IT is already being tipped to rake in more at the box office than its illustrious predecessor.
If the initial reactions to the first instalment of The Hobbit are anything to go by, Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson may be able to beat the $2.9 billion his Lord of The Rings trilogy notched up.
Tens of thousands of fans, many sporting elf ears, wizard hats and medieval costumes, lined the streets of Wellington for the world premiere in Jackson’s native New Zealand.
And opinions aired by the first audience ranged from “masterful”, “perfection” and “everything I could have hoped for.”
Film-maker Bryan Singer, who was among those to attend the screening, later said he found the film “amazing and involving.”
British actor Martin Freeman, who plays the lead role of Bilbo Baggins, said he thought the director had done a fantastic job on the first part of the latest trilogy, dubbed “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.”
“He’s done it again,” Freeman said in an interview on the red carpet. “If it’s possible, it’s probably even better than `The Lord of the Rings.’ I think he’s surpassed it.”
Some fans camped overnight to secure spots close to the 500m-long red carpet that led to the theatre, which was decorated to look like the entrance to a Hobbit house.
Other fans clambered onto roofs and hung from lamp-posts to try to get a glimpse off the cast. And there was a roar of approval when an Air New Zealand plane painted with several Hobbit characters flew low over Wellington’s Embassy Theatre, which was hosting the glittering event.
Among the stars to turn out were a number of those reviving characters from the original trilogy, including British actor Andy Serkis, who plays the creature Gollum, Cate Blanchett and Elijah Wood.
Official reviews of the film are believed to have been embargoed by the film-makers until early next month.
However New Zealand MP Steven Joyce, one of the lucky few to see the film, told his twitter followers: “Really enjoyed Hobbit world premiere. Masterful movie.”
Film blogger Kylie Klein said: “The Hobbit is everything I could have hoped for. Perfection. Two more films please. I loved it. Transported.”
Film fan Carter Nixon said: “Everyone seemed to have loved it. Great atmosphere in theatre. It’s a lot of fun.”
The Hobbit trilogy, based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1937 novel, is set some 60 years before the Lord of the Rings movies, but Jackson said the new series had benefited from being made after the Tolkien saga.
He said: “I’m glad that we established the style and the look of Middle Earth by adapting Lord of the Rings before we did the Hobbit.”
Freeman, who shot to fame in the Ricky Gervais comedy The Office, said he had looked for a different, lighter and slightly pompous version of Bilbo Baggins than the older, wider version of the character played in the original Lord of the Rings movies.
“Between us - Peter and me - we hashed out another version of Bilbo. There’ll be others, but our version is this one and I hope people like it.”
The making of the latest three film has been a journey for Jackson in itself, with various problems dogging the production including lawsuits, a fire, union disputes, and - most recently - allegations of poor animal welfare.
A handful of animal rights protesters, some wearing grim reaper outfits, had held protest signs up outside the premiere.
The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals claimed several animal handlers working on the film had told them that up to two dozen animals had died during the making of the movies because they were housed on an unsafe farm.
Jackson’s spokesman earlier admitted two horses had died preventable deaths, but insisted that claims of mistreatment were unfounded.
Jackson himself told a press conference earlier in the day: “No mistreatment, no abuse. Absolutely none. You’ve got a very radical political organisation which has jumped on this.”
Meanwhile Ladbrokes confirmed that the Hobbit trilogy is odds-on to beat the box office record set by the Lord of the Rings series. It was rated at 1/2 to make more money.
Spokeswoman Jessica Bridge said: “As far as we’re concerned the Hobbit trilogy has already got the new box office record in the bag.”