New Zealand hails 'Return of the King'

— New Zealand's usually sleepy capital came awake in a roar of celebration Monday as stars returned for the premiere of the final film in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, parading through the city in open cars flanked by black-shrouded horsemen, orcs and hobbits that inhabit the beloved novels by JRR Tolkien.

Wellington's streets were jammed with 100,000 people standing 15-deep to fete the stars, including Liv Tyler, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom, Viggo Mortensen and Elijah Wood.

Bloom thrilled the crowd when he opened his jacket to reveal an "I love New Zealand" T-shirt. Mortensen greeted the crowd in Maori, the language of New Zealand's indigenous people.

All three films were shot in New Zealand over the past five years.

Fans roared as director Peter Jackson -- a New Zealander -- strode the red carpet toward the premiere showing.

"I'm feeling incredibly humbled by this wonderful reception," Jackson said. "You feel like you're the first people to land on the moon or something, and all we got to do was make a movie."

After the screening -- the first time he'd seen the final cut -- Jackson said he was pleased with his work.

"I heard a lot of sniffling and sobbing" during the trilogy's emotional climax, he said. "They were cheering ... and laughing in the right places."

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime for New Zealand," said fan Christine Hislop-Croft from the nearby town of Lower Hutt.

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AP Photo

Ox Horsemen from the "Lord of the Rings" movies join the parade for the world premiere of "The Return Of The King," the final film in the trilogy, in Wellington, New Zealand. More than 100,000 people lined the streets of the New Zealand capital for the parade for Monday's world premiere.

Wellington's streets were festooned with posters, up to eight stories tall, of "Rings" characters. Special postage stamps were printed to mark the occasion.

Jackson already has anointed "The Return of the King" as the best of the trilogy. It's also the longest, at three hours, 11 minutes.

The film opens Dec. 17 in the United States, in most of Western Europe the next day and in Asia on Dec. 20.

New Zealanders have taken the "Rings" trilogy to their hearts, recognizing their nation's breathtaking mountains, rivers and forests as backdrops in the films.

The countryside "made Middle Earth come to life," Jackson told lawmakers and guests at a parliamentary reception before the premiere.

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AP Photo

Orlando Bloom, left, who plays the role of Legolas in the "Lord of the Rings" movies, and Liv Tyler, who plays the role of Arwen, greet the crowd during the parade in Wellington, New Zealand.

Jackson told reporters he's looking forward to working on smaller, local films -- "becoming a New Zealand filmmaker again" -- although he first must finish another outsized project -- his version of "King Kong."

The trilogy's first two films -- "The Fellowship of the Ring" and "The Two Towers" -- have grossed $2.9 billion at the box office worldwide.

New Line Cinema, a Time Warner subsidiary, is predicting at least $1.3 billion from the third film.

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