Wellington Goes Wild over Hobbits

Hobbit Hats at the Premiere

According to somebody’s official estimate, about 100,000 people thronged the central avenue of Courtenay Place yesterday to gawk at those who created the Hobbit movie. This in a town of about 400,000 people. Imagine if a quarter of LA or NYC came out for an opening…Hobbit-ageddon!

Oh, yes. Sir Peter Jackson himself.

Wellington hosted the intergalactic premiere of this high-buzz movie, not just because the director Peter Jackson is a Kiwi. His Ring Trilogy kickstarted a film-making industry a decade or so ago, generating a large number of studios in the nearby suburb of Miramar. James Cameron accelerated things when he filmed Avatar locally, and has just built a film-making ranch nearby. We’re told that at least a third of those working here now are Americans who have left LA to be where the action is – Wellywood.

The crowd throngs Courtenay Place

Well, our estimate of the crowd was quite a bit smaller, unless you include all the people in the nearby bars, restaurants and coffee shops – who appeared to be there mainly because a party was happening in the vicinity. But it was a beautiful day and the throng kept up the excitement for hours. Pub owners were deliriously happy.

Where we watched the carpet parade, adorned with an Irish Hobbit

We hung over (overhung?) the start of the half-mile long red carpet stretched all the way down the street to the site of the premiere, the stately Embassy Theatre (see earlier post). That’s where Peter Jackson’s Ring trilogy also premiered. Our second-story deck was at least available to first-comers, and was a good party in itself. It might not have been the best spot if you really wanted to see stars up close, especially with a giant of a man occupying a good deal of the front of the deck and the most passionate fans bulling their way forward. We wondered about structural safety and kept a bit back after some of the initial arrivals on the carpet.

Wall paintings and posters adorn the premiere site at the end of the red carpet, the Embassy Theatre

Ceding the front of the deck let us meet some people gathered there, most of whom seemed to be from outside Wellington. A bemused “60 years married” couple from Australia, who lived the first half of their lives in America, peered around the giant and over the front-liners. They were escapees from a bus tour of New Zealand that they found way too constraining for them. Everyone else on the bus was snoozing or idling; they wanted to find the action.

We met a petite young Chinese woman from Guangzhou who was working up in Auckland for a year. She just happened to be in town as well, and ended up on the deck with us because she couldn’t find the other people who had come to town with her.

Awaiting Orlando Bloom, all the way from Manchester

One 20-something couple had just met since they came from the UK, he from Wales and she from Manchester. She and another woman were in the midst of travelling around the world for 13 months; they happened to be in Wellington for a few days, and also found themselves in the midst of the party. Her main interest was not the movie, however, but waiting for Orlando – actor Orlando Bloom that is – for whom she eagerly marked up a poster as greeting.

Our man from the film. Dan!

Our closest contact with the moviemakers, though, was Dan. He was actually in The Hobbit movie, and had performed in the locally filmed Avatar as well as the Ring movies. OK, as an extra, which explains why he had not been invited onto the red carpet. But there we were, literally hanging over Peter Jackson and Orlando Bloom, and through Dan but one degree of separation from the lot of them.

Hanging out of the second floor windows to see the stars

Oddly Dan looked more like Gollum than the actual guy, Andy Serkis, and he did a pretty good vocal imitation too. What’s more, he loved to tell stories from the sets. Bloom had actually said hello to him during Hobbit filming, acknowledging he had seen him 10 years earlier on the Ring set. One halo for Bloom, we thought. Peter Jackson had nudged his arm during a directorial moment. James Cameron on Avatar had thought him perfect for working a bit of machinery in the mines, as Cameron himself mined the oft repeated encouragement to extras that they were just lead actors in waiting. Dan explained how an assistant director encouraged extras with a method school of acting.

Fans of human flesh attacking the red carpet

Those playing Orcs were told to stay in character by being surly and aggressive with each other. Dan practiced his snarling and ugly side with a few hooligans outside his apartment, and never saw them again.

 

Two of the beautiful people signing autographs on the carpet

Up on our deck, we didn’t need to see the pretty faces and lithe bodies on the red carpet. We had Dan!

Later on that night, at the Matterhorn – itself a magnet for performers in town – we shared a table with a host of people who actually walked the red carpet (from the unheralded back end) because they worked on post-production for the film. Post-production is all the artistry that takes the raw footage from the filming and turns it into the movie you see, including sound, digital effects, and so on. These are some of the gazillion people listed near the end of that 10 minute scroll of credits after you’ve left the theatre.

One post-production guy determined the “look” of the film by translating color values between the pristine video master and all the versions we see: 3D, DVD, smartphone, etc. Stuff you didn’t even know about, like making whites a bit bluer to compensate for film projectors that have a yellow tint in their bulbs. Another worked on prosthetic enhancements, i.e. digitally fixing any nasty bits marring plastic masks worn by actors.

Maybe he worked on Dan’s!

(Also, for more pictures from New Zealand, CLICK HERE to view the slideshow at the end of the New Zealand itinerary page.)

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One Response to Wellington Goes Wild over Hobbits

  1. Alex says:

    Wow, I had no idea you actually went to this….crazy!

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