Hobbit Fever Grips NZ Ahead of World Premiere

Up to 100,000 people are expected on the streets of Wellington on Wednesday for the world premiere of director Peter Jackson's long-awaited epic The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

Jackson and his collaborators have managed to bring a slice of Hollywood to Wellington.

Stars including Cate Blanchett, Elijah Wood, Barry Humphries and Hugo Weaving will tread the red carpet for the opening, the first instalment in a three-part prequel to Jackson's Lord Of The Rings trilogy.

Hobbit fever has seized New Zealand ahead of the premiere and the capital is dotted with giant sculptures of key characters such as Gandalf the wizard.

Images of British actor Martin Freeman playing the central role of Bilbo Baggins cover facades of office blocks and have been plastered on everything from coins and stamps to the side of an Air New Zealand plane.

"This is proper, epic film making. I don't know any actors, apart from those who worked on The Lord Of The Rings, who've made a film that's this big or taken this long," he told the Dominion Post.

"I certainly don't think I'll ever do another film that's like, or as long, as this again."

Film making is big money in New Zealand and the government calculates that feature films contribute £287m (NZ \$560m) each year to New Zealand's economy.

Almost every big budget film goes through Jackson's companies.

However the making of The Hobbit hasn't been without controversy.

Animal rights activists said last week they planned to picket the premiere of The Hobbit after wranglers alleged that three horses and up to two dozen other animals died in unsafe conditions at a farm where animals were boarded for the movies.

Jackson's spokesman rejected claims any animals were mistreated or abused and pointed out that 55% of animal images in the film were computer-generated.