Some Chicago movie-goers were greeted by demonstrators from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Friday on the opening day of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey."
Animal wranglers involved in the making of the Peter Jackson movie claim that 27 animals -- including horses, goats, chicken and sheep that were being used in the movie -- were killed in farms surrounding the New Zealand set.
A handful of protestors held signs on the sidewalk outside of the AMC River East 21 around noon, handing out literature to people heading inside.
"We want to make sure that people who care about animals know that using animals behind the scenes means that they are going to suffer," PETA spokesperson Katie Arth said.
A spokesman for Jackson says the production company reacted swiftly after the first two horses died, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars upgrading housing and stable facilities in early 2011. He said he knew only of three goats, one sheep and about eight chickens that had died aside from the horses, and that two of the goats died in a cold snap but the third, like the sheep, was old and had likely died of natural causes. Chicken maulings by packs of dogs were blamed on careless staff oversight.
But PETA says the deaths were completely unavoidable.
"We're asking people to contact Peter Jackson to use all CGI [computer-generated imagery] for future films, so no more animals have to unnecessarily die," Arth said.
Jonathan Mattos was headed inside the theatre to watch the movie and wasn't aware of the controversy. It gave him pause, but not enough to derail his plans.
"I can't imagine that, 27 animals dead. I'd like to know more about it. It's just sad," Mattos said.
PETA is holding similar demonstrations at movie premieres around the country.