It's been almost a decade since the final installment of the Oscar-winning "Lord of the Rings" trilogy "The Return of the King" hit theaters, and the long wait for "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" is now coming to an end. The highly anticipated fantasy film premiered in Wellington, New Zealand, on Wednesday to a crowd of thousands -- many of whom were dressed as their favorite characters from the popular "Lord of the Rings" prequel book. According to the Wall Street Journal, several fans camped out prior to the premiere in order to catch a glimpse of the film's stars. 

Yet the night was not without controversy. E! reports that hours before the event, director Peter Jackson was asked to address recent reports that two dozen animals were killed as a result of poor living conditions during production. 

"No mistreatment, no abuse." Jackson insisted, when asked to comment on the rumors. "Absolutely none." 

"You've got a very radical political organization which has jumped on this," he added, referring to a notorious animal activist group's public outcry against the film. 

Earlier this month, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals [PETA] made a public appeal for a boycott of "The Hobbit." "Peter Jackson's films have been at the forefront of the special-effects revolution," PETA senior vice president Lisa Lange said in a statement. "But this production's decision to use numerous live animals and allow them to suffer needlessly and die takes the entertainment industry a giant and disgraceful step backward."

Despite the negative attention surrounding "The Hobbit," the premiere's strong turnout proves that fan support for the whimsical epic hasn't dwindled. Furthermore, several critics and industry professionals have already taken to Twitter to praise the film. 

"X-Men director Bryan Singer tweeted:‏ "Just saw #Hobbit. Having some serious frame rate envy. Amazing and involving. Loved it! And @ianmckellen118, my friend, you are brilliant!"

“Hobbit premiere was excellent! Thanks all!!! Enjoyed the film very much," tweeted composer Steven Gallagher. 

Based on J.R.R Tolkein's 1939 fantasy classic, "The Hobbit" takes place 60 years prior to the events of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.  The film centers on a young Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) as he journeys to the Lonely Mountain. With the help of a group of dwarfs, he works to defeat the evil dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) and reclaim a stolen treasure. Beloved characters, such as Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and Gollum (Andy Serkis), also appear in the highly anticipated epic. 

In order to stretch the books content into multiple films. Jackson decided to add characters from the "Rings" trilogy into the film that do not appear in "The Hobbit" book, Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett). 

The film also includes a range of actors that are new to Middle-earth such as Lee Pace ("Lincoln"), who stars as the elf Elvenking Thranduil and Richard Armitage ("Captain America") as Thorin Oakensheild, the dwarves' leader.   

The film marks the first installment of "The Hobbit" trilogy, "The Desolation of Smaug" and "There and Back Again" are set to hit theaters in 2013 and 2014. All three films were shot over a 15-month shooting period at Wellington Stone Street Studios in New Zealand and Pinewood Studios in England. 

The first three "Lord of the Rings" films grossed over $1.4 billion at he box office and "The Hobbit" is expected to premiere at the top of the holiday box office.  

"The Hobbit" is set to hit theaters on Dec. 14.