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SFX reader and student Nathan FitzPatrick was at Warner’s exclusive event for Hobbit fans in London last week

“If this is to end in fire, then we will all burn together.”

Full disclosure: I was grinning from ear-to-ear as Richard Armitage delivered his favourite line from the film, in response to a question from one of the many Hobbit fans packed into cinemas last Monday for an exclusive fan event taking place simultaneously all across the world. It’s a very good line.

I found out I was going to the event on the Friday before, when my brother texted with two words: “Got tickets”. Having grown up reading the stories from Tolkien’s world over and over ( The Hobbit is still the book that I’ve read the most times), this was obviously a cause for some small measure of excitement.

I’m currently doing an MA in journalism so, practical as ever, I decided that it would also be a great time to practise interviewing people in crowds, and took along my portable recorder. I’m really glad I did, because a microphone is a great conversation starter and the Tolkien/Jackson fandom is universally lovely.

While milling around in Leicester Square waiting to be let into the theatre, I chatted to a young woman who had come dressed, memorably, as Bilbo’s front door, complete with silver Gandalf rune. Clearly Andy Serkis was as impressed by her creativity as I was, because later that night she won the costume competition, so will be attending the premiere of the movie in Berlin. I don’t know whether she’ll take the costume, but I really hope she does.

Once we were let into the cinema (after signing promises not to record anything) we took our seats and excitedly went through the bag of free stuff. I am now the proud owner of a Hobbit movie bucket, poster, cup and t-shirt. There was chocolate and popcorn too.

At the cinema in London we were joined by Andy Serkis, Lee Pace and Luke Evans, with Edith Bowman presenting. Anderson Cooper emceed from New York, along with Richard Armitage and Orlando Bloom; while Peter Jackson and Jed Brophy were in Wellington and Evangeline Lilly was joined in LA by Entertainment Weekly ‘s Anthony Breznican.

Over a slightly delayed satellite link, the actors answered questions and generally joked around, with Orlando Bloom revealing that he can still fit into his old Legolas costume and Evangeline Lilly explaining discussing her inspiration for Tauriel: the “badass fairy” Tinkerbell, from Peter Pan . What mostly came across in the Q&A though, is just how much Peter Jackson cares, both about these movies and about the fans.

“We wanted to give you five minutes or so of previously unseen footage,” said Jackson, introducing the preview, “But I didn’t want it to be just another trailer, I wanted to actually give you something. That ended up being more like twenty minutes.” Cue biggest cheer of the night. He went on to explain that a couple of the visuals weren’t quite finished, but he hoped we’d get a sense of the movie.

What can I say, without being too spoilery? First of all, the spiders. Peter Jackson is reportedly arachnophobic, and it seems like his way of dealing with this is to try and make everyone else terrified too. The Mirkwood spiders aren’t just scaled-down Shelobs, and we see plenty of them. This isn’t a scene that over-relies on ominous rustling.

The Elves. I admit, I was worried about the Mirkwood Elves. They are very different in the books to how they’re portrayed in the Lord Of The Rings movies, but in a way that’s quite integral to the storyline. Reconciling these two interpretations was never going to be easy. But rest assured, from what I saw they’ve managed it. These guys are not from Lothlorien, but they still feel Elvish. There’s a real highborn/lowborn thing going on, much of it played out through Tauriel and Thranduil, which I think is going to give Evangeline Lilly’s character the depth I was worried she might lack.

The barrel scene is excellent. Although it will definitely have you feeling a bit like you’re on a ride at an amusement park, it fits the ensemble nature of the Dwarves really well without being too pantomime.

Honestly, my only wry grin and head-shaking moment came when Smaug’s mound of gold was shown. There’s a lot of gold. We’re talking upwards of Ducktales levels of treasure. I would say maybe too much, but I guess not enough would look much worse. That’s my only complaint, and it was utterly banished by watching Martin Freeman’s performance scrambling around the mountain of treasure.

Finally, Smaug. I’m not going to tell you anything about Smaug. Nope. He’s going to be good though.

So, that was my experience at The Hobbit fan event. It was an incredible experience and I’m now properly excited for the film. It’s clear to audiences that Peter Jackson is someone who goes the extra mile for fans. As ticket prices continue to rise, getting audiences involved with events like this may well be what makes the difference between a blockbuster and a flop.

This is a guest blog by Nathan FitzPatrick . There’s a massive feature about the Desolation Of Smaug film in SFX 242 on sale from this Wednesday, 13 November.

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