Hobbit-mania: Could Chch ever throw such a party?

23:14, Nov 27 2012
Hobbit gallery
Peter Jackson stunned fans with a surprise visit to the Hobbit pre-premiere party at the Amora Hotel.
Hobbit gallery
Barry Eldridge made knitwear including capes and scarves for the Hobbit, and sold his wares at the Hobbit Artisan Market at Wellington's Waitangi Park in the days leading up to the premiere.
Hobbit gallery
Starbucks Courtenay Place baristas Rachel Henderson, left, and Alex Francis stayed up for two nights to dress up their store in Hobbit-themed decorations.
Hobbit gallery
Weta Workshop created this sculpture of Gollum looming from above in Wellington Airport.
Hobbit gallery
Embassy Theatre, which is to host the Hobbit premiere, installed a huge sculpture of Gandalf above its entrance.
Hobbit Gallery
NZ Post put up backlit silhouettes of Hobbit characters on its Wellington building.
Hobbit gallery
Hobbit stars Hugo Weaving, Andy Serkis, Martin Freeman, Zealandia's Lauren Schaer, Elijah Wood and Richard Armitage pay a visit to Zealandia.
The Hobbit: The fans get ready
Robert Schrimf and Lisa Heissmeier camp out.
The Hobbit: The fans get ready
This group came well prepared.
The Hobbit: The fans get ready
Stephanie Kirkby and Meg Gatland-Veness.
The Hobbit: The fans get ready
Some even braved the Wellington night air and camped out overnight alongside the red carpet.
The Hobbit: The fans get ready
Charlie Allan, Elise Hart and Victoria Gridley go all out for the Hobbit premiere.
Trolls on red carpet
Giant trolls have been set up on the red carpet in Courtenay Place
Trolls on red carpet
Hobbit fans hit Courtenay Place
Trolls on red carpet
Hobbit fans will be watching a live stream from the red carpet in Waitangi Park.
Trolls on red carpet
Hobbit fans will be watching a live stream from the red carpet in Waitangi Park.
The Hobbit: Premiere day
The Hobbit cast join director Peter Jackson for a media conference on premiere day.
The Hobbit: Premiere day
Cate Blanchett with Jackson at a press conference this morning
Trolls on red carpet
Giant trolls have been set up on the red carpet in Courtenay Place
Trolls on red carpet
Hobbit fans hit Courtenay Place
Hobbit presser
Cate Blanchett at the Hobbit premiere press conference.
Hobbit presser
Martin Freeman at the Hobbit premiere press conference.
Trolls on red carpet
Statues of Middle-earth figures are put in place on the red carpet.
Trolls on red carpet
Hobbit fans dressed as elves wait for the show to start on the red carpet in Wellington.
hobbit fans 2
Hobbit fans look at a giant screen before the premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in Wellington.
embassy's hobbit view
A view from the Embassy Theatre as the red carpet is set up for The Hobbit premiere.
Trolls on red carpet
Hobbit fans wait for the show to start on the red carpet in Wellington.
More hobbit fans
Hobbit fans line the barriers at the red carpet for the premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
dwarven hobbit fan
A Hobbit fan dressed as a dwarf - complete with knitted hair and beard - waits for the show to start.
gandalf the grey
Derek Carver of Christchurch - dressed as Gandalf the Grey - waits for the show to start on the red carpet.
nazgul fan
A Tolkien fan dressed as a Nazgul or black rider poses for a photo with other fans on Courtenay Place.
high angle hobbit
A high-angle shot of the red carpet on Courtenay Pl ahead of the premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
The Hobbit premiere red carpet
A view of the end of Courtenay Pl near the Embassy Theatre as the premiere event for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey heats up.

The stage is set. The actors are in place.

Yesterday, Wellington's CBD was going about its regular business, but overnight a group of elves have been busy transforming Courtney Place into the Middle of Middle Earth, ready for the world’s Sauron-like gaze to be fixed upon this most cultural and indeed, central, of capitals.

Everyone you talk to, from taxi drivers to retail workers to those involved in the film industry, which is now such a part of the social fabric here, are all excited about the premiere and what it means for their fair city. They don't mind that almost all of them will have to wait two weeks to see the film.

They write off the recent negative media reports surrounding the project as sour grapes, either from those with particular interests or jealous eyes. People just want to be part of the big party (with many international tourists having flown in especially), even if they’re just on the periphery.

And as we know well, Wellington knows how to throw a good party. The annual rugby sevens tournament sells out in minutes now as the windy city transforms into party central organically, not as dictated by committee.

For this world cinematic premiere, retailers have clearly been brought (and gotten) on board, rather than excluded by rights contracts etc. The results are like Wellington itself, understated and diverse.

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Walking the buzzing streets on the eve of this major event, one wonders whether a reborn Christchurch could ever host such festivities. After all it is a city of similar size, population-wise at least.

At the moment we have some terrific post-apocalyptic, western and warzone sets available in situ (hopefully John Key has pointed this out to his Warner Bros mates while they’re visiting the country), so now may be our one chance to seize a slice of the action.

But we’ll need a sizeable theatre to screen the resulting film in (the proposed Theatre Royal cinematic upgrade sounds ideal) and a well-thought and laid out CBD.

The proposed frame feels a little too over-planned, Wellington’s precincts have developed for more haphazardly and organically.

And we must learn from our own past. Christchurch once thought it could steal the sevens from Wellington simply because of our reputation as a rugby mad city.

We forgot that our main ground wasn’t as integrated into the city as the Cake Tin and that it was four-stands instead of a purpose-built bowl, pretty much killing any kind of potential atmosphere. Hopefully, those seeking to build a new stadium will have taken that on board.

Of course it has never helped the Garden City that Wellington’s CBD gives tourists a sense of vibrancy and security. Pre-2010 Christchurch’s, particularly since the demise of Cathedral Square’s cinema precinct in the late 1980s, always had an over-riding feeling of violence.

We would do well to find somewhere where the wide-avenue of Courtney Place could be replicated.

But such things are but a pipe-dream for Christchurch in its current state.

For today, let’s get behind our real sister city and celebrate Kiwi ingenuity, entrepreneurship and our short hours in the world’s spotlight.

The Press