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Wednesday, 19 December, 2001, 11:40 GMT
New Zealand embraces Rings
Middle earth newspaper
New Zealand gets into the Rings spirit
As The Lord of the Rings opens in cinemas worldwide Kim Griggs attends the première of the Tolkien epic in Wellington, New Zealand, home of director Peter Jackson and location for many of the film's memorable scenes.

In the traffic-free street outside the Embassy theatre downtown, the crowd for the street party clogs every available space.

Outside the theatre, extras dressed as Gondorian guards keep a watchful eye on swirling Ringwraiths and a local band belts out their hit song "I wish I was in Wellington" to the huge crowd.

Embassy cinema
The cinema was suitably changed for the première
Every vantage point around - and above - the red carpet is crammed; for Wellington and for New Zealand this film opening is something special.

Miserable rain

Earlier in the day director Peter Jackson told reporters: "It's the home town screening, isn't it? And a lot of the people who are going to be seeing it here were orcs or elves or hobbits or extras of some sort. It'll be fun."

As if by magic, the gloom of miserable rain and strong southerly winds that have dogged Wellington for much of December lifted for the arrival of the stars to the Australasian première.

A hobbit
Hobbits to the fore in Lord of the Rings
New Zealanders have been champing at the bit to celebrate their country's role in the making of three films which will depict J.R. R. Tolkien's classic The Lord of the Rings.

The country's capital, Wellington, branded itself Middle-earth; the local newspaper for the first time in its 137-year history changed its masthead and the Embassy theatre, home to the premiere, was adorned with a huge, menacing cave troll.

'Real pride'

Jackson and stars Elijah Wood, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, and Hugo Weaving were fêted before the premiere at a parliamentary reception hosted by New Zealand's Prime Minister Helen Clark.

Wellington, New Zealand
Wellington has been temporarily renamed Middle-earth
"Lord of the Rings has the potential to expose New Zealand to the world on an unprecedented scale," Helen Clark said.

"We take real pride in what Peter and the team have done."

The government is also putting funds behind its compliments: the government is spending NZ$4.5 million on projects to promote New Zealand in the wake of the film.

Coordinating the government spending is Cabinet Minister Pete Hodgson, now also nicknamed the Minister for The Lord of the Rings.

Valuable extras

A relaxed Jackson, graciously happy to sign autographs for passing tourists outside the parliament, entertained the parliamentary reception by recalling the support he had from the New Zealand government and New Zealanders.

The New Zealand army provided not only valuable extras for the fighting scenes, but he told his audience, the military extras also afforded him a pricelessly funny moment.

Director Peter Jackson
Director Peter Jackson signs autographs for Kiwi fans
Jackson recalled watching a ramrod straight private being given a savage dressing down by his sergeant major for some misdemeanour.

"What was funny," Jackson said, "is that they were both dressed as orcs."

"It's my hope that The Lord of the Rings will form a little tattoo in the hearts of all New Zealanders and New Zealand will form a little tattoo in the hearts of all the world. That's my wish for the Lord of the Rings," Jim Anderton, New Zealand's deputy prime minister, told the tattoo-bearing stars of the film.

For Peter Jackson, the time of hype, and premieres, was almost over. "The film for a long time has been a thing of hype and anticipation and it'll be a huge relief for me when it becomes just a movie. Because that's what we've all tried to make a movie that, if you choose to, you can go and see it and hopefully enjoy it."

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