- "Middle of Middle Earth" greets arrivals with Gollum, Hobbit-themed flags, Gandalf
- Kiwi taxpayers are footing a portion of the cost for the films
- Prime Minister Key says "The Hobbit" costs far less than "Lord of the Rings" trilogy did for country
- Director Sir Peter Jackson says the films could have been shot in England, Scotland
You'd have to have been hiding down a, er, Hobbit hole, to miss the hubbub.
You can fly to New Zealand, where the Hobbit premieres on Wednesday, on a Hobbit-branded plane -- complete with a Hobbit-inspired safety video with Peter Jackson, telling you how to keep safe, if the flight approaches its own Mount Doom.
When you arrive in the self-styled Middle (Wellington, my home town) of Middle Earth, a giant Gollum, reaching for a fish, hangs from the airport terminal's ceiling. On the short ride into the city you'll see the Hobbit-themed flags fluttering in Wellington's persistent wind before a giant Gandalf hovers into view.
He is perched on the Embassy theatre's verandah, standing outside a delightfully rendered Hobbit hole, waiting to welcome the stars and thousands who will watch them parade down the red carpet. Will the movie receive critical acclaim -- or Jar Jar Binks reception?
Whatever happens, the marketing has been brilliant.
New Zealand's taxpayers have been helping subsidize 14%, or US$82M, of the films (which cost close to NZ$700M, or US$575M).
While the Kiwi psyche adores nothing more than being told how wonderful our little country is, we need more than that as a return on our investment.
Prime Minister John Key, who helped woo the Warner Bros executives when they threatened to film elsewhere, has said it's good value for money because it's far less than the NZ$300m (US$246M) the Lord of the Rings trilogy cost the country.
He argues it is all money well spent on creating jobs and that the cross-promotional benefits will return a treasure to please even Smaug the dragon.
Peter, meanwhile, has popped out of the editing room in the past few days to remind everyone that the subsidies helped ensure that the films were made here. Big studios do not make decisions based on "sentimentality," he said, and there was a real danger of the films being shot in England or Scotland. God forbid.
There have been many benefits besides the jobs -- such as celebrity spotting.
Orlando Bloom ate across from us one night -- he was quite underwhelming, short, plain and, worse, minus Miranda Kerr. He really needs that blond hair-do to give him a lift.
We also spotted James Nesbitt (who plays a dwarf) having a nice time with his family at a Mexican joint near Peter's burgeoning studio complex. He even appeared relaxed about sitting by the loo -- quite handy because I kept swinging past to see what they were up to.
Many more Kiwis will be waiting by the red carpet, hoping for their own little bit of movie tinsel.
They deserve to be treated to a show, as they've certainly paid enough of their share of the admission already.