Peter Jackson has gone from being a shy, unknown fanboy making pastiche versions of his favourite fantasy movies, to a renowned master of his craft; from Pukerua Bay to Wellywood: today he has few peers in the realm of large scale filmmaking.
Startling ... it combines original vision, a drop-dead command of the medium and a successful marriage between a dazzling, kinetic techno-show and a complex, credible portrait of the out-of-control relationship between the crime's two schoolgirl perpetrators. David Rooney, reviewing Heavenly Creatures in Variety, 11 September 1994
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.
Scriptwriter Philippa Boyens has described Alice Sebold's bestselling book The Lovely Bones as "brutal, surprising, gorgeous". A tale of murder and how the victim's family and friends try to deal with it, the story is told from the perspective of the victim — 14-year-old Susie Salmon. For the movie adaptation. Peter Jackson and his Weta FX team engaged in more Heavenly Creatures style world-building, rendering an afterlife for Susie that "alters and shifts" with her mood. Time praised the film's "gravity and grace", plus Saoirse Ronan's BAFTA-nominated performance as Susie.
Barefoot Cinema looks at the "art and life" of Alun Bollinger, whom Peter Jackson calls "the finest lighting cameraman that the country has ever produced." Goodbye Pork Pie, Vigil, Heavenly Creatures ... the path of the man known as 'AlBol' is like a screen industry growth chart. But the film is as much an affectionate account of the values and family of a "greenie good keen man", shaped around his four decades-long relationship with wife Helen. In this excerpt, 'AlBol' nails down iron in the rain at his West Coast home, and he and Peter Jackson reflect on their collaborations.
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.
This lighthearted road movie follows three bogans on a mission to join the world of movies. After hearing that Peter Jackson is putting Lord of the Rings on film, they set off from West Auckland for Wellywood, hoping against the odds to score acting roles as hobbits. Written by actor Peter Tait — with help from his bogan co-stars and director Grant Lahood — the film also features a memorable cameo by Madeline Sami, plus a blink-and-you-ll miss it appearance by Mr Jackson himself. And some of the cast really did appear in The Lord of the Rings....
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.
This April 2001 report comes from a function to farewell film salesman Lindsay Shelton. Over 22 years at the NZ Film Commission, Shelton played a key role in selling Kiwi films to overseas markets, including Goodbye Pork Pie, An Angel at My Table, and Once Were Warriors. Those on hand in Wellington to salute his efforts include Film Commission Chief Executive Ruth Harley – who praises Shelton’s "remarkable optimism about New Zealand films" – and directors Vincent Ward, Jane Campion, Peter Jackson (via video link), and John O'Shea, who calls Shelton the "backbone" of the NZFC.
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.
When Forgotten Silver — the story of pioneer filmmaker Colin McKenzie — unspooled on 29th October 1995, in a Sunday TV slot normally reserved for drama, many believed the fable was fact. Controversy ensued as a public reacted (indignant, thrilled) to having the wool pulled over their eyes. Costa Botes, who originated the mockumentary, later made this doco, looking at the construction of McKenzie's epic, tragic, yet increasingly ridiculous story. He interviews co-conspirator Peter Jackson and other pranksters, and they muse on the film's priceless impact.
A jandal-shod journey through Kiwi pop culture. Kiwiana takes a light-hearted look at the fashion, art, architecture, attitudes, and icons (Buzzy Bees, Edmonds, Swanndri, Pavlova etc) we call our own. Directed by Shirley Horrocks, and shot by Leon Narbey, it featured personalities Gary McCormick, Ginette McDonald, John Clarke, Peter Jackson, and others. Screening at a time (1996) when New Zealanders were just beginning to appreciate these neglected everyday objects as ‘collectibles,' it rated highly, and inspired a sequel, Kiwi As.
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 ...
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.
An epic documentary chronicling the extraordinary life of Kiwi filmmaker Colin McKenzie. Or is it? McKenzie's achievements included cinematic innovations involving steam power and eggs, and an unfinished biblical tale filmed on the West Coast. The first television screening of this Costa Botes/Peter Jackson production memorably stirred up New Zealand audiences. Forgotten Silver went on to screen at international film festivals in Cannes and Venice — where it won a special critics' prize.
Jack Brown Genius is the story of an obsessive flight of fancy. The spirit of a thousand year old Monk (Stuart Devenie) inhabits the mind of a contemporary New Zealand inventor (Tim Balme), who is inspired to turn the idea of human-powered flight into reality. Along the way he creates havoc for his pal Dennis (Marton Csokas), steals his girlfriend (Nicola Murphy), incinerates the factory of his Boss, and incurs the wrath of the Boss's financial backer Sylvia (Lisa Chappell). The film won director Tony Hiles a 1996 Film and Television Award.
This excerpt from arts show The Edge looks at the early days of Weta, the Wellington effects company which would win Oscars for King Kong and Avatar. Dressed in a Tintin T-shirt, Peter Jackson talks about the effects being crafted for Heavenly Creatures, and forecasts a future where filmmaking will go digital. Richard Taylor — later head of Weta Workshop — crafts a sea creature for another project; George Port guides viewers through the basics of digital effects. At this point Port was Weta's only digital effects expert. He worked on Heavenly Creatures for seven months straight.
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.
September 1994 marked a turning point in Peter Jackson's career. With the debut of his film Heavenly Creatures, many critics began to see him in a new light. This One Network News piece interviews Jackson at Wellington Airport, shortly after winning a Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival for Heavenly Creatures. Jackson says he plans to keep making movies in New Zealand, and pays tribute to his late producer Jim Booth. Five months later, Jackson was nominated for his first Academy Award. Three months after that, he began Hollywood-funded movie The Frighteners in NZ.
Musician and movie fan Chris Knox reviews Heavenly Creatures in this excerpt from 1990s arts show The Edge. Knox calls Peter Jackson's film about real life friends and murderers Juliet Hulme and Pauline Parker "brave and often astonishing". He praises Jackson's use of special effects for evoking the teenagers' heightened state of mind, but suspects that during other scenes a more naturalistic approach would have helped the characters. The clips from the Oscar-nominated movie include some of Weta's earliest digital effects, and Peter Jackson's cameo outside a cinema.
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.
Valley of the Stereos is a comic face-off that starts tinny, but gleefully escalates to bass heavy, as a not-so-zen hippy (Danny Mulheron) gets caught up in a vale-blasting battle with the noisy bogan next door (Murray Keane). Made by many key Peter Jackson collaborators, the near-wordless pump up the volume tale was directed by George Port, shortly before he became founding member of Jackson's famed effects-house Weta Digital. Ironically Weta's computer-generated miracles would help render the stop motion imagery seen in the finale largely a thing of the past.
Director Peter Jackson's second feature Meet the Feebles offers even more bad taste than his debut. The irreverent, outlandish, part-musical satire is populated almost entirely by puppets, but it is by no means cute. The motley creatures are all members of a variety show that’s working up to a major performance. They include Bletch the two-timing pornographer walrus, an obese hippo femme fatale, a drug-dealing rat, and a heroin-addicted frog — in other words, something to offend everyone. Richard King writes about the creation of New Zealand's first puppet movie here.
Screened on a TVNZ arts show, this documentary looks at how the strings were pulled on Peter Jackson's low-budget puppet movie Meet the Feebles. An old Wellington railway shed fizzes with energy and imagination as a team peppered with future Oscar-winners crafts the gleefully subversive Muppets parody. Jackson muses on his influences, processes and propensity for "savage humour" in a fascinating interview. Included is footage of his childhood films — war movies and stop motion animation made with his first 8mm camera. Richard King writes about Meet the Feebles here.
After concocting all manner of outlandish images on 8mm film, Bad Taste was Peter Jackson’s breakthrough; years in the making, it was the first feature to make it from his Pukerua Bay backyard to cinema screens, where it quickly began to rack up sales. An all-male cast of public service Alien Investigation and Detection Service operatives run amok with guns, food, vomit, rockets and misguided enthusiasm, to rid the earth of alien Lord Crumb and his fast-food gang — who want to turn earthlings into hamburgers. Jackson took two acting roles in this ‘splatstick’ sensation.
This documentary showcases some of the tricks of the trade used by Peter Jackson in the making of his first feature — the aliens-amok-in-Makara splatter classic, Bad Taste. Compiled following the film's 1988 Cannes market screening, it's framed around an extensive interview with a 25-year-old Jackson at his parents’ Pukerua Bay home. These excerpts offer fascinating insight into his ingenuity: from building a DIY Steadicam, to the making of the infamous sheep-obliterating rocket launcher scene, to PJ musing on the impetus that being an only child provided him.
The Lounge Bar marks the second film by legendary music/theatre group The Front Lawn, which began as Don McGlashan and Harry Sinclair. The plot: two men and a woman (Lucy Sheehan) meet at a deserted bar. Pivoting on amnesia and woven together by music, two time frames are seamlessly combined and a darkly humorous plot unfolds. The film got wide global release (including Ireland, Germany and the USA). It was a finalist in the first American Film Festival. McGlashan later formed band The Mutton Birds; Sinclair continued as a filmmaker.