Tens of thousands of New Zealanders turned out to watch their favourite Hobbit actors walk the red carpet at the film trilogy's home town premiere.
An Air New Zealand plane painted with Hobbit characters flew low over Wellington's Embassy Theatre, bringing roars of approval from the crowd.
British actor Martin Freeman, who brings comedic timing to the lead role of Bilbo Baggins, said he thought director Peter Jackson had done an amazing job on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
"He's done it again," Freeman said. "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 premiere of a hoped-for blockbuster, Jackson's filming of his lauded 'LOTR' trilogy and now The Hobbit in New Zealand has created a film industry there. The film will open in cinemas around the world next month.
One of the talking points 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," he said. "It's been talked about for so long, but finally the film is being released and people can decide for themselves."
Jackson said it was strange working on the project so intimately for two years and then having it suddenly taken away as the world got to see the movie.
A handful of animal rights protesters held signs at the premiere. A couple wore grim reaper outfits and held up signs like "3 horses died for this film." People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is protesting after several animal handlers said three horses and up to two dozen other animals had died during the making of the movies because they were housed at an unsafe farm.
Jackson's spokesman earlier acknowledged two horses had died preventable deaths at the farms but said the production company worked quickly to improve stables and other facilities and that claims of mistreatment were unfounded.