When Bilbo came to town

by gabeatkinson / 06 December, 2012
One-hundred-per-cent-bonkers media antics greeted <em>The Hobbit</em>'s premiere.
Sir Peter Jackson takes the stage, photo Mark Mitchell/NZH

Be careful what you wish for. It may have been unwise, I thought, as the premiere of The Hobbit burnished our global reputation as a very peculiar little nation, to yearn for the day when we would treat a cultural triumph with the same jingoistic giddiness, the traffic-stopping headless chookery normally reserved for wins at sport.

As our newscasters transformed into overdressed, saucer-eyed, star-struck ninnies, we were trapped for hours in the middle of “the middle of Middle earth!”. And we thought Wellywood sounded a bit silly. There were Middle-earth stamps at Customs and a flyover by a Hobbit jet. “The plane! The plane!” cried Tamati Coffey, in an elf wig, briefly abandoning Middle-earth for Fantasy Island. Where is a small person when you need one?

As one blogger sighed, “Might as well change the Prime Minister’s name to Bilbo Baggins.” Still, this rebranding of ourselves is understandable. The waterways look quite clean in Middle-earth. And we can now claim our place in the middle, rather than at the ends of the Earth. A middling nation. Possible new national motto: “100% so-so.”

The television coverage was 100% barking. There was the weather commentary, as presenters grappled with the notion of a nice day: “Over 20 degrees!”; “It’s certainly a hot day!’; “22 degrees and we’re roasting!”

The red-carpet presenters struggled heroically – “Well, that’s two more dwarves!” – to get through all the stars. Brown Wizard Sylvester McCoy paused to reflect on his character: “He doesn’t mix with people much. He communicates with animals,” he told TV3’s Samantha Hayes. “He’s a bit like Prince Charles, actually.”

TV3’s David Farrier was dispatched to pester fans.
– “Who are you waiting to see?”
– “Sir Ian McKellen.”
– “He’s not here.”
– “Crap.”

TV3’s coverage, anchored with bravura flannelling by Carolyn Robinson, abandoned itself to losing all dignity without losing the plot. “I’m just watching John Campbell getting ever more excited. Let’s hope he can contain himself!” The state broadcaster’s effort was, at times, a shambles. Cue Wendy Petrie constantly cutting off her interviewees to throw to the red carpet, where we’d get the tail end of some other interview before it was back to Wendy for another kamikaze attempt to half-interview someone.

There were some high spots. One News reporter Joanna Hunkin greeted JRR Tolkien’s great-grandson, Royd Tolkien, as “Rold Toyking”. “I call myself Lloyd Tompkins,” he reassured her kindly. Back to Wendy, who cried, “There we go. The great-grandson of ‘JJ’ Tolkien!”

Well, it was a long day. Tamati was reduced to a running commentary on Peter Jackson’s shoes. Where did he get them from? “They come from the hallway, underneath where the coats hang,” replied the great auteur.

The stars were touchingly fervid in their praise of Jackson, almost as if he needed protecting from us. Yet the event revealed how ludicrous it is to talk of a tall poppy syndrome. We’ll do everything short of the ritual sacrifice of white oxen to celebrate someone like Jackson. And, for all the kerfuffles and controversies, it was his day. May his beard, like his movies, grow ever longer.

Meanwhile, New Zealand’s Got Talent ground to the end of its own interminable journey in a strangely anticlimactic finale. It says something about the appeal of this sort of franchise that the highlight of the evening involved Tamati doing Gangnam Style with a move-challenged Rachel Hunter.

Fifteen-year-old Clara van Wel was always going to be the winner on the night, though little Jessie Hillel – “Totes amazed!” – and the arty Evan Sinton took being outclassed like troupers.

It’s heartening that they are all very young and indeed very talented. You just hope they can find a future here that doesn’t involve gluing on elf ears for the next Hobbit movie.
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