Third 'Lord of Rings' Opens Down Under

12/01/2003 at 09:57 AM EST

It's here, but it's not near.

More than 100,000 screaming "Lord of the Rings" fans (a good many of them dressed as their favorite J.R.R. Tolkien character) celebrated Monday's world premiere of the final film in the trilogy in style -- and Down Under.

The premiere for "The Return of the King," held in Wellington, New Zealand -- the country in which the film series was shot -- was ushered in with the sort of bash usually accorded World Series heroes, complete with ticker-tape parade and red carpet.

"It's amazing. It feels like we're the first people to land on the moon or something," the movies' director Peter Jackson, 42, told reporters as he took snapshots of the goings on. (Jackson also has declared this to be the best film in the series.)

"This is way bigger than the Oscars," Liv Tyler, 26, who plays Arwen, told the Australian Associated Press after she reportedly kicked off her stilettos to traipse barefoot down the red carpet. "This is incredible."

Not only were fans dangling from balconies to get a look at arrivals outside the Embassy Theatre, but reports say that the entire town of Wellington was dolled up to look like Middle Earth.

"I've never seen anything like it in my life," said Elijah Wood, 22, who plays Frodo Baggins. "It's so nice, the fact that we're here for the last one and it's the world premiere in Wellington -- the home of our film."

Viggo Mortensen, 45, who plays Aragorn, was nothing short of overwhelmed. "I keep hearing this voice in my head saying, 'Remember this, remember this,'" he said.

Before the parade, Jackson and his stars (including Ian McKellen, who plays Gandalf) were treated to a traditional Maori welcome at New Zealand's Parliament for an official reception hosted by Prime Minister Helen Clark, says Australia's Sydney Morning Herald.

The movie, which runs three hours, 11 minutes (making it the longest entry in the series) is due to open in America on Dec. 17, in most of Western Europe the next day and in Asia starting on Dec. 20.

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