Director Peter Jackson and the cast of The Hobbit received a rock star reception at the Tolkien epic's world premiere in Wellington on Wednesday, cheered on by 100,000 screaming fans.
Crowds wearing crooked wizard hats and pointed elf ears packed the New Zealand capital's entertainment strip, jostling for position on balconies and rooftops for a glimpse of stars such as Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving.
After a flyover by an Air New Zealand Boeing 777 decked out in Hobbit-themed livery, a huge roar erupted as the cast slowly made their way down the red carpet.
Carrying signs such as "I bags Bilbo" and "Team Smeagol", spectators chanted the names of characters from the movie, a three-part prequel to the hugely successful "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy.
Statues of cave trolls and dwarves specially erected for the occasion added to the Middle Earth flavour, combining with the costumed hordes to create an atmosphere which actor Elijah Wood described as "surreal".
The loudest cheers were for hometown favourite Jackson, who has been credited with single-handedly turning the New Zealand film industry into a multi-billion dollar success.
The normally reclusive director, sporting his trademark tousled hair and beard, appeared more than a little Hobbit-like even in his premiere-night suit, admitting he felt slightly overwhelmed as he signed autographs and shook hands.
Jackson said it was a relief finally to present the first instalment of his latest saga to fans after a troubled shoot marred by lengthy delays.
"It's emotional and very humbling to see all these people in my hometown who've turned out," he told reporters.
"It's been two years with this narrow focus on the film where we're trying to keep everybody out. You have security, you don't want people to know what you're doing.
"Then you get to that moment where filming's over and 100,000 people come along to the premiere, it's kind of like the whole world has turned upside down."
Mia Ramsden, who travelled from Melbourne in Australia for the premiere, camped overnight dressed as the elf queen Arwen to claim a prime position to view the stars.
She said Tolkien fans were a breed apart, determined to mark a new instalment in their favourite movie franchise in style after a hiatus of almost a decade since the last "Rings" film.
"There's a large online community who know every detail of this world and Peter Jackson brings it to life perfectly," she said.
"I've been dying for this one for ages, there was no way I was going to miss it."