Director in Focus: Peter Jackson

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December 2016 marked fifteen years since Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy first graced our screens, bringing J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy to life. There is no denying that Jackson’s ambitious trilogy changed cinema, producing new advances in filmmaking techniques and reinvigorating interest in what had been a rapidly declining genre.

Born on October 31st, 1961 Sir Peter Robert Jackson is perhaps New Zealand’s most prolific cinematic figure. Having had no formal training Jackson learned his craft through trial and error beginning just aged nine, having been given a Super 8 camera. His passion for films and filmmaking has led to an illustrious and varied career beginning in 1987 with the release of Bad Taste, a low-budget horror-comedy wherein the population of a small town is replaced by carnivorous aliens hunting human flesh for their intergalactic food-chain. Shot on weekends and employing many of his friends, Jackson completed the film after a cash injection by the New Zealand Film Commission and it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.

The release of Heavenly Creatures (1994) marked a distinct change in Jackson’s style and tone. Based on the real-life Parker-Hulme murder case in which two friends conspired to murder one of their mothers, the film explores the relationship of two girls who experience an intense fantasy life and seek revenge after their separation by concerned parents. The film received considerable critical acclaim, earning Jackson his first Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. His growing popularity led to a number of successful films including the mockumentary Forgotten Silver (1995), and The Frighteners (1996) a horror-comedy starring Michael J. Fox.

In 1997 Jackson’s growing success and popularity led to him winning the rights to film adaptations of Tolkien’s material beginning with The Fellowship of the Ring (2001). Originally set to be a single film, Jackson was able to pursue his vision for an epic trilogy after a last minute deal with New Line Cinema which allowed Jackson to serve as screenwriter, director and producer. Shot over twelve months and released over three years The Lord of the Rings trilogy has becomes one of the highest grossing franchises earning an estimated $1,604,293,800. The final film in the trilogy, The Return of the King, was awarded eleven Oscars including Best Picture (becoming only the second sequel to do so after Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part II) and Jackson’s only Oscar for Best Director.

Following this success Jackson directed the epic monster remake of his favourite childhood film King Kong (2005) and then went on to adapt Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones (2009). Jackson’s Middle Earth saga was completed with The Hobbit (2012—2014), a prequel trilogy following the unexpected adventure of Frodo Baggins’ uncle Bilbo. Though the trilogy was not as critically acclaimed as its predecessor, it was no less successful making Jackson’s Middle Earth series the sixth highest grossing franchise earning an estimated $2,356,857,100 worldwide.

There can be no doubt that Jackson’s work and success within the genre has changed attitudes leading to renewed confidence in the genre. Without Jackson to pave the way it is likely such successful properties as Harry Potter (2001-2011) and HBO’s Game of Thrones (2011—) would never have come to fruition. For that, we salute you Peter Jackson.

Did you know:

  • Jackson’s cameo as the Boatswain accidentally killed by Legolas’ “warning shot” in Return of the King spawned an action figure
  • He regularly collaborates with Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh whom he married and shares two children, two trilogies, and two Academy Awards
  • He was knighted in 2010

The Film You Should Watch: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

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About Author

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Graduate in Film and an MA student in Creative Writing. Avid reader of YA novels. Cosplayer. Storyteller. Netflixer. Browncoat. Bucketlist includes flying an X-Wing, completing a novel, and working with Joss Whedon and Michelle Fairley.

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