Interview: Peter Jackson lords over his series of Tolkien movies
Peter Jackson, New Zealand’s best known writer-director-producer of films that have been happily boggling viewers’ minds for the past couple of decades, appeared to be very relaxed the morning after his newest, “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies,” premiered in London a couple of weeks ago.
It’s the end of the road for his critically and financially successful series of J.R.R. Tolkien adaptations that began with one film of each of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, and has now come full circle with the third of three films based on “The Hobbit.”
Jackson, 53, aside from that air of relaxation, also looked both tired and satisfied. Though in past years, during discussions of his massive Tolkien films, he’d spoken about recognizing his responsibility to the stories and the characters, he now smiled and said, “I don’t have the responsibility anymore. I can go to the beach.”
Q: So, is this really the end of Middle-earth for you? There’s still Tolkien’s book “The Silmarillion” out there.
A: We’ll have the extended cut of “The Battle of the Five Armies.” I go back to New Zealand in the new year and will be working for four or five months putting that together. But after that, well, the Tolkien estate owns the writings. The film rights for “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” were sold by Professor Tolkien in the late-’60s. But they were the only two works of his that have ever been sold. So without the cooperation of the Tolkien estate, there can’t be more films.
Q: Now that this film series is done, could you explain how it actually started, and why the “Rings” films were made before “The Hobbit,” even though “The Hobbit” was written first?
A: Seventeen years ago, we made a pitch to [producer] Harvey Weinstein. We said, “If you can get us the rights to these books, we’d like to make ‘The Hobbit’ as one film, and if it’s successful, we’d then like to do ‘The Lord of the Rings’ as two movies back to back, and release them six months apart.” That was the big grand plan. And now, 17 years later, it’s become six movies, where we made them the wrong way around. It’s all been very weird and unpredictable. It was circumstances and fate. The one thing I’m very proud of is that I think that when people do see the six films as a series, in the right order, they’ll sort of sense that there was some vague design behind it all.
Q: What’s your favorite film out of the six?
A: I like “The Two Towers,” and I particularly like the Battle of Helm’s Deep sequence in that film.
Q: You’ve raised the bar as far as using new technologies in your films, especially with the use of motion capture that turned Andy Serkis into Gollum. Do you intend to continue along that road?
A: The thing that’s raising the bar with technology is that you do it because you have to do it. It’s not a chicken and egg thing, where you say, “What’s a great piece of technology we can develop and then let’s find a script that we can use it with.”
Once we knew we were doing the Tolkien movies, we had to create battle scenes and we had to write software to create characters and creatures that didn’t exist, and the performance capture was developed. So it’s always the technology is driven by the needs of the story you’re telling.
If, several years ago, instead of doing “The Lord of the Rings,” I was doing a drama in a fish-and-chips shop, then we wouldn’t have developed performance capture. So you start with the project or the story and you think, “How the hell are we going to do it?” That’s what pushes the technology along.
Q: Will these films ever be re-released in their “proper” order?
A: We’re probably about three or four years away from the generation that will see these six movies in the story order that they should see them. Children that are 3 or 4 years old now are too young to see these films. But in a few years, they’ll be able to start to see them, and hopefully they’ll see them from “The Hobbit 1” through to “The Return of the King.” It’ll exist as the six-film story that it should be.
Q: How do you hope these films will inspire today’s kids?
A: I hope I inspire kids to make films. I’m sitting here today, being the result of TV and films that I saw as a kid, like “Thunderbirds,” “King Kong,” Ray Harryhausen’s movies. They’re the reasons why I’m here. They excited me; they inspired me to become obsessive about making films. So it would be a wonderful thing if there were young kids today who were getting affected by our films in the same way.
Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now.