WELLINGTON, New Zealand – Call it hobbit fever.
New Zealand's capital is preparing for the world premiere of the opening film in "The Hobbit" trilogy by showcasing an artisan festival selling all manner of small-folk paraphernalia, laying a red carpet that will extend 500 yards through central Wellington and even renaming the city itself after the trilogy's fictional setting of Middle-earth.
Wellington is planning to spend 1.1 million New Zealand dollars ($900,000) to mark the Nov. 28 premiere of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" at the Embassy Theatre. It's a fitting venue for the movie directed by Wellington resident Peter Jackson and filmed throughout New Zealand.
The Hobbit series chronologically precedes Jackson's acclaimed "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy in author J.R.R. Tolkien's imagined world.
"Thousands of people want to come and be part of the fun," Mayor Celia Wade-Brown said Monday. She said Jackson has helped create a film industry in Wellington that now employs more than 3,000 people.
Wellington plans to unofficially rename itself "The Middle of Middle-earth" for three weeks before and after the premiere. It says the name will be widely recognized, reflected on things like the postmarks on letters and the masthead of the city's main newspaper.