The hotly-awaited second installment of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit trilogy has received its official New Zealand premiere. Stars of the movie, subtitled The Desolation of Smaug, treaded the red carpet at a star-studded event in Wellington. Amongst those celebrating the latest release in the ever-popular franchise were several of the 'dwarves' from the film, including Jed Brophy and Mark Hadlow, as well as the Wellington Mayor, Celia Wade-Brown and Rongotai MP Annette King.
Members of the public paid $100 to enjoy the opportunity of mingling with the movie stars, with proceeds being donated to the Island Bay Marine Education Centre.
The film takes up where the first installment left off, following the journey of the titular Hobbit (Martin Freeman), the wizard Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellan) and 13 dwarves led by Richard Armitage, on an epic quest to reclaim the Lonely Mountain and the lost Dwarf Kingdom, Erebor. As with Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy (of which The Hobbit series is a prequel), an integral part of the cinematography is, of course, New Zealand itself. The rich diversity of environments on these islands make for a perfect tableau. Original author J R R Tolkein's so-called Middle Earth has never looked so stunning.
As the film's intrepid heroes make their way across orc and spider-infested mountains, they are, in fact being filmed crossing The Remarkables, otherwise South Island's stunning highlands and popular ski resort. Lying on the southern shores of Lake Wakatipu, these peaks rise to a height of 2,319 metres at their highest point (Double Cone).
Hobbiton, depicted in the source novel as a land of lush meadows with Hobbit homes in burrows, is aptly realised in the rural landscape of Matamata, at the foot of the Kaimai Ranges on North Island. Also on the North Island, the Forest River is recreated by the rushing torrents of the Waikato Rover, downstream of Lake Taipo.
Overall, New Zealand has consistently proved to be a fabulous location for filming, especially with fantasy movies. The climate varies from cool to warm temperate, and the islands are surrounded by the Pacific Ocean. This means that the environment is familiar to the largely UK-based acting pool. There are rolling hills and dense, teeming forests, but there are also considerable mountain ranges which can have significant climate changes within a short distance.
Snowfall is common on South Island. This has been utilised successfully throughout Jackson's Tolkein adaptations, especially in those scenes where the protagonists must venture through wintry passes on windswept mountains, all the time keeping a wary eye out for the enemy's 'Black Riders'.