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Last Updated: Monday, 1 December, 2003, 15:47 GMT
How hobbits took over NZ's capital
Phil Mercer
By Phil Mercer
BBC News in Wellington, New Zealand

The final Lord of the Rings film, The Return of the King, hit New Zealand for its world première on Monday.

Some fans camped out to see the film's stars
Some fans had camped out to see the film's stars
New Zealand has had a day like no other.

It was a time when Wellington, the country's sedate harbourside capital, briefly outmuscled Hollywood as the giant Lord of the Rings machine rolled into town.

There were stars galore - each receiving a triumphant cheer from the vast crowd.

Elijah Wood stepped onto the red carpet outside the Embassy Theatre with the chant of "Frodo, Frodo, Frodo" ringing in his ears.

"It's amazing," he told the BBC. "I've never experienced anything like this in my life and I don't think I ever will again."

If you believe some estimates, 100,000 people - the equivalent of a quarter of Wellington's population - had turned up.

Elijah Wood seemed oblivious to the Black Riders behind him
Elijah Wood seemed oblivious to the Black Riders behind him
They queued for hours - sat on window ledges or on a strong pair of shoulders - to get a glimpse of the actors who, for long periods in the last four years, have called Wellington home.

The volley of squeals either dipped or intensified depending on who was at the end of the red carpet.

There were plenty of decibels for Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen).

"I'm definitely going to remember this," Mortensen explained to the BBC. "There's a voice in my head that says 'don't forget, don't forget'."

This was a crowd and a day when anyone remotely connected to this film received a cheer. Even New Zealand's Prime Minister Helen Clark - sounding more like a singer than a politician - was roundly applauded.

"Aren't you the greatest crowd in the world tonight?" she enthused as dozens of orcs, trolls and elves looked on intently.

Viggo Mortensen
Viggo Mortensen, who played Aragorn, was the star attraction for some
The movies were the brainchild of Peter Jackson, the bearded, bespectacled New Zealander who has brought this world première back to his home town - Wellywood, as the locals now call it.

If there was an election tomorrow, this country could have a new prime minister if Jackson was the official candidate for Middle-earth.

The director was generous in his thanks for his fellow Kiwis. "I wish you could all see the film tonight," he said.

"We should have just played it on the giant screen - but we can't. There are too many video cameras and you'd pirate it.

"It would be available on the street corner tomorrow morning," he added.

The trilogy has done wonders for New Zealand's image overseas - not to mention the financial windfall the films have generated.

The red carpet was packed and the streets were lined with fans
The red carpet was packed and the streets were lined with fans
The corporate value was underscored when an Air New Zealand 747 passed overhead on a special "Frodo fly-past", its fuselage painted with one of the world's most famous faces.

There was no escaping the Rings and their undoubted power.

"Welcome to Middle-earth," announced the captain on our touchdown into Wellington from Sydney.

There is a statue of Gollum at the airport, special edition postage stamps, while overhead in the city centre an eight-storey banner of Gandalf was casting a wise eye over the festivities.

The spectacle was a global attraction - there were voices from afar.

Billy Boyd, who plays Pippin, in Wellington
Many of the cast members called Wellington home while filming
Students from Tokyo had made a "pilgrimage" to see Viggo Mortensen in the flesh and a family from Chicago had been seduced by the beauty of the landscape that has made this famous trilogy so appealing.

"Not even the special effects guys could have come up with scenery like that," they agreed.

Many dressed as warrior orcs, helpful hobbits and sage-like elves - they showed off during a three-hour parade that literally brought the city centre to a standstill.

Down one side-street, a poster advertising Russell Crowe's new seafaring blockbuster Master and Commander looked on forlornly.

There is every chance that The Return of the King will be another glittering success - and New Zealanders may be planning another celebration when the Oscars come around next year.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's David Sillito
"There were 100,000 people lining the streets of Wellington"



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