Hollywood can't get enough of Wellywood, with stars of The Hobbit gushing praise for director Sir Peter Jackson at the film's world premiere in his hometown of Wellington.
Courtenay Place was transformed into the middle of Middle-earth on Wednesday, with a Hobbit artisan market and gargantuan Weta troll sculptures, and tens of thousands of fans dressed to the sword hilt as elves, hobbits, wizards and dwarves, who cheered as a specially Hobbit-themed Air New Zealand plane flew as low as 300 metres over the event.
Hobbit hits Wellington with embargo
Reviewers of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey are forced to wait until the film has premiered in the USA before they're allowed to release their reviews.
The stars of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey made their way down a 500-metre red carpet, taking photos and signing autographs for the rows of fans before seeing the film for the first time at 7pm.
Sir Peter was the first on the red carpet, to spend as much time meeting fans as possible.
"It's such great feeling to be a Wellington filmmaker and to finish our movie," he said.
"You spend two years with this narrow focus on the film - in a way you are trying to keep everybody out... then you get to the time when you hand the film over, and you get to that moment and a hundred thousand people come out, and it's like the world's turned upside down."
Now he has a "daunting couple of years ahead" working on the next two Hobbit movies.
British actor Martin Freeman, who plays the young Bilbo Baggins, was among the cast who paid tribute to Sir Peter on the red carpet.
"He's a really good director and a really good man. I don't know anyone who can handle this sort of scale for a start."
He was delighted to be back in Wellington for the event.
"It's very nice, it's as it should be. This country, this city is so much a part of this film and it's right that it should start off here," he told New Zealand's 3News.
Barry Humphries, who plays the Goblin King, said while Australians and New Zealanders were "very reluctant to acknowledge a genius in our midst", it was clear from the crowd turnout that Sir Peter was well-appreciated.
"He has singlehandedly turned a suburb of Wellington into the artistic centre of the Southern Hemisphere," Humphries said.
"People remember the world premiere of Gone With the Wind... That is very similar to today in Wellington. It's an event kids are going to remember."
Hugo Weaving, who plays the half-elven Elrond, agrees.
"Peter has so embraced his own culture and put it up on the screen. This film is so much a part of this country ... I don't think you could make The Hobbit anywhere else - you wouldn't want to."
He was not surprised by the enormous crowd that turned out to be part of the action.
"I think actually it's more like a national holiday rather than a celebration of a film - it's a celebration of a culture and a country."
Elijah Wood, who returns as Frodo in The Hobbit, was just 18 when filming on The Fellowship of the Ring began in October 1999. He's now 31.
"It's incredible how much time has passed," he said.
Wood said it was "really wonderful" to return to New Zealand, "to revisit the character, but more importantly, just to see old friends and family and be back in Wellington".
"I love it. I genuinely feel like I've arrived home every time I fly into Wellington Airport. A piece of my heart is here."
Blanchett, meanwhile, said her character, the elf Galadriel, wasn't even meant to be in the film.
"I mean Galadriel's not in The Hobbit, only glancingly mentioned, so when Peter (Jackson) made the call I was absolutely thrilled," she said.
"I'd do anything for him. All of us would. It's called An Unexpected Journey, but I think for all of us it was extremely unexpected and I think the film for the fans will be as well."
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first of three prequels to director Jackson's immensely popular The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Blanchett lamented the absence of co-star Sir Ian McKellen at the premiere.