WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- Wearing elf ears and wizard hats, sitting atop their dads' shoulders or peering from balconies, tens of thousands of New Zealanders watched their favourite Hobbit actors walk the red carpet Wednesday at the film trilogy's hometown première.
An Air New Zealand plane freshly painted with Hobbit characters flew low over Wellington's Embassy Theatre, eliciting roars of approval from the crowd.
Sam Rashidmardani, 12, said he came to see Gollum actor Andy Serkis walk the red carpet -- and he wasn't disappointed.
"It was amazing," Rashidmardani said of the evening, adding his Gollum impression: "My precious."
British actor Martin Freeman, who brings comedic timing to the lead role of Bilbo Baggins, said he thought director Peter Jackson had done a fantastic job on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
"He's done it again," Freeman said in an interview on the red carpet. "If it's possible, it's probably even better than The Lord of the Rings. I think he's surpassed it."
While it is unusual for a city so far from Hollywood to host the première of a hoped-for blockbuster, Jackson's filming of his lauded LOTR trilogy and now The Hobbit in New Zealand has helped create a film industry here. The film will open in theatres around the world in December.
One of the talking points of the film is the choice by Jackson to shoot it using 48 frames per second instead of the traditional 24 in hopes of improving the picture quality.
Some say the images come out too clear and look so realistic that they take away from the magic of the film medium. Jackson likens it to advancing from vinyl records to CDs.
"I really think 48 frames is pretty terrific and I'm looking forward to seeing the reaction," Jackson said on the red carpet.
Perhaps the most well-known celebrities to walk the carpet were Cate Blanchett and Elijah Wood, who reprise their roles in the LOTR in The Hobbit.
"Mostly I came here to see everyone. I like them all," said fan Aysu Shahin, 16, adding that Wood was her favourite.
-- The Associated Press