By Edward Elliott
There’s an underlying rumble, a deep tremor, that comes just before approaching a really large crowd. It’s before the indiscernible screams and the oceans of faces. It’s a noise that I imagine explorers of the Great West used to track buffalo herds, ears to the ground. Now it is purely for film critics sniffing out a premiere. It’s low, it’s shuddering and there is nothing on earth that inspires more anxious terror.
The world premiere of The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies at the Odeon Leicester Square attracted a crowd of thousands as well as director Peter Jackson and stars including Orlando Bloom. Celebrities and guests streamed in along an avenue of cameras to fill close to 2,000 seats.
And there was even a spot, in the back left quadrant, for a small Oxford Today reporter. Sir Peter Jackson had been scheduled to speak at the Sheldonian Theatre as part of Exeter College’s 700th anniversary lecture series, and I’m honoured to say I was chosen to conduct the live Q&A with him. Sadly, the evening had to be cancelled thanks to a virus caught by much of the Hobbit production team en route from New Zealand – rescheduling is in progress. That’s what led to my presence at the premiere.
Walking down a red (in this case green) carpet is bizarre. I’ve never felt in danger in central London, but I’m pretty sure that had I taken my ticket prematurely out of my pocket in front of that crowd, I would have lost my arm. The fanatical fandom reserved for the JRR Tolkiens and the Peter Jacksons of this world seemed all packed into Leicester Square. The air was frenzied. I, clearly not a celeb, was met with either a perplexed and confused disinterest or murderous envy. Luckily the deafening soundtrack made it impossible to tell what was being shouted.
It was a long wait for the film, so thank God for the Air New Zealand snacks to soak up the time! The ‘Smauging Firecrackers’ and ‘Baggins of Popcorn’ were fantastic. On screen, former Popworld presenter Alex Zane interviewed the guest celebrities as they arrived at the premiere, proclaiming The Hobbit ‘redefined epic’ — someone better call the OED.
The movie begins; no trailers, no adverts. I won’t spoil The Battle of Five Armies by revealing plot, but like the other Hobbit films it is likely to split critical opinion. However, the credits did not mean an end to the fantastical evening.
Ferried by coach to the Sky Garden, Fenchurch Street, we are thrust in an elevator and accelerated to the thirty-seventh floor, with mesmerising views of London. I turned around and saw Richard Armitage and Peter Jackson eating spring rolls. It is amazing what canapés can do to humanise a celebrity.
For all the glitz and glamour, I will forever remember the Hobbit premiere for a moment of surreality beyond anything on screen — a moment that involved cushions.
These were not just any cushions. They were cushions bearing the faces of the lead characters from film. I would have defied anyone in that room not to have thought, ‘I’d like to pinch one of those.’ You could see it in everyone’s eyes, as they stood, limply holding Galadriel’s face, furtively looking at their partners. But surely decorum would not allow it? You can’t leave an A-list party with a cushion under your arm. But you needed some kind of souvenir, and Benedict Cumberbatch was definitely not going to get in the personalised Hobbit photobooth with you.
After a few cocktails, the whole room decided shame was acceptable. My plus-one shoved Thorin under his arm. There is no surer indicator of a celebrity’s relative popularity than a cushion vote. Most of Sir Ian McKellen’s cushions had already gone by the time I’d turned to picking, whereas Orlando Bloom’s remained untouched. I am deciding whom I most prefer when we turned around to see Luke Evans — Bard the Dragonslayer himself — taking the covering of his own face off the cushion and stuffing it in a bag. I could only feel awe and camaraderie toward him.
We all proudly strode off into the night, saluting Martin Freeman with one arm, Bilbo’s face tightly pressed against the torso with the other. There and back again, it was all very strange.
All images by Edward Elliot.