Sound designer Mike Hopkins worked on more than 20 feature films. Along the way he won wide respect for his craft and the humble dedication he applied to it. He won awards for his work on Kiwi classics Illustrious Energy, Crush and Heavenly Creatures, and Oscars for his sound editing on King Kong and the second Lord of the Rings movie. Hopkins died in a rafting accident on 30 December 2012.
Mike Hopkins was as kind, generous, and humble a man as you might hope to meet, and a world class sound editor/designer. Everybody who spent time with him liked him. I’m a better man for having been around him, and a better sound designer too. Veteran sound designer Randy Thom
In 1983, director Geoff Murphy stormed out of the scrub of the nascent Kiwi film industry with a quadruple-barreled shotgun take on the great New Zealand colonial epic. Set during the New Zealand Wars, this tale of a Māori leader (Anzac Wallace) and his bloody path to redress 'imbalance' became the second local film officially selected for the Cannes Film Festival, and the second biggest local hit to that date (after Murphy's Goodbye Pork Pie). A producer-driven recut was later shown in the United States. This 2013 redux offers Utu “enhanced and restored”.
Shopping marks the feature debut of Mark Albiston and Louis Sutherland, who were acclaimed for their short films. Set on the Kapiti Coast, the 80s-set drama follows half-Samoan teenager Willie (Kevin Paulo), who is seduced into a world of petty crime. Adrift in muscle cars and boozy lawn parties, he finds stirrings of love, and escape from his volatile Pākehā father. Little brother Solomon (Julian Dennison) must fend for himself. Selected for the Berlin and Sundance Film Festivals, Shopping went on a winning spree at the 2013 NZ Film Awards (including Best Film and Screenplay).
In search of a hideout, gun-totting Gigi (Kate Elliott) and a gang with criminal tendencies end up in hot water after crashing into the lives of a middle class Māori family. To describe the whānau as meat lovers would be euphemistic. Actor/director Danny Mulheron has often gleefully given the finger to political correctness — witness Meet the Feebles, stage farce The Sex Fiend, and TV's Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby. This Gibson Group production marks his in your face cinematic debut. The anarchic result promises cannibalism, comedy — and chef Tem Morrison.
This 2010 telefeature is based on the true crime story of South African-born Dr Colin Bouwer (played by Mark Mitchinson), who used his medical knowledge to poison and kill his wife Annette. A Dunedin doctor and policeman foiled his plot to get away with murder. Directed by Peter Burger (Until Proven Innocent), Bloodlines won gongs for actors Mitchinson and Craig Hall at the 2011 Aotearoa Film and Television Awards, and nominations for Burger's direction, Donna Malane and Paula Boock's script, and the work of actor Nathalie Boltt.
Peter Jackson's love affair with moviemaking and special effects was ignited by seeing the original King Kong (1933) as a child. Jackson's Kiwi-shot remake takes one of cinema's most iconic monster movies, retains the 30s setting and iconic New York finale, and toughens up the "beauty" (Naomi Watts). The film also transforms the male (non-ape) lead from lunkhead to sensitive playwright (Adrien Brody). Exhilarating, Oscar-winning CGI brings the great ape to life, alongside rampaging dinosaurs, and oversized wētā inexplicably absent from the maligned 1976 remake.
Monstrous spiders, dragon-aided epic battles, endangered hobbits and final farewells ... the finale of the Lord of the Rings trilogy boldly upped the ante. Although the first two films had excited viewers, critics and accountants, Return of the King sealed Peter Jackson's place in movie legend. Reviewers praised it with gusto and the film won a staggering 11 Oscars, a total matched only by Titanic and Ben-Hur. Return anointed a Hollywood empire in the Wellington suburb of Miramar. The box office figures weren't half bad, and nor was the effect on New Zealand tourism.
The second Lord of the Rings installment sees hobbit Frodo Baggins continuing his mission to destroy the ring. Meanwhile the Fellowship is breaking apart, and an epic night battle ensues at Helm's Deep. The film marked a star turn by Gollum, the emaciated Andy Serkis-voiced creature whose realisation was a cinema landmark and a triumph for the design and special effects team. Alongside praise for the film's pace and spectacle, The Two Towers broke international opening records, before going on to outgross Fellowship of the Ring, and win two technical Oscars.
The Fellowship of the Ring was the film that brought Peter Jackson's talents to a mass international audience. A year after its release, the first instalment of his adaptation of Tolkien's beloved tale of heroic hobbits was the seventh most successful film of all-time. Critic David Ansen (Newsweek) was one of many to praise the fan-appeasing Frodo-centric take, for its "high-flying risks: it wears its earnestness, and its heart, on its muddy, blood-streaking sleeve." At 2002's Academy Awards, Weta maestro Richard Taylor became the first Kiwi to win two Oscars on one night.
Greenstone is the tale of a beautiful, missionary-educated Māori woman (Simone Kessell) whose romantic life is subject to the shifting loyalties of her father, Chief Te Manahau (George Henare). The cross-cultural elements of this ambitious colonial bodice-ripper were reflected off-screen as well: created by Greg McGee in response to a call by TV One for a local drama 'saga', the series saw major English creative input through being developed as a co-production with the BBC. After the withdrawal of BBC funding, the Tainui Corporation helped fund the eight-part series.
After her son Kamal Bamadhaj — a New Zealand Malaysian student of history and Indonesian politics — was shot dead in the Dili massacre in East Timor in 1991, New Zealander Helen Todd decided to pursue a law suit against the Indonesian general she believed was responsible. Her personal and political campaign for justice would eventually span five continents and four years. The documentary from director Annie Goldson (An Island Calling) won acclaim, and a number of awards at international film festivals.
This film is about the redemption of Jake the Muss. It picks up the story after Jake has turned his back on his family (his wife has left him to escape the violence) and is up to his usual tricks in McClutchy's Bar. After one of his sons dies suspiciously in a gang fight, another sets out to find revenge, accompanied by young gang member Tania (Nancy Brunning). Scripted by Alan Duff and directed by Ian Mune, the film was the second-highest-earning NZ film of the 1990s, (eclipsed only by Once Were Warriors). It scooped most of the categories at the 1999 NZ Film & TV Awards.
The first movie written and directed by playwright Anthony McCarten is a portrait of a family melting down under the media spotlight. The comedy/drama stars Danielle Cormack in two roles — as a swimmer on the cusp of Olympic glory, and as the twin sister back home, looking on as her family descends into spats and bickering as they find the pressure to perform too much to bear. Via Satellite showcases a topline cast, including Tim Balme, Rima Te Wiata, and a scene-stealing and heavily-pregnant Jodie Dorday, who won an NZ TV and Film Award for her work.
Biscuits dance, food flies, dead chickens walk ... come closing time, the shelves of a dairy come to life. Four years in the making, this showcase of stop motion effects is based loosely on a classic poem by Goethe. The lively Indian-tinged soundtrack is inspired by the poem's most famous retelling: the Disney classic Fantasia, in the Sorcerer's Apprentice sequence where Mickey Mouse battles magical broomsticks. The music is handled by John Psathas, who later composed for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.
Peter Jackson’s fifth feature is a playful blend of comedy, thriller and supernatural horror and was an effective Hollywood calling card for Weta FX. Frank Bannister (Michael J Fox) resides in Fairwater, where he runs a supernatural scam. Aided by some spectral consorts, he engineers hauntings and “exorcises” the ghosts for a fee. When a genuine spook starts knocking off the locals, the FBI suspects Frank is the culprit. To clear his name, Frank must deal to the real perpetrator – none other than the Grim Reaper ...
The Gibson Group drama series centres on a team of TV journalists working on a weekly current affairs programme. Katie Wolfe plays stroppy journalist Amanda Robbins, who has been lured back to Wellington from Australia by a network boss hoping her tabloid style will help ratings. Her workmates are not so confident. In this excerpt from the start of the first episode, Robbins hits the news (literally) as she runs into a disturbed nightclubber (Katrina Hobbs) on a rainy night. A pre-Lord of the Rings Fran Walsh was one of the series writers.
This tale of a girl, her dog and a strange old man sees the tomboyish Daphne gleefully ruining a wedding, before her imagination unleashes monstrous forces. Made under the umbrella of Peter Jackson's company Wingnut Films in the early days of FX maestros Weta, Dirty Creature features contributions from many longtime Jackson cohorts, including Weta's Richard Taylor. Directed and co-written by Grant Campbell (who worked on Bad Taste), the film shares the anarchic, child-like spirit — plus a little of the crimson food colouring — of Jackson's early features.
The movie that won splatter king Peter Jackson mainstream respectability was born from writer Fran Walsh's long interest in the Parker-Hulme case: two 1950s teens who invented imaginary worlds, wrote under imaginary personas, and murdered Pauline Parker's mother. Jackson and Walsh's vision of friendship, creativity and tragedy was greeted with Oscar nominations, deals with indie company Miramax, and rhapsodic acclaim for the film, and newbie actors Melanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet. Time magazine and 30 other publications named it one of the year's 10 best films.
A young couple (Danielle Cormack and Erik Thomson) wander into a photographic studio, where the owner seems to have the power to bring another age to life. Chosen for many international festivals including Clermont-Ferrand, Snap marked another collaboration for filmmakers Stuart McKenzie and Neil Pardington. Inventive and sly, the film plays like a twisted episode of The Twilight Zone, one in which the lead-up to the shock finale provides at least half the fun. Peter Hambleton steals the show, as the oddball photographer with Cormack in his sights.
Noel (Patrick Smyth) and Faith (Kate Harcourt) are happily retired; they while away their time digging into the earth beneath their house and sifting for treasure from the knick-knacks and 'thingamajigs' of history. Then a tremor shakes up “Dad’s excavations”. Adopting a low-dialogue storytelling approach, this reflective tale of finding life and meaning in the small things marked a rare screenwriting credit for Vintner's Luck author Elizabeth Knox (collaborating with director Neil Pardington). It screened as part of Kiwi shorts showcase at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival.
After the assassination of scientist David Typhon, a cast of interested parties head for his secret lab in New Zealand, pursuing the truth behind rumoured experiments on humans. Among them are rabid protestors, a European infiltrator (Michael Hurst) and the strangely-gifted Cato (Greg Wise). Typhon’s People marked a rare time that writer Margaret Mahy created a story aimed at adult audiences. Blessed with an impressive cast of Kiwis, Brits (Wise, Alfred Molina), and The Castle star Sophie Lee, it sold as both a mini-series and as a 90 minute tele-movie.
After his mother gets infected by a bite from a deadly Sumatran rat monkey, Lionel (Almighty Johnson Tim Balme, in an award-winning performance) has to contend with a plague of the living dead while attempting to woo the love of his life. Peter Jackson had already been tagged with the title ‘The Sultan of Splatter’ after his first two features, but this was the film that confirmed it. Armed with a decent budget, he takes a Flymo to fusty 1950s New Zealand and takes cinematic gore to a whole new extreme in the process.
Crush is a tale of simmering sexuality set in Rotorua. Moral or sexual ambiguity pervades the narrative of conflicted desire. Its mix of blocked-up writer, spurting mud-pools, infatuated teen, eel farm, American femme fatale (Marcia Gay Harden), noir motels, limp pongas and wheelchairs, plays out in a symbolic NZ landscape not seen before (or since). Director Alison Maclean's debut feature (which she co-wrote with Anne Kennedy) played in competition at the Cannes Film Festival.
Variously praised as a major step forward in indigenous cinema, attacked for overambition, and little screened, Te Rua marked Barry Barclay’s impassioned follow-up to Ngati. This story of stolen Māori carvings in a Berlin museum sees Barclay plunging into issues of control of indigenous culture he would return to in book Mana Tuturu. Feisty activist (Peter Kaa) and elder lawyer (screen taonga Wi Kuki Kaa) favour different approaches to getting the carvings back home. Barclay and his longtime producer John O’Shea had their own differences over Te Rua’s final cut.
This 1991 telefilm follows young undercover cop Tony (William Brandt) who gets in too deep when infiltrating a heroin ring in the underbelly of Wellington’s music and pub scene. The Kiwi noir tale was inspired by real-life undercover policeman Wayne Haussman, who was convicted of drug trafficking. Directed by Yvonne Mackay (The Silent One), it was made as a pilot for a series that never eventuated. At the 1993 NZ Film and Television Awards Undercover won Best TV Drama; Jennifer Ludlam was awarded for her role as Tony's ex-prostitute girlfriend. Cliff Curtis plays a musician.
TV One drama Shark in the Park followed the lives of cops policing a Wellington city beat. This episode from the second series sees the team bust a street fight, and search for a missing teenage girl. An elderly shoplifter and a joyrider test the ethics of the diversion scheme, where minor offences don't result in a criminal record. Actors Tim Balme and Michael Galvin (Shortland Street) feature in early screen roles, as youngsters on the wrong side of the law. Galvin plays the dangerous driver – he also happens to be the son of Sergeant Jesson (Kevin J Wilson).
Shark in the Park was New Zealand’s first urban cop show. In this second season opener, Inspector Flynn (Jeffrey Thomas) and his team face restructuring and cutbacks from HQ, and a gang prospect (Toby Mills) is interrogated about a hit and run. Among the impressive cast of cops are Rima Te Wiata, Nathaniel Lees, and Russell Smith (It is I, Count Homogenized). This was the first episode made by Wellington company The Gibson Group, as Kiwi television entered an era of deregulation (Shark's previous series was one of the last made by TVNZ’s in-house drama department).
Although The Tumbleweeds toured beyond Otago only occasionally, they provided many New Zealanders with their first exposure to country music. Almost 40 years into the band's career, Stephen Latty (Opera in the Outback) got some of their songs and memories down for this half-hour film. The band describe influences, costumes, and their own mid-tour double wedding. Country music expert Garth Gibson praises the "quite famous harmony sound" of sisters Myra and Nola Hewitt. Then The Tumbleweeds hit the road for Gore's Gold Guitar Awards, to perform 'Maple on the Hill'.
Gibson Group production Public Eye was inspired by the British series, Spitting Image. Latex puppets caricature topical personalities, mostly drawn from the world of politics (Ruth Richardson, Helen Clark, Winston Peters etc). Their foibles are duly skewered in fast-moving comic skits such as the 'Ruatoria Rasta' segment, 'The White Way' and 'Honky Tanga'. The wickedly grotesque puppets were based on drawings by cartoonist Trace Hodgson, and built by a team headed by future Weta FX maestro, Richard Taylor.
In the wake of the Allied invasion of Normandy, US soldier Saul (Usual Suspect Gabriel Byrne) meets Belle, alleged to be a Nazi collaborator. He offers to stay in her cottage as Résistance accusers circle. The tragic tale of moral ambiguity during wartime was adapted from a novel by Kiwi MK Joseph. Filmed in France in 1988, director Larry Parr’s feature debut was troubled by the withdrawal of a French partner and bankruptcy of the US distributor; after film festival showings it screened on NZ television in 1995. French actor Marianne Basler won a 1992 NZ Film Award as Belle.
Illustrious Energy sees Chan and his older mate Kim prospecting for gold in 1890s Otago. Marooned until they can pay off their debts and return to China; they’ve been fruitlessly working their claim for 12 and 27 years respectively. Chan faces racism, isolation, extreme weather, threatening surveyors, opium dens and a circus romance. The renowned feature-directing debut of cinematographer Leon Narbey provides a poetic evocation of the Chinese settler experience; especially vivid are Central’s natural details — desolate schist and tussock lands, rasping crickets.
When she made Mauri, Merata Mita became the first Māori woman to write and direct a dramatic feature. Mauri (meaning life force), is loosely set around a love triangle and explores cultural tensions, identity, and changing ways of life in a dwindling East Coast town. As with Barry Barclay film Ngāti, Mauri played a key role in the burgeoning Māori screen industry. The crew numbered 33 Māori and 20 Pākehā, including interns from Hawkes Bay wānanga. Kiwi art icon Ralph Hotere was production designer; the cast included Zac Wallace (star of Utu) and Māori activist Eva Rickard.
A big smoke cousin to Mortimer's Patch, Shark in the Park was New Zealand's first urban cop show. Devised by Graeme Tetley (Ruby and Rata), it portrayed a unit policing inner city Wellington, under the guidance of Inspector Brian 'Sharkie' Finn (Jeffrey Thomas). With its focus on the working lives of the officers, the show followed the character-based storytelling of overseas programmes like The Bill and Hill Street Blues. The first season marked one of the last in-house productions for TVNZ's drama department. The next two series were made independently by The Gibson Group.
This Depression-era road movie tails teen runaway Kate (Greer Robson) as she tags along with World War I veteran Patrick (Aussie actor Peter Phelps) — himself on the run after assaulting a repo man. The odd couple relationship grudgingly evolves as they often narrowly escape the law, and head north across the southern badlands. Director Sam Pillsbury's on the lam tale won wide praise, with Kevin Thomas in the LA Times calling it "pure enchantment". Robson's award-winning turn as the scamp followed up her breakthrough role in Smash Palace.
Michael Firth's follow-up to his 1977 Oscar-nominated ski documentary Off the Edge, but this time with a plot and scripted dialogue. Canadian Matt hitches from Auckland to meet a bunch of Kiwi extreme thrill-seekers at a southern ski field. They throw themselves off volcanoes, glaciers, mountains and into an Iron Man with "get more go" abandon. Cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh's first feature shoot — "I was relatively cheap and I could ski" — is notable for its action sequences (set to an 80s pop soundtrack) and Billy T James as a mad pilot.
This documentary backgrounds the process of turning Murray Ball's comic strip into New Zealand's first animated feature. Who will voice the iconic Dog? Pat Cox, the original producer, stays off-screen; but there are interviews with perfectionist Footrot creator Murray Ball, fellow Manawatu scribe Tom Scott and John Clarke, who argues he narrowly beat Meryl Streep to provide the voice of Wal. Amongst the making of footage, the late Mike Hopkins (who won Oscar glory on Lord of the Rings) lends his feet to the sound effects. Tony Hiles writes about the making of the film here.
In director Gaylene Preston's genre-bending tale, Meg (Heather Bolton) buys a stylish old Jaguar so she can be more independent. While driving on a country road, she hears screams in the back – but there's no one there. In the excerpt above, she picks up a mysterious woman in the rain. Later she discovers that the woman was the car's previous owner, and she is missing. Now her killer might just be stalking Meg too. For their first, acclaimed feature, Preston and producer Robin Laing rented out local cinemas, conclusively proving that Mr Wrong had an audience.
In this 1982 short film, Harry (Goodbye Pork Pie's Kelly Johnson) and Pheno (Donogh Rees) are bored Wellington rebels on a crime spree: tagging, stealing art and hijacking a bus to the badlands of nearby Makara Beach. It was the era of Muldoon, Springbok Tour protests, spacies and dole queues. The film captures the disillusionment of its youth, especially in the outcome of the duo's pursuit by a tyro cop (Duncan Smith). Johnson was fresh from Pork Pie, and Donogh Rees a young actor on the rise. Director Richard Riddiford went on to helm features Arriving Tuesday and Zilch.
On 28 November 1979, an Air New Zealand DC-10 crashed into Mt Erebus, Antarctica, killing all 257 people on board. It was the worst civil aviation disaster in NZ history and at the time, the fourth worst in the world. Made independently of state TV, Flight 901 was the first in-depth documentary on the accident. It surveys the novelty of Antarctic tourist flights, the search and rescue operation, and controversy over causes stirred by the Peter Mahon-led Royal Commission of Inquiry. This 15 minute excerpt was edited for NZ On Screen by director John Keir.