The Ten Most Interesting Directors of the Now – Peter Jackson

This marks the fifth entry in the Ten Most Interesting Directors of the Now series, honoring those film-makers who we just can’t see enough of in our cinemas. Joining our previous entries Edgar Wright, Nicholas Winding Refn, Matthew Vaughn and Duncan Jones on the list is the man who created the epic for our generation: Peter Jackson.

Pictured here with the original King Kong.

The story of Peter Jackson reads like a classic Hollywood underdog story, and carries the moral that a dedicated soul can achieve their dreams. Growing up in a small town in New Zealand puts you almost as far away from the Hollywood system as possible, leaving Jackson to carve his own path through industry.

Being influenced by the works of Ray Harryhausen, Monty Python and Thunderbirds, he was a film fan from the beginning. When a family friends bought his parents a Super 8 camera with him in mind Jackson went straight to work putting together a stop-motion version of King Kong, a James Bond spoof, a WWII movie and a ten minute short called ‘The Valley’ which garnered him an award.

Not this one.

As a young adult, working full time at a newspaper office, Jackson invested his weekends and money into his first full length feature – Bad Taste. This spatter comedy remains unique even in the time of Shaun of the Dead and Dale and Tucker vs Evil. The low budget meant plenty of innovation in the effects department, including a scene where two characters, both played by Jackson, get in a fist fight with the footage shot months apart. This attention to detail in the planning and execution of the shoot speaks volumes about the potential already on display.

Yes, he is eating that man's brain with a spoon. It's where he gets his power.

Those who were left queasy after Bad Taste were put to the ultimate test with the more accomplished Braindead (Dead Alive in the US). This was the first collaboration with his future partner Fran Walsh, who went on to play a role in almost all his future works. Meet the Feelbles, a sickly send-up of The Muppet Show, followed this effort. Although its savage sense of humour and brutal finale alienated some viewers this macabre film has developed a cult following and remains in strong circulation.

Whilst these efforts demonstrated a director working beyond expectations on early projects, many couldn’t see past the blood, brains and stuffing being flung about the screen. Whilst his films were receiving positive reviews from horror buffs, the big names weren’t listening. Fran Walsh then brought him a story with cinematic potential – the Parker-Hulme Matricide case.

At first Jackson wasn’t convinced, but Walsh’s enthusiasm turned him around. It was this feature that demonstrated his ability to manipulate the viewers in a drama and thriller just as easily as in a gross-out horror/comedy. The remarkable quality of the movie ultimately called Heavenly Creatures is that the viewer spends the first part of the film sympathising with the young girls before they come to the realisation that they are bat-shit crazy. The horror of the final scene is one that would ultimately haunt viewers long after the credits roll. The other revelation of the movie was the screen debut of the fantastic Kate Winslet, who was picked for the role out of a group of 175 hopefuls.

It's set in the past. Which was in black and white.

Jackson’s lesser known mockumentary, Forgotten Silver, was then created in collaboration with Costa Botes. Any film fan who hasn’t seen this tongue-in-cheek, highly convincing piece of work plays on the New Zealand national myth of forgotten innovators, weaving a brilliant yarn about the worlds greatest and forgotten film-maker. Slight controversy surrounded its television premier, as some viewers didn’t pick up on it being fiction. It’s also fun for Lord of the Rings fans to spot a few familiar faces including Sarah McCleod. The massive acclaim Jackson received allowed him to score his first Hollywood production, a Michael J. Fox starring horror comedy The Frighteners. Although considered a flop (personally I think it’s a ripper – best Grim Reaper ever!) it lead Jackson to establish the Weta Workshop to provide the digital and visual effects, make-up and costumes.

Now that Jackson and Weta had this set-up in Wellington they started to look for a project that would make the most of it. Not one to think small Jackson looked to Middle-Earth for inspiration. Originally shopped around the studios as a two feature film, which was picked up by Miramax, their push to make it a single film was avoided at the last minute when New Line stepped in and suggested making it a trilogy. The success and impact of these three films has sent waves through the business with ‘epic trilogy’ becoming the vogue approach to film-making.

Whilst this series of movies are undoubtedly Jackson’s opus, and considered among the best movies ever released, there’s to much to say about them in this feature.

Following up this epic Jackson directed the equally ambitious King Kong and The Lovely Bones. Both films continue the directors style of bright, striking visual displays enhanced through computer generated effects. Each of them reaches above the basic premise to engage the viewer with well developed characters and emotionally driven themes. These traits made him the perfect person to collaborate with Steven Spielberg on the brilliant adventure adaptation The Adventures of Tintin, for which he is likely to direct a sequel.

Fans of the Lord of the Rings movies can know look forward to Jackson helming The Hobbit movies, the first due for release in 2012. Jackson also has a range of projects in circulation as a producer. These include such big names as a potential Halo feature that eventually became District 9, a remake of The Dam Busters written by Stephen Fry, Temeraire – about a dragon rider fighting in the Napoleonic wars and a number of video game projects.

Peter Jackson is the Steven Spielberg for a new era. His movies speak to wide audiences and cover a range of genres. Young film-makers look to him for inspiration and his name attached to a project is a stamp of quality. His Kubrick level of perfectionism (without the cold manner) gives a depth to the quality of his pictures and the attention of detail given to each scene makes them rich viewing experiences. With films like Lord of the Rings, Forgotten Silver and King Kong it creates fantasies that the viewer more than happy to get lost in.

One to look forward to in 2012.

On a personal note, after spending years studying film at university it’s easy to become cynical about the Hollywood blockbuster. Lord of the Rings reminded me why I fell in love with cinema as a child. Thanks you Peter Jackson!