When the last Lord of the Rings film won Academy Awards glory in 2004, jokes were made about running out of Kiwis to thank. Taika Waititi’s nap and Anna Paquin’s stutter have also made Oscar night news through the years. Along with the Oscar magnet that is the Weta effects empire, comes a largely unsung legacy of Oscar recognition. Celebrate some of the Kiwi winners and nominees via NZ On Screen's collection of Kiwis at the Oscars: from hobbits, heavenly creatures and whale riders to Two Cars, a woozy gold rush tale, an extreme ski documentary and more...
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.
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 Return 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 NZ 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.
Bob Stenhouse worked largely alone to visualise this luminously-animated ode to the "nation of drunkards" (as New Zealand was tagged in the House of Lords in 1838). A shepherd tricks a Mackenzie barman out of a bottle of ‘Hokonui Lightning', but too much pioneer spirit sees him haunted by the devil's daughter. In 1986 Frog was nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Short; later an animation festival in Annecy, France judged it one of the best animated films made that century. A short 'making of' clip at the end offers hints of the hard work behind the film's distinctive look.
Off the Edge was director Michael Firth's ode to the exhilaration of adventuring on the spine of New Zealand's Southern Alps. Something of a snowy Endless Summer, the film follows an American and a Canadian as they ski, hang-glide, walk, climb and delve beneath glaciers, in the Aoraki-Mt Cook area. Thrilling footage amidst requisite spectacular scenery was shot over two seasons, where extreme weather and geography meant few chances for second takes. The film was nominated for an Oscar (Best Documentary in 1977); the LA Times called it "beautiful and awesome".
More than 100,000 New Zealanders served overseas in World War l. Over 18,000 died; at least 40,000 more were wounded. Campaigns involving Kiwis, from Gallipoli to the Western Front, were identity-forming, and the war's effects on society were deep. The World War l Collection is an evolving onscreen remembrance. Military expert Chris Pugsley writes about the collection here.
Chris Dudman is an award-winning filmmaker with credits in New Zealand and the UK. His short film Blackwater Summer was nominated for a Student Academy Award. Dudman has gone on to direct both documentary (New Zealand at War, The Day that Changed My Life, Zoo) and drama (Oscar Kightley police show Harry, short film Choice Night). Dudman also directs TV commercials, including the popular Pukeko ads for Genesis Energy.
Kiwi production designer Grant Major has worked on many of New Zealand’s biggest films such as An Angel At My Table, Heavenly Creatures, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Whale Rider, and King Kong. In 2004, Major won an Academy Award for his design work on The Return of the King.
Youngsters Romeo, Ed, and Polly wait in two cars after dark while their parents are inside drinking. It’s a situation many Kiwis would recognise: cars in loco parentis outside the bar or rugby club. Soon cross-car rivalry warms to budding friendship. Winning performances, and the tender mix of comedy and romance saw the tale of a Te Kaha pub carpark become an international hit. Two Cars won a boot-full of awards, launched Waititi’s career, and was the second NZ short to gain an Oscar nod (Waititi infamously feigned sleep during the 2005 Academy Awards ceremony).