Director Peter Jackson
Bringing Middle-earth to the silver screen
Peter Jackson, a little-known director from New Zealand, has taken on one of the most daunting tasks in Hollywood history—not just bringing J.R.R. Tolkien's beloved The Lord of the Rings to the silver screen successfully, but creating three epic films at the same time.
Jackson, or "PJ" as he is known by fans, didn't start out intending to make a three-film epic. He had originally wanted to make a fantasy like The Lord of the Rings, but then he decided to make a movie version of Tolkien's masterpiece itself rather than a pale imitation. He convinced Miramax Films to back a pair of "Rings" films and they acquired rights to The Lord of the Rings in 1996. But they eventually balked at the cost of making the two films.
Middle-earth on Film
Tolkien's stories of Middle-earth have never been presented as live action films before. In 1977 The Hobbit was produced as an animated television movie. The following year Ralph Bakshi released The Lord of the Rings as an animated feature. Not only did it fare poorly at the box office, it never even finished telling the story. A second television special, The Return of the King, was made as a sequel.
"A certain form of madness"
When Peter Jackson set out to create his own Lord of the Rings he was determined not to leave his audience hanging. "I think it's unfair to say to an audience, 'Come to The Fellowship of the Ring and, if it's successful, we'll make part two'" said Jackson of the films' production. "We are making the entire trilogy one long film shoot, and then we'll cut them all together. I guess it's a certain form of madness."
Madness perhaps; a massive undertaking, certainly. The filming and production of The Lord of the Rings films cost more than $270 million. Shooting lasted an almost unheard-of 14 months, beginning on October 11, 1999, and ending December 22, 2000. Jackson had to direct seven camera crews working simultaneously across the country. All of New Zealand got behind the film effort—the prime minister even assigned a battalion of soldiers to participate in battle scenes.
History, Not Fantasy
Jackson has also had to rise to the challenge of pleasing Tolkien's devoted fans. An impassioned fan himself, Jackson insisted that everyone on the set have a copy of The Lord of the Rings to refer to. Yet he has not, like the producers of Harry Potter, remained slavishly true to the text. His expansion of the role of the Elven princess Arwen, for example, generated significant concern and online debate.
What Jackson has been true to is Tolkien's intentions. Like Tolkien, he has approached the story as history rather than fantasy (Tolkien saw himself as recreating a mythic history, and didn't actually care much for the genre of fantasy). While Middle-earth is filled with fantastic creatures, Jackson didn't want to, as he puts it, "go overboard in the mumbo-jumbo department." Instead he emphasized the characters' struggles and the world's rich history. He has also endeavored to avoid two common pitfalls of Hollywood fantasy films—making a story either too childish or too dark.
Friendship, Sacrifice, and Loss
As varied and bizarre as many of Jackson's early films have been (see Films of Peter Jackson below), he has always focused on his characters and their relationships. While filmgoers got some great action from The Lord of the Rings, they got strong emotion as well. What has held readers for almost 50 years and inspired Jackson to put such effort into the films is not the battle at Helm's Deep or the flight from the Mines of Moria, but the overriding themes of friendship and self-sacrifice, and of loss.
"We are trying to make those exact themes come across very strongly" says Jackson. "What we are trying to do with these movies is not be sentimental, but to be emotional. And emotion, genuine emotion, is very different than sentiment, which is a slightly cheaper version of emotion."
Standing in Rivendell
Although he has spent years on this project, no one could be happier than Jackson by the making of the films. "One of the great perks about being involved in a film like this, especially loving The Lord of the Rings as I do, is that I get to walk into Rivendell—I don't just see it on the movie, I actually get to be there . . . It's an experience that I'll never ever have again."
Films of Peter Jackson
Peter Jackson was born on Halloween, 1961, in a small town in New Zealand. His interest in filmmaking began when his parents got an 8mm camera. By the time he was twelve he had made his first film— a World War II movie complete with special effects—in his backyard. A decade later he made the first of many feature-length films. His partner, Frances Walsh, has collaborated with him on most of his films.
His films include: