It's the movie that fans have dreamt of for years, and that New Zealand has spent half a decade preparing for: "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." And while American fans will have to wait until December 14th for the film's release, last night New Zealanders were able to see it for the first time.
The premier brings to a climax a long, sometimes strange relationship between a nation, an industry, and millions of rabid fans.
Colin Peacock has been closely following the ups and downs of the Hobbit movie, from Elvin enthusiasm to altered labor laws. Peacock hosts Mediawatch on Radio New Zealand.
The extraordinary achievement of the Lord of the Rings films is that Peter Jackson is really the only connection between New Zealand and Middle Earth. And yet, in the last ten years, the franchise has become so integral to the culture that the country's motto has changed to reflect the world of hobbits that has come to inhabit it.
And it isn't just a cultural phenomenon. The Lord of the Rings films have brought a whole industry with them. "To the point where people like James Cameron also come here to make their films, that really is something that has been built up in that time," Peacock says. He adds, "there's more than hype behind that."
For years, the tourism industry's slogan for New Zealand has been "100% Pure." Peacock says that, "Now, with The Hobbit, they've adapted that slogan into '100% Middle Earth.'" While many New Zealanders have embraced hobbit-culture, others are less enthused. "I mean, when you come into the country now, you're given the official immigration stamp in your passport that says 'Welcome to Middle-Earth,'" Peacock says. It is perhaps unsurprising that some think this is taking things a bit too far.
Like it or not, Middle Earth fever is here to stay, at least for now. Recently a volcano erupted in New Zealand, and the area around it had to be evacuated. Colin Peacock says that one writer commented that "It was just extraordinary that when they kept the tourists away, and took all the school groups off the mountain, rushed them all to safety, they didn't erect big banners that said 'You shall not pass.'"