- Born: 1961
- Rank: 11
- Score: 773.80
- Awards: Oscar / DGA / BAFTA / Golden Globe / BFCA / LAFC / CFC
- Nominations: 2 Oscars / 3 DGA / 3 BAFTA / 4 Golden Globes / 3 BFCA / 4 CFC
- Feature Films: 9
- Best: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
- Worst: Bad Taste
Top 5 Feature Films:
- The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King – 2003
- The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring – 2001
- King Kong – 2005
- The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers – 2002
- Heavenly Creatures – 1994
Top 10 Best Director Finishes (Nighthawk Awards):
- 1994 – 4th – Heavenly Creatures
- 2001 – 1st – The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
- 2002 – 1st – The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
- 2003 – 1st – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
- 2005 – 3rd – King Kong
“He’s gonna do Lord of the Rings?” they scoffed. “The guy who did The Frighteners? That ghost film with Michael J. Fox?” Those were the doubters in the late 90’s when the project was in production, before the first teaser hit in April of 2000, with over a million hits in the first 24 hours (three of them were mine). “He’s gonna do Lovely Bones? That book about the girl who gets raped and killed? The guy who did Lord of the Rings?” Those are the doubters these days. Of course the people who doubted then that he could combine amazing visual effects with a touching human story are the same people now who doubt that he could handle anything so delicate as rape and murder. Of course, in both cases, it’s because those people who doubt him are not film people. If they were, then they saw Heavenly Creatures and they know what Peter Jackson is capable of. Before Heavenly Creatures, Jackson was a low budget director down under. He made an amusing low budget horror-comedy film (Bad Taste) to start his career. Then he made one of the most outlandish films ever, an incredible hilarious completely outrageous cross between the Muppet Show and a porno years before anyone had even conceived of Avenue Q. There are many who can’t tolerate the very existence of Meet the Feebles, and then there are those of us who scream for a good collectors edition DVD because that’s how our sense of humor works. Then he made another horror-comedy film, one which has a good cult following and upped the ante with the comedy and the blood (Dead Alive). Then came the first of the Oscar nominations (he has 8 all told because he is one of those guys who writes, directs and produces). It was for Heavenly Creatures, an amazing true story that combines fact with fantasy and gave Kate Winslet to the world of film. Then he made a television film (Forgotten Silver) about a lost pioneer of New Zealand cinema that was brilliantly made and a practical joke, that being that the guy never really existed and all the footage was faked (because that’s how his sense of humor works). Then he returned to horror-comedy again for the aforementioned Frighteners (a very under-rated film). Then came the years of making Lord of the Rings and the epic 11 Oscars that capped it off. Then came King Kong, which sadly did not get the Oscar attention it deserved (though it did win 3 of them). Now comes The Lovely Bones, a book I hated, but which I think might make an amazing film with Jackson at the helm (like LOTR, it is co-written with his wife Fran Walsh and their partner, Phillipa Barnes). Then will come the Tintin film. He’s directed LOTR, re-made King Kong (one of the first films I ever saw in the theater) and is now making Tintin. It’s like he’s reading my mind.
The Lord of the Rings – #1 film of 2001 / 2002 / 2003
Let’s establish the foreground. I read the book when I was 5 years old and kept going back. I have read them at least once each year since 1997. I have even gone all the way through Christopher Tolkien’s 12 volume History of Middle Earth twice. I had immediately become a big fan of Ian McKellen when his film version of Richard III came out in 1995 and he was also set to play Magneto. I had been a big admirer of Heavenly Creatures. Everything was set for the film adaptation of all-time.
So why is it that my favorite scene in the whole trilogy (it’s one book, but it’s a trilogy of films) is one that never takes place in the books? There’s a very big reason behind it and it proves an amazing point about the entire trilogy. The reason is that I wasn’t expecting it. I know the books backwards and forwards and knew they would have to move things around and cut and paste a bit to make it all fit, that characters would be cut entirely (no Tom Bombadil! YAY!) and that other changes would happen. But in no way was I expecting Aragorn to come upon Frodo and for Frodo to hold out the ring to him. I could have expected Aragorn’s refusal, but the way the ring calls to him, the way he closes Frodo’s fingers and the understanding in both of their eyes is my favorite moment. It was so completely unexpected and it felt so right, even if it never happened in the book. It was true to the characters and provided a brilliant dramatic moment and provided one of my favorite lines: “Look after the others. Especially Sam. He will not understand.” Then there is the reaction; Aragorn backing away quickly, drawing his sword, telling Frodo to run. Because Aragorn knows what must be done and he knows to send Frodo away and buy him some time. And as he went around the corner and he faced the orcs and put his sword to his head I yelled out (if you saw this film in the Century Eastport in Clackamas, OR at 6:00 on opening day that was me who yelled “Aragorn, you are the man!”).
And what point does it prove? How brilliantly the film-makers had approached their material. They knew the characters so well and had done such a good job with the film that knowing what would happen, loving the book so much, my favorite moment was something that wasn’t in the book. Because they had been so successful I was completely won over.
There was never any question that the adaptation was one of the most amazing things about the first film. They had to make people who weren’t familiar with the books grasp what was going on and learn who all these characters were. So wisely they gave a prologue to let you in on the back story (in the Extended Edition, the final shot of the prologue is one of the best camera shots I have ever seen and I wish they had used it in the film – the amazing way the camera floats in on the map, then pulls back then slowly drifts through Bag End until it settles on Bilbo). Then they compressed the early parts of the book and made them seem like at most a few months rather than the 17 years that go by in the book and quickly establish the character traits of the four hobbits, while still allowing for a masterful performance from Ian Holm as Bilbo (how well have you done your job when the theater is full of people who know what’s going to happen and they all jump as they did when the “gollumization” of Bilbo happens). Of course, all of this also rests on the shoulders of Ian McKellen who gives one of the great performances in film, and so much of it is without dialogue – look through the first film at his reaction shots to 1 – Bilbo calling the ring “my precious”, 2 – Frodo saying that there is writing on the ring, 3 – seeing The Eye in the Palantir, 4 – being told by Elrond that the ring cannot stay in Rivendell, 5 – hearing the drums in the deep and 6 – realizing what is coming towards them in Moria. Nor is he alone in this. Look at Orlando Bloom’s fearful reaction to the knowledge of the Balrog and his attempt at comprehension of the finality of death for Boromir (a concept he wouldn’t understand as an elf). Look at Elijah Wood’s reaction shots to Gandalf’s fall and to his decision to go to Mordor.
While the first part clearly established the amazing sets, makeup and costumes, it was the second half of the first film that would establish the Oscars for Cinematography and Visual Effects. So much hinged upon the appearance of the Balrog and the film came through with flying colors, both in technical virtuosity and in emotional power. That they would return to this shot for the start of the next film was a brilliant move that immediately catapulted people into the story. But they were tinkering and making it right all the way until the end. Listen to Merry tell Frodo to run, making it clear that he will distract the orcs. That line is said with a camera on Frodo. That line was almost certainly added in ADR but it so perfectly fits the characters. Merry knows what’s going on and he knows what he has to do, the same way he knows he has to go forth into battle two films later.
Fellowship was nominated for 13 Oscars and won 4 of them. It had good possibilities for winning Picture because of the high nomination count, but there were already many who were expecting King to take home everything and the first two films to not get much. I just wish it could have lost to a better film (I would have been very happy if Moulin Rouge! had won, but the Academy scuttled that by not nominating Baz). The next year, they nominated Two Towers which many people thought might not happen, but they scuttled its chances immediately by not nominating Peter (How? That two years in a row they should not nominate the directors of two films that are so obviously directorial driven is bizarre.). So we hoped for technical awards (which we got – all three of the films won Visual Effects). But then came the final year and the final film and the capping achievement. Two Towers, being a middle film, wasn’t quite up to the other two films. It had good performances, but nothing like the amazing presence of Ian McKellen’s Gandalf in Fellowship, or the emotional power of Sean Astin’s faithful Sam in Return of the King. Had Moulin Rouge! or Mystic River been released in 2002, I would have gone with either of those, but they, unfortunately, went up against the better films and I give Best Picture and Director all three films. While the three films went 17 for 30 at the Oscars, they went 35 for 49 at the Nighthawk Awards (mostly losing acting awards and sometimes losing those to another performance in the film). The third film would give us the most amazing visual effect on film (the Nazgul swooping down on Minas Tirith on the fell beasts), an incredibly edited, photographed and scored shot (the lighting of the beacons), two brave performances that almost changed what we named our son (the revelation of Eowyn and the moment where Sam bursts into tears when he is told to go home) and a final touching moment that would make me cry (“My dear Sam. You cannot always be torn in two. You will have to be one and whole for many years. You have so much to enjoy and to be and to do. Your part in the story will go on.”).
And still it came back to the adaptation, to the way that the three writers would so perfectly take the book and make it fit their film. It would use the final words from Frodo to Sam with such great effect. It would take an end of the day song from Fellowship and make it a haunting song about death sung for a mad steward. It would take the actual narrative description of what awaits those on that final boat and let Gandalf explain it as what happens after death. It would make the most frightening moment in the film (Veronica was with me for 5 of my 10 viewings of ROTK in the theater and she left to use the bathroom just before Shelob came on all 5 times) and make it more terrifying in that Frodo is now facing it alone, but would give Samwise that brilliant moment of seeing the sword glow blue. And then it would give us that perfect ending, those magnificent Alan Lee drawings to remind us of what we’d been waiting for and how much we’d enjoyed what we had finally been given after all these years.