarapa.
His daughter, Kiri, said there had always been demand for the items from passionate fans from across the world. "People ring up and ask for them in Elvish and we have no idea what they're saying."
Steve Wheeler, official knifesmith and cutler of The Hobbit films, has created thousands of knives, swords and daggers, as well as countless table knives, forks and spoons.
He said he was constantly surprised by the film-makers' attention to detail, and the level of intricacy demanded from him.
"There was stuff there I'd look at the job sheet and think, ‘What, you can't be serious' and you rock up and see the boss and he says, ‘Yep, that's what we want'."
The Waitangi Park market, which is free, and family-focused, will run until the end of the movie premiere on Wednesday.
Air New Zealand's Hobbit-themed 777-300 will fly between Auckland, Los Angeles and London.
Earlier in the month, the airline released its in-flight safety video An Unexpected Briefing, created by the Academy Award-winning Weta Workshop and starring cast and crew from The Hobbit. It has had almost 10 million views on YouTube.
- The Dominion Post