Director Peter Jackson

Updated February 28, 2017 | Infoplease Staff

Bringing Middle-earth to the silver screen

by Laura Hayes
Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson

"I want to take movie-goers into Middle-earth, in a way that is believable and powerful."
—Peter Jackson

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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.

Jackson took his proposal to New Line Cinema in July 1998 in an effort to save the project. New Line loved the idea and quickly convinced Jackson to make not two films, but three, and on a grand scale. Part of Jackson's appeal to New Line was that he could make the movies for less in New Zealand and could use his own special effects studios, Weta Digital and Weta Workshop. New Line also agreed to let Jackson become the first person ever to direct and produce three films at once.

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.

In recreating Middle-earth no detail was left to chance: the gardens of the to-scale set of Hobbiton were planted a year before filming began; language coaches ensured the correct pronunciation and usage of Tolkien's invented languages; and more than 20,000 everyday objects were crafted to satisfy Jackson's insistence that every object seen in the movies belong to Middle-earth.

Like the story's heroes, the cast and crew bonded through the toil and suffering they endured. No one had a vacation during the last months of shooting, and they had to contend with floods, landslides, and snowstorms. Jackson lost both of his parents during filming and production.

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