Sir Peter Robert Jackson, ONZ, KNZM, (born 31 October 1961), is a New Zealand film director, producer and screenwriter who is best known for his The Lord of the Rings film trilogy and its prequel The Hobbit film trilogy, adapted from the novels of the same name by J. R. R. Tolkien. His other notable films include King Kong, The Frighteners, Heavenly Creatures and The Lovely Bones, as well as producing District 9 and The Adventures of Tintin.
He began his career with “splatstick” horror comedies including Meet the Feebles, Braindead and Bad Taste. He shared an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay nomination with his partner Fran Walsh for the film Heavenly Creatures before coming to mainstream prominence. Jackson has been awarded three Academy Awards in his career, including the award for Best Director in 2003. He has also received a Golden Globe, a Saturn Award and three BAFTA’s amongst others.
His most regular collaborators are co-writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens. Jackson was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2002. He was later knighted (as a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit) by Sir Anand Satyanand, the then Governor-General of New Zealand, at a ceremony in Wellington in April 2010.
The splatter period
Over four years (from 1983 to 1987) Jackson’s first feature, Bad Taste, grew in haphazard fashion from a short film into a 90-minute splatter comedy, with many of Jackson’s friends acting and working on it for free. Shooting was normally done in the weekends since Jackson was now working full-time. Bad Taste is about aliens that come to earth with the intention of turning humans into food. Jackson had two acting roles including a famous scene in which he fights himself on top of a cliff.
The film was finally completed thanks to a late injection of finance from the New Zealand Film Commission, after Jim Booth, the body’s executive director, became convinced of Jackson’s talent (Booth later left the Commission to become Jackson’s producer). In May 1987, Bad Taste was unveiled at the Cannes Film Festival, where rights to the film quickly sold to twelve countries.
Around this time Peter Jackson began working on writing a number of film scripts, in varied collaborative groupings with playwright Stephen Sinclair, writer Fran Walsh and writer/actor Danny Mulheron. Walsh would later become his life partner. Some of the scripts from this period, including a sequel to A Nightmare on Elm Street, have never been made into movies; the proposed zombie film Braindead underwent extensive rewrites.
Jackson’s next film to see release was Meet the Feebles (1989), co-written by the four writers mentioned above. An ensemble musical comedy starring Muppet-style puppets, Meet the Feebles originally began as a short film intended for television, but was rapidly expanded into a full-length film after unexpected enthusiasm from Japanese investors, and the collapse of Braindead, six weeks before filming. Begun on a very low budget, Meet the Feebles went weeks over schedule. Jackson stated of his second feature length film, “It’s got a quality of humour that alienates a lot of people.. It’s very black, very satirical, very savage.” Feebles marked Jackson’s first collaboration with special effects team Richard Taylor and Tania Rodger, who would later work on all Jackson’s movies.
Jackson’s next release was the horror comedy Braindead (1992) (released in North America as Dead Alive), now seen as a landmark in splatter movies. Originally planned as a Spanish co-production, the film reversed the usual zombie plot. Rather than keeping the zombies out of his place of refuge, the hero attempts to keep them inside, while maintaining a façade of normality. The film features extensive special effects including miniature trams, stop motion and a plethora of gory make-up effects.
Heavenly Creatures and Forgotten Silver
Released in 1994 after Jackson won a race to bring the story to the screen, Heavenly Creatures marked a major change for Jackson in terms of both style and tone. The film is based on real-life events: namely the Parker–Hulme murder in which two teenage girls in 1950s Christchurch became close friends and later murdered the mother of one of the girls. Jackson’s partner Fran Walsh helped persuade him that the events had the makings of a movie; Jackson has been quoted saying that the film “only got made” because of her enthusiasm for the subject matter. Many New Zealanders were apprehensive about how Jackson would treat the material, an apprehension that would later turn in many cases to relief. The film’s fame coincided with the New Zealand media tracking down the real-life Juliet Hulme, who now wrote books under the name Anne Perry. Jackson would cast the actors Melanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet in the roles of Parker and Hulme. Heavenly Creatures received considerable critical acclaim, including an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay and making top ten of the year lists in Time, The Guardian, The Sydney Morning Herald, and The New Zealand Herald. The success of Heavenly Creatures won Jackson attention from US company Miramax, who promoted the film vigorously in America and signed the director to a first-look deal.
The following year, in collaboration with Wellington film-maker Costa Botes, Jackson co-directed the mockumentary Forgotten Silver (1995). This ambitious made-for-television piece told the story of New Zealand film pioneer Colin McKenzie, who had supposedly invented colour film and ‘talkies’, and attempted an epic film of Salome before being forgotten by the world. Though the programme played in a slot normally reserved for drama, no other warning was given that it was fictionalised and many viewers were outraged at discovering Colin McKenzie had never existed. The number of people who believed the increasingly improbable story provides testimony to Jackson and Botes’ skill at playing on New Zealand’s national myth of a nation of innovators and forgotten trail-blazers.
Hollywood, Weta, and the Film Commission
The success of Heavenly Creatures helped pave the way for Jackson’s first big budget Hollywood film, The Frighteners starring Michael J. Fox, in 1996. Thanks partly to support from American producer Robert Zemeckis, Jackson was given permission to make this comedy/horror film entirely in New Zealand despite being set in a North American town. This period was a key one of change for both Jackson and Weta Workshop, the special effects company — born from the one man contributions of George Port to Heavenly Creatures — with which Jackson is often associated. Weta, initiated by Jackson and key collaborators, grew rapidly during this period to incorporate both digital and physical effects, make-up and costumes, the first two areas normally commanded by Jackson collaborator Richard Taylor.
The Frighteners was regarded as a commercial failure. Some critics expressed disappointment that it displayed little of the anarchistic humor of Jackson’s early movies and that the script felt underdeveloped. In February 1997, Jackson launched legal proceedings against the New Zealand Listener magazine for defamation, over a review of The Frighteners which claimed that the film was “built from the rubble of other people’s movies”. In the end, the case was not pursued further. Around this time Jackson’s remake of King Kong was shelved by Universal Studios, partly because of Mighty Joe Young and Godzilla, both giant monster movies, that had already gone into production. Universal feared it would be thrown aside by the two higher budget movies.
This period of transition seems not to have been entirely a happy one; it also marked one of the high points of tension between Jackson and the New Zealand Film Commission since Meet the Feebles had gone over-budget earlier in his career. Jackson has claimed the Commission considered firing him from Feebles, though the NZFC went on to help fund his next three films. In 1997, the director submitted a lengthy criticism of the Commission for a magazine supplement meant to celebrate the body’s 20th anniversary, criticising what he called inconsistent decision-making by inexperienced board members. The magazine felt that the material was too long and potentially defamatory to publish in that form; a shortened version of the material went on to appear in Metro magazine. In the Metro article Jackson criticized the Commission over funding decisions concerning a film he was hoping to executive produce, but refused to drop a client-confidentiality clause that allowed them to publicly reply to his criticisms.
The Lord of the Rings
Peter Jackson won the rights to film J. R. R. Tolkien’s epic in 1997 after meeting with producer Saul Zaentz. Originally working with Miramax towards a two-film production, Jackson was later pressured to render the story as a single film, and finally overcame a tight deadline by making a last minute deal with New Line, who were keen on a trilogy.
Principal photography stretched from 11 October 1999 to 22 December 2000 with extensive location filming across New Zealand. With the benefit of extended post-production and extra periods of shooting before each film’s release, the series met huge success and sent Jackson’s popularity soaring. The Return of the King itself met with huge critical acclaim, winning eleven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. The film was the first of the fantasy film genre to win the award for Best Picture and was the second sequel to win Best Picture (the first being The Godfather Part II).
Jackson’s mother, Joan, died three days before the release of the first movie in the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring. There was a special showing of the film after her funeral.
Following The Return of the King, Jackson lost a large amount of weight –over 50 pounds (23 kg) to the point of being unrecognisable to some fans. In The Daily Telegraph, he attributed his weight loss to his diet. He said, “I just got tired of being overweight and unfit, so I changed my diet from hamburgers to yogurt and muesli and it seems to work.”
Universal Studios signed Peter Jackson for a second time to remake the 1933 classic King Kong — the film that inspired him to become a film director as a child. He was reportedly paid a fee of US$20 million upfront, the highest salary ever paid to date to a film director in advance of production, against a 20 percent take of the box-office rentals (the portion of the price of the ticket that goes to the film distributor, in this case Universal). The film was released on 14 December 2005, and grossed around US$550 million worldwide.
The Lovely Bones
Jackson completed an adaptation of Alice Sebold’s bestseller, The Lovely Bones, which was released in the United States on 11 December 2009. Jackson has said the film was a welcome relief from his larger-scale epics. The storyline’s combination of fantasy aspects and themes of murder bears some similarities to Heavenly Creatures.
The film was an anticipated Best Picture Oscar contender, but ended up receiving poor reviews and middling box office returns. It currently holds 32% rotten on Rotten Tomatoes.
The Tintin franchise
Jackson is the main producer on The Adventures of Tintin, directed by Steven Spielberg. He is officially labeled as producer but helped Spielberg, before he began working on The Hobbit, directing the film. He also supervised Weta Digital on the post production of the film. Jamie Bell and Andy Serkis were cast due to their collaboration with Peter Jackson on King Kong and The Lord of the Rings. Spielberg also chose to work with Peter Jackson due to the impressive digital work on the Lord of the Rings films, and knew Peter Jackson’s company Weta Workshop would make his vision a reality. It received positive reviews and grossed $373 million at the box office.
In December 2011, Spielberg confirmed a sequel to his 3D movie will be made and are said to be based on The Seven Crystal Balls and Prisoners of the Sun. He explained the Thompson detectives will “have a much bigger role”. The sequel will be produced by Spielberg and directed by Jackson. Kathleen Kennedy said the script might be done by February or March 2012 and motion-captured in summer 2012, so that the movie will be on track to be released on either Christmas 2014 or summer 2015. In February 2012, Spielberg revealed to Total Film that they had completed a story outline for the sequel.
Re-Published: Mar 7, 2013