Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Peter Jackson – Movies Spotlight – December

December’s Movies Spotlight is on Peter Jackson, whose new film The Lovely Bones opens December 25th. Best known for directing The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Jackson is one of the top reviewed directors of the last decade. Jackson has now moved into producing as well as writing and directing. Like Spielberg, Coppola and Lucas coming out of the 70s, Jackson has entered the new decade as one of Hollywood’s top auteurs, both critically and commercially.

Early Days in New Zealand

Jackson started his feature film career in New Zealand in 1987 with Bad Taste, a low-budget sci-fi horror comedy splatter film that he made with his friends. It played at the Cannes Film Festival and sold distribution rights to twelve countries. Jackson had got his name out there and started working on a number of new scripts with his writing partner Fran Walsh, including a never released sequel to Nightmare on Elm Street. Next up for Jackson was Meet the Feebles, a Muppet-style musical comedy. This film proves to be a critical step in Jackson’s career as it is the first film that he collaborated with Richard Taylor on the special effects. Taylor would go on to create Weta Workshop, which would do the effects for all of Jackson’s future films. The last of his early films, and probably the best known, is Briandead, or as it is known in America: Dead Alive. The cult horror comedy, on par with The Evil Dead, is thought of as a landmark in the genre.

Welcome to Hollywood

Jackson’s next film, Heavenly Creatures, saw a significant change in style and tone for the director, based on a tragic true local New Zealand story. The film was more of a passion project of Fran Walsh and she was the motivating force behind getting made. It also marked the breakout film for Kate Winslet. Heavenly Creatures was picked up by Miramax and Jackson and Walsh were nominated for a screenwriting Oscar. With the success of Heavenly Creatures, Jackson would sign a deal with Universal Pictures to make two big budget films. The first was The Frighteners. For the Frighteners, Jackson worked with Hollywood hotshot Robert Zemeckis, and convinced Zemeckis and the studio to allow him to shoot the movie in New Zealand, even though it takes place in America, and use Richard Taylor to do the effects. The result was not a critical or commercial success (however, the film is quite underrated in my opinion and has awesome effects and a lot of good scenes). As a result, Universal decided not to go forward with Jackson’s second film, King Kong, at least for the time being. However, shooting the entire movie in New Zealand and using Richard Taylor for the awesome effects would prove to be selling points for his next epic project.

The Lord of the Rings

Acquiring the rights to J.R.R. Tolkien’s story in 1997, Jackson first approached Miramax about a two picture adaptation, but Miramax insisted that he tell the full story in one film. (Thankfully!) Jackson was able to make a last minute deal with New Line Cinema, who was eager for a trilogy. The crew set off to New Zealand for the first batch of principal photography from October 1999-December 2000 with additional shoots before the release of each film. Jackson cast the film with mostly unknown actors or lesser known (to the average cinema-goer) actors, and with the release of the films, many new careers were launched. The shooting structure of the film also innovated the way future franchises would shoot their films, as all three films were primarily made during that first bout of principal photography. All the special effects were done by Weta Workshop, which made a name for itself through the films, and New Zealand has become one of the best places to shoot epics outside of America. The films were met with critical acclaim winning 17 Oscars on 30 nominations, including best picture for The Return of the King, which is the first fantasy film to ever win the honor. Jackson was now at the top, able to do any project he wanted, so he returned to Universal.

King Kong

Universal Pictures decided to sign Peter Jackson to a new deal following his success, paying him $20 million up front. King Kong was still a priority for Jackson to make, as it was the film he loved as a boy, the film that inspired him to become a filmmaker. Jackson following the same formula of all his other films decided to shoot the film in New Zealand, rebuilding a portion of New York City and use Weta Workshop for the effects. King Kong was released for Christmas 2005 to success as the film is the fourth highest grossing Universal release of all-time.

Peter Jackson: Producer

Jackson has produced all his own films. With the success of The Lord of the Rings and King Kong, he now has the power within the Hollywood system to start to put out other projects that he has an interest in without having to direct them personally. The first foray into the producing only realm was 2009’s District 9. The film was met with great reviews and commercial success and bolstered the careers of unknown director Neill Blomkamp and actor Sharlto Copley. Jackson next focuses his producing skills on Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn and the two picture adaptation of The Hobbit with Guillermo del Toro directing. But it did not all start well for Jackson as a producer. His first project was the film adaptation of the Microsoft game Halo. The film has been delayed and delayed and even delayed some more, originally set for a 2007 release. District 9 director Neill Blomkamp was going to make it his feature debut, but has now left the project completely. The film is not “on hold” and it is unknown if the project with Jackson involved will ever see the light of day.

Future Projects

The Lovely Bones comes out this month and looks to be a return to the type of style and tone of Heavenly Creatures for Jackson, mixing the stark reality of murder with the world of fantasy. After The Lovely Bones, Jackson looks have a busy slate producing The Adventures of Tintin, rumored to also be directing a sequel, and The Hobbit films. Jackson is also in the works to produce a remake of The Dam Busters based on a script written by Stephen Fry. No matter what projects Jackson does decide to pursue, we can expect great work to come from him as he is certainly one of the best working today.

Peter Jackson Box Set (Selected Filmography/Career Highlights)

1.)    Braindead (1992) [DVD] – Director
2.)    Heavenly Creatures (1994) [DVD] – Director
3.)    The Frighteners (1996) [DVD] – Director
5.)    The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) [Extended DVD] – Director*
6.)    The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) [Extended DVD] – Director*
7.)    King Kong (2005) [Blu-ray/DVD] – Director
8.)    District 9 (2009) [Blu-ray/DVD] – Producer*

*Editor’s Picks

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