Art department veteran Dan Hennah worked on a range of screen projects before becoming an art director and set decorator on The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Five times Oscar nominated, he won an Academy Award for his work on The Return of the King. Since then Hennah has graduated to production designing on a number of features, including taking on the job for Peter Jackson's three-parter of The Hobbit.
I've been doing this thing for about 30 years now and I'm still loving it … I feel as though I learn more everyday. And you know, I'm still listening to people, I'm not trying to impose my will on people, I'm still learning. Dan Hennah, in a 2010 interview for website M2E Pictures
Mortal Engines is set in a post-apocalyptic world where cities roam the landscape, devouring everything in their path. Tom (Robert Sheehan, from TV's Misfits) lives in London, a 'predator' city built on digger-like tracks. After encountering a mysterious fugitive with murder in mind, he finds himself touching bare earth for the first time. Showcasing the eye-opening imagery of Weta Digital, Mortal Engines is based on a book by Brit Philip Reeve. It marks the first feature directed by Christian Rivers (short film Feeder). The Weta veteran began as a storyboard artist for Peter Jackson.
Touted as the defining chapter of the trilogy, The Battle of the Five Armies sees Smaug wreaking havoc from the sky, Thorin Oakenshield succumbing to dragon-sickness, and a climactic battle to dwarf anything seen in the first two Hobbit films. As Orcs look to the Lonely Mountain with their eyes on the treasure, dwarves, elves and humans must decide whether to unite and fight them off. The final Hobbit film arrived in cinemas 15 years after Peter Jackson first trained his cameras on Middle-earth — and made it clear that global blockbusters could come from New Zealand.
After only 17 days in international cinemas, the first part of the Hobbit trilogy stacked up enough treasure to become 2012's fourth highest-grossing movie. In part two director Peter Jackson upped the adventure quotient further, thanks to spiders, high speed river rides and the first encounter between hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and Smaug the Dragon, as envisioned by Weta Digital and British star of the day Benedict Cumberbatch. Legolas (Orlando Bloom), one of the breakout characters from Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies, also makes an appearance.
JRR Tolkien's beloved novel The Hobbit follows Bilbo Baggins on a quest to help reclaim the lost dwarf homeland of Erebor from the dragon Smaug. Shoulder-tapped by Gandalf for the mission against some opposition, Bilbo joins a company of dwarves in an epic adventure: vying against goblins, orcs and Gollum's riddles. After the box office blitzing and Oscar-slaying Lord of the Rings trilogy, adapting the precursor novel was an expected journey. Martin Freeman (The Office, Sherlock) plays Bilbo, with Peter Jackson again at the helm in this first of a three-part adaptation.
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.
One of the most successful television shows shot on Kiwi soil, The Tribe was the brainchild of British-born Raymond Thompson. In a future where the adults have been wiped out by a virus, the children that remain have formed into competing tribes, some of whom live to terrorise. Running five seasons, The Tribe sold to more than 120 territories, and the cast toured performances from the soundtrack for overseas fans. The cast were almost entirely New Zealanders, as were most of the crew. Sequel The New Tomorrow, following descendants of the original characters, screened in 2005.
Set in a future where teen gangs control the streets, The Tribe became a global hit at the turn of the millenium. In this second episode, the group have to decide whether they trust Lex enough to let him into the safety of the shopping mall. Lex appears out to prove that he is the resident alpha male, especially after the arrival of Bray (Dwayne Cameron), who has a surprise to spring. For the first season, a group of young people read each script in order to check that The Tribe provided what creator Raymond Thompson called "an accurate interpretation of children's ideas".
The first episode of The Tribe introduces many of the key elements that would capture fans around the globe: including a future where teens rule, and a shopping mall that provides a bolthole from terrifying, colourfully-garbed gangs. After meeting the only occupant, Amber (Beth Allen) decides the mall could be the perfect place for her new friends to hole up in. Meanwhile Lex (Caleb Ross) — soon to become one of The Tribe's longest-serving anti-heroes — gets angry. Employing roughly 500 cast and crew, Raymond Thompson's show introduced a host of young actors over five seasons.
A Twist in the Tale was one of a series of kidult shows launched by The Tribe creator Raymond Thompson, after he relocated to New Zealand. The anthology series spins from a storyteller (Star Trek's William Shatner) introducing a story (often fantastical) to a group of children, some of whom appear in the tales. The show featured early appearances by many young Kiwi thespians, including Antonia Prebble, Chelsie Preston Crayford, Dwayne Cameron and Michelle Ang. Although the writing team were British, some of the directors and most of the crew were New Zealanders.
Presented by William Shatner, A Twist In The Tale was an anthology series with each episode featuring a new story for Shatner to tell a group of children gathered round the fireplace. In this adventure, a freak storm causes a strange girl (Westside's Antonia Prebble) to appear in a boy’s bedroom cupboard, only to discover she’s travelled back in time 100 years. When some futuristic technology goes missing and the family farm ends up on the line, the children must put their differences aside. The episode also features a memorable appearance by Craig Parker as the family's accountant.
In this episode of anthology series A Twist in the Tale, two children visit a Devon estate and discover a barrel load of mysteries involving the story of King Arthur — including a hidden shrine, a soothsayer, and an excavation reaching its climactic stages. After being beckoned into the woods one day by a woman in white, young Aidan (Nicko Vella) finds himself being pulled towards the excavation site. But just what part is he meant to play? A Twist in the Tale was filmed in New Zealand, with William Shatner (Star Trek 's original Captain Kirk) introducing each story.
This bawdy backblocks comedy follows the efforts of two middle-aged males to adjust after the death of their Mum (Dorothy McKegg). The somewhat dim brothers (played by Mark Hadlow and Sean Duffy) are lost without her cooking and advice on Judy Bailey’s attractiveness, and getting close to goats…until the hired help (Alison Bruce) arrives. The short film was the first production by Big House, a collaboration between director Mike Smith and editor John Gilbert. Invited to the revered Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival in 1999, it inspired a hit TV series of the same name.
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 ...
Written by Tom Scott and Greg McGee, Fallout was an award-winning two-part mini-series about the events leading up to New Zealand's 80s anti-nuclear stand. In this first episode Labour sweeps into power with an anti-nuclear platform. Upon taking office, David Lange (played by Australian actor Mark Mitchell) faces pressure to live up to his campaign rhetoric. In this excerpt, we see the parliamentary cut and thrust leading up to the election, with National MP Marilyn Waring defying Muldoon (Ian Mune) to cross the floor on the Nuclear Free New Zealand bill.
Frank Whitten won probably his biggest audience when 10 million Brits saw him play an outrageous bastard in this primetime melodrama. This first episode sees Ceci (Glaswegian actor Valerie Gogan) arriving from England hoping for a better life, and instead finding herself trapped on a rundown farm with a rapist, a bitter old man and a simpleton. NZ producers Lloyd Phillips and Rob Whitehouse won finance from TVNZ, Westpac and the UK's Central Television for the six-part mini-series, written by Brit Elizabeth Gowans. There were 118 speaking parts, most of them Kiwi.
A young woman in colonial New Zealand (played by Jodie Foster, post-Taxi Driver pre-Oscars) flees an orphanage to find herself trapped in an arranged marriage to an older businessman (fellow US actor John Lithgow). Voyeurism, hypnotism and dodgy doctoring feature in the thriller from US director Michael Laughlin, from a screenplay by Jerzy Skolimowski. Mesmerized was made in NZ as an international co-production with RKO during the 80s tax break era. It was released in the US as My Letter to George in 1986. Laughlin also shot cult horror Dead Kids (1981) in NZ.
This pirates of the South Seas tale stars Tommy Lee Jones (Men in Black, The Fugitive) as rogue Bully Hayes, who helps a missionary save his kidnapped-by-savages wife. Produced by Kiwis Rob Whitehouse and Lloyd Phillips (12 Monkeys, Inglorious Basterds), the film was made in the 80s ‘tax-break’ feature surge and filmed in Fiji and New Zealand (with an NZ crew and supporting cast). John Hughes (Breakfast Club) and David Odell (Dark Crystal) scripted the old-fashioned swashbuckler from a Phillips story. It was released by Paramount in the US as Nate and Hayes.