A brief sleep after Return of the Ringers, and it was time for a jolt of Wellington’s excellent coffee before hitting the streets for Premiere Day. Wellington can sure put on a party. Famous for its awful weather, the capital defied expectations by providing a warm, clear sunny day. From mid-morning there was a sense that tools were being downed and offices emptied. By midday the best spots around the parade route were filling up with a festive crowd. I walked around between the waterfront and Courtenay Place. As described in other reports, the city was full of LOTR references, from the giant Weta sculptures on the buildings to the NZ Post banners on every other lamp post. Various businesses large and small were finding tongue-in-cheek ways to mention LOTR in their advertising.

I was in a funny position in that I was supposedly part of TORN’s reporting crew – I had limited access as a photographer. Our print reporter Demosthenes had a camera too (and permission to be in more places) and the Ringers film documentary crew had a lot of coverage too, so I wasn’t particularly needed. I did want to get to the press conference that morning. But as well as being a sort-of reporter, I was also somebody that the other media wanted to get soundbytes from. Radio NZ wanted to interview me at the same time as the press conference, but were delayed by events so I managed to attend the whole thing without feeling conflicted.

I had some fool notion that I might be able to represent LOTR fans on radio as intelligent and loveable people . The interview got pushed back from the morning show to the afternoon show to the evening show , and ended up being a 60-second soundbyte at 6pm while we were all crushed in the press pen outside the embassy and the radio producers had spent all day juggling time and talent like air traffic controllers trying to manage LAX without computers. By that time I was a gibbering wreck who’d had no food since early morning and no sleep since the Jurassic age. Not a stellar moment and I probably did nothing for Tolkien fandom. Whoops.

Back to the press conference earlier that day – the most notable thing was Mark Ordesky saying that New Line was certainly looking into the complicated situation regarding film rights to The Hobbit. Since then it’s become general knowledge that there is a definite move to film The Hobbit. “It wants to be made,” as Gandalf might say.

Most of the questions were directed at Peter Jackson. I asked him if he had any insight into how he and Fran seemed to understand the essential character of the people he cast or worked with so quickly . I guess I wanted an impossible answer – he seems to have a talent for sizing up a person at a glance, and like anyone with an inborn gift, it must be very hard to think about or explain how it works, and harder still to explain what it feels like to have that talent. PJ seemed tired and the press conference no place to go into things in any depth. So he just answered that he picked people who’d be easy to get on with since he knew they would spend a lot of time together. Which didn’t answer the question of how he almost always picked the RIGHT person.

Howard Shore was there. I wanted to ask why he’d called the concert piece played recently aTrilogy Symphony , since there was no symphonic development to any of the themes – it was really just a episodic stringing-together of ideas. By movements 5 and 6 I felt it was out of fresh ideas and badly needed some logical elaboration of the themes we’d heard a hundred times before. (Cut to memory of one of the hornplayers catching my eye and doing the Universal Hornplayer’s Signlanguage for ‘My face will fall off if I have to play much more of this.’) But my question would have been churlish – The three film scores have been a monumental work, and it’d be insane to expect that Howard Shore could have had time, in the last four years, to develop a full symphonic treatment of the music from LOTR as well. But it’s annoying to hear those so-short snippets of such wondrous music, like the hardanger fiddle’s Rohan theme, and not hear them developed and extended over a longer period of time.

I spent some time in the press pen in the afternoon, which was sort of interesting – when somebody’s been sent 10,000 miles to grab a soundbyte from one of the stars for their news organisation, there’s a certain amount of sheer feral competitiveness going on that’s fun to watch for a while. Not sure why a short reporter would ever get this sort of gig. Tall people had such an advantage.

The questions seemed numbingly inane and once again I wondered how the actors stand it. I gave Fran Walsh a thumbs up mentally for steering clear of it all.

Quickbeam and the Ringers crew were doing a great job of attracting the talent over to their spot beside the red carpet – they’d already proved during the previous day’s press junket that they can ask interesting, intelligent questions. So the stars looked relieved to see them among the line-up.

Geez, I’m supposed to be writing about what the stars looked like and what they did. I give up. They looked like themselves, and they acted as happy and friendly as we’ve come to expect. Weird, but peering at Viggo Mortensen from a few yards away between a whole press of press didn’t make him seem realer or closer than what he is onscreen. There are moments in the films where the actors’ performances seem to have an honestly or insight into the essential character of the person that I could never see if I happened to make eye contact for a moment in a big crowd like the premiere. I’m happy enough with that.

Late in the day I was expected for an interview on the balcony that TV3 had commandeered overlooking the Embassy. The interview was brief – I tried to convey how much fun it’s been to be part of the world of Tolkien fandom and meet such a variety of great people from around the world as a result, but couldn’t really get it across.

The interviewer John Campbell had a ticket to the premiere but had realized that he wouldn’t be able to get away in time to make it to the film. In an act of great kindness, he gave me his ticket. I couldn’t thank him enough and he was busy busy busy, so I hugged him and ran, getting into the Embassy just as the opening credits rolled up.

Don’t all go thinking ‘Oh I wish I could have been at the premiere,’ because it was an odd experience – yes, PJ and the stars were there, somewhere way way behind me in the dark. But around me were a whole lot of rich, famous, important people with no real interest in Middle-earth. The gimmicky Hollywood action moments got their applause; I didn’t hear the roar of applause I expected after Eowyn’s scene with the Witchking. It was an honour and a privilege to be there, and I felt like I was taking part in a great moment of our time, at least in terms of pop culture. Not quite like being able to say ‘Woodstock, yeah, I was there,’ but something along those lines. But it wasn’t the ultimate viewing experience – for me that will be tomorrow, when I share the film with a theatre full of diehard fans who’ve made it to the midnight showing. Who’ve been waiting for years and years for this moment. If you’re at a midnight showing, I expect your memory of the night will be every bit as good.

And of the film itself? It felt right. I liked the structure of it very much. The ‘slow start’ that other critics have commented on feels like the only way to go, because we’re gathering in a widely scattered skein of storylines and winding them in tighter and tighter. So at first it’s confusing and we’re jumping around between a whole lot of different conflicts in Gondor, Rohan, Mordor and Osgiliath. It’s like TTT and it’s confusing. Then the stories start to weave togther more and more closely and the events of each story start to refer to each other more. As they do so, the tension is ratcheted up, like a rope that’s being twisted together . And then the ending is a long, lingering farewell – like the book. I’d long dreaded that ROTK would end like the first Star Wars movies, with their victory parades (for me they always bore a frightening resemblence to something out of Lena Riefenstahl’s admiring documentaries of the Third Reich.) The Return of the King does not end like that. It is as bittersweet and soft a farewell as I could wish.