Book: Peter Jackson & the Making of Middle-Earth

The Lord of the Rings trilogy has been the biggest movie event of my generation. By far. Strange to think that it almost didn’t happen. An initial 200 million dollar budget for the director of splatter horror Bad Taste (one of my favorites), was too much of a risk for any Hollywood studio to take. Then Bob Shaye, CEO of New Line Cinema, took a giant leap of faith….

Ian Nathan’s Anything You Can Imagine describes Peter Jackson’s heroic quest that started more than 20 years ago. After he had completed Heavenly Creatures – a critical success that showed he could handle an emotional story – and ghost movie The Frighteners – that lead to the foundation of special effects houses Weta Digital and Weta Workshop in New Zealand – the now hot director selected Rings as one of his new projects to pursue (the others were new versions of two ape classics: King Kong and Planet of the Apes).

Development of The Lord of the Rings started off at Miramax, together with the notorious Weinstein brothers who approached the project with numerous Tony Soprano tactics. Especially Harvey. Problems arose when the Weinsteins couldn’t raise more than 75 million dollars for the initial plan of a two movie adaptation which wasn’t nearly enough. After Jackson understandably refused to make it into one large movie, the Hollywood mogul and Kiwi director had a fall out. Then Jackson’s US manager Ken Kamiss negotiated with Harvey Weinstein and they got four weeks to strike a deal with another studio. This became the now legendary deal with New Line Cinema, who gambled the studio’s future on the project. It was New Line’s Bob Shaye who suggested they make it into three rather than two movies. The Weinsteins got a great bargain out of it: big time profits and their names on the movies’ credits.

So began the longest and most exhaustive production in the history of motion pictures. No studio had ever attempted to shoot a whole trilogy in one go, for good reasons. “Had we known in advance how much we would have to do, we would have never done it”, said Jackson. But a strong passion and drive by the entire cast and crew to bring Tolkien’s world to the big screen in the best possible way they could, eventually lead to a glorious result. Nobody expected it to become that good.

I remember being completely blown away at every screening back in 2001, 2002 and 2003. These movies are absolutely perfect. The first time I saw the fellowship march on Howard Shore’s brilliant score. The wondrous Gollum crawling into frame in the beginning of The Two Towers. The Rohirrim’s epic assault at the Pelennor Fields… And so many other magic moments forever branded in the collective cinematic consciousness. Jackson gave me and my generation a cinematic experience that could match, or even exceed, the excitement of the original Star Wars trilogy.

In The Two Towers, when Gandalf returns from death, he explains to his baffled friends: “I have been sent back until my task is done.” These words are not directly from Tolkien, but from screenwriters Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson and Philippa Boyens. They emphasized fate as one of the core themes of the story: “Bilbo was meant to find the ring. In which case you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.” However pragmatic these New-Zealanders may be, fate was their compass in making those movies. Many chance encounters paved the way, major obstacles arose during production, but they overcame them all. It took the toughness of the bravest of hobbits to drive this one home. Even the conservative Academy didn’t fail to notice what they accomplished, and The Return of the King was awarded 11 major Oscars (except those for acting, the outstanding ensemble cast made it tough to single out any one actor).

Years later, fate lead to Jackson directing The Hobbit and so he had the ‘once in a lifetime experience’ twice (but there won’t be a third time, he has said). Jackson and his loyal team never expected to make better movies than Rings. They made The Hobbit to satisfy the fans. And they did for most part. To them, Jackson is a hero. A maverick filmmaker with an unique vision and the drive and mental toughness to accomplish things previously undreamed of. Jackson and his fellowship of collaborators reminded Hollywood on how to make really major cinema. They also put New-Zealand firmly on the map as country where movies and special effects are dreamt up.

Because special effects are Jackson’s big thing. He discovered the magic of filmmaking when he was nine years old and saw the original King Kong on television. Since that moment, he worked non-stop on creating special effects in his garage and eventually he completed a whole movie (Bad Taste) which became a cult hit. However successful his career got since, he never stopped aiming to satisfy that nine year old boy. In making The Lord of the Rings, he focused on making movies that he would enjoy himself. Even though he is a brilliant, technical craftsman and storyteller, his youthful energy is what really catapults his films from merely good to terrific.

With The Lord of the Rings, he wrote movie history. Anything you can imagine perfectly captures this history of how an outsider succeeded wildly in Hollywood. Much like the heroes of his story, he did it by staying true to himself. He may not have had to face the horrific challenges Frodo had, but at times it certainly came close. Sometimes you need an unlikely hero to change the course of history. And very much like his protagonist Frodo Baggins, Peter Jackson certainly fits that bill.

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My 10 Favorite Horror Movies Ever

Checked and double checked. Darlings killed! This is it:

10. Bad Taste (1987)

Peter Jackson’s inventive low budget debut film is a delight in gory horror and awesome humor. It’s about aliens coming to New Zealand to set-up a supply chain in human flesh for their intergalactic fast food restaurants. What they didn’t count on was secret agent Derek (played by Jackson himself) and his team! Great to see that the visionary director behind The Lord of the Rings trilogy started his career with this hilarious B-movie.

Greatest Moment: The vomit scene: ‘ahhhh, l think the gruel is ready!!’

09. The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Back at the old days, they made great films too, you know. And the Universal Monster Movies are not to be ignored when you’re rating your all-time favorite horrors. The beautiful gothic scenery, spot-on art direction, excellent make-up effects, the universal themes, the humor (the monster smoking a cigar!)… The Bride of Frankenstein is the best in its genre and at least as impressive in the time it was made as its contemporary counterparts. Ehhh, which contemporary counterparts by the way?

Greatest moment: The monster and the hermit.

08. Army of Darkness (1992)

You want some more Evil Dead? Come get some! Ash is back with a chainsaw attached to his wrist and a boomstick on his back. This time around he’s kicking Evil’s ass in medieval times. Isn’t it groovy? Well, yes it is. Besides Raimi’s action-packed script and trademark camera tricks, fans can enjoy a brilliant turn from B-Movie star Bruce Campbell. With his masterful comic timing, loads of one-liners and his lady man skills, he makes Ash a truly lovable hero. Not to mention a horror icon. Hail to the King baby!

Greatest moment: The pit.

07. Scream (1996)

This postmodern take on the slasher genre is both an incredible homage and superb addition to the genre. The screenplay by Kevin Williamson is masterfully written and director Wes Craven finds exactly the right balance between suspense, teenage stupidity, humor and extreme violence. Followed by three decent sequels (and a tv-show), but this first one is the best by far.

Greatest Moment: The revelation who the killer is.

06. Predator (1987)

The first Predator is an unique movie that holds a very special place in my heart. The concept is fairly simple (mysterious alien hunts and kills soldiers and mercenaries in South American jungle), the execution is flawless. It features the greatest team of warriors ever assembled that faces off against the greatest alien ever created for cinema. It’s just awesome in every way.

Greatest moment: There are many great scenes featuring the predator, but Schwarzenegger’s team butchering an entire guerrilla army is so bad-ass that I have to pick that one.

5. Dead Ringers (1988)

Two bodies. Two minds. One Soul. Separation can be a terrifying thing.
No monsters or killers are needed to make a creepy film. The human psyche can be terrifying enough by itself. Jeremy Irons gives an Oscar worthy double performance as a pair of twins who become mentally intertwined together. Brilliant psychological horror by master of bodily transformation, David Cronenberg.

Greatest Moment: The superbly creepy credit sequence and the unsettling ending.

04. Psycho (1960)

Psycho is such an inspirational film that it spawned an entire genre of slasher / serial killer movies. With its groundbreaking narrative techniques and tension building it’s hard to deny the importance of Hitchcock’s masterpiece in cinema history. Janet Leigh is a joy to watch and so is Anthony Perkins in his lunatic performance.

Greatest moment: The shower scene off course, which is completely shocking to this day.

03. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

The scariest horror movie of my childhood and frankly an almost traumatic experience. I recently saw it and even though the scare effect is weakened down somewhat, it is still a deeply chilling experience. Master of Horror Wes Craven takes all the terrible emotions the worst nightmares can cause and uses them to maximum effect.

Greatest moment: The protagonist Nancy has a number of terrifying dreams.

02. Evil Dead II (1987)

Groovy! Comedy and scares are effectively combined in this sequel to Raimi’s classic The Evil Dead*. Yes, it is a sequel, the beginning is just an altered summary of the first flick. Bruce Campbell makes Ash a true horror icon as he chops up his girlfriend and fight his own hand. Slapstick humor and rapid chainsaw action make this a true classic in the genre and Raimi’s best film. They don’t make ‘m like this anymore. Classic.

Greatest moment: In the cellar with sweet Henrietta. Complete madness.

01. Dawn of the Dead (1978)

This is it, my all-time favorite horror movie. What makes it so good? It is just a trip to become part of Romero’s apocalyptic zombie world for a couple of hours. When used properly as in Dawn of the Dead, zombies are really a marvelous invention. They can be sad, scary, or comical and at the same time serve as a metaphor for the consumerist society. The shopping mall as a zombie survivor stronghold works incredibly well. The movie features well written characters, appropriately disgusting special make-up effects by Tom Savini and great music. It is the most atmospheric horror film; very rich in ideas and horrific imagery. I love it.

Greatest moment: Going shopping off course!

*OMITTED:

The Evil Dead (1981)

In 1980 three friends went out to shoot a cheap horror movie that was destined to become a genre classic. The handsome one, Bruce Campbell, became the actor of the group. ‘He was the one that girls wanted to look at.’ Sam Raimi later became a top director in Hollywood (directing Spiderman). And finally, Rob Tapert became a successful producer. The Evil Dead is still a very effective horror flick to this day with many unforgettable moments, such as the tree rape scene and blood-soaked finale.

Greatest Moment: The gory climax in the cabin.

Mijn Top 20 favoriete filmmakers

1. Martin Scorsese
Verantwoordelijk voor mijn favoriete film aller tijden: GoodFellas. Maar maakte talloze andere meesterwerken; Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, Casino, en vele anderen. Scorsese is een echte maestro die nooit teleur stelt.
Beste film: GoodFellas

2. Sergio Leone
Leefde te kort om een enorm portfolio na te laten, maar alles wat hij gedaan heeft is te gek. The Dollars Trilogy met Eastwood zijn de coolste films ooit en Once Upon a Time in America is een geniaal gangster epos.
Beste film: Once Upon a Time in the West

3. Quentin Tarantino
Maakt originele & uber coole films die hij baseert op onbekende pareltjes. Zijn meesterwerk is nog altijd Pulp Fiction, maar Reservoir Dogs en Kill Bill zijn bijna net zo briljant. Maakt nooit iets ondermaats.
Beste film: Pulp Fiction

4. Peter Jackson
Wist de onmogelijke missie om The Lord of the Rings te verfilmen tot een onvoorstelbaar succes te maken. Was daarvoor al een geweldig regisseur die Nieuw-Zeelandse splatter horror films maakte zoals Bad Taste en Braindead.
Beste film: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

5.
The Coen Brothers
Hun oog voor bizarre personages is hyper ontwikkeld, hun humor onovertroffen en hun pen vlijmscherp. Ze maken om de twee jaar een te gekke film al zo’n 25 jaar lang, met hun hoogtepunt in de jaren 90 toen ze achtereenvolgens Fargo, The Big Lebowski en O Brother, Where Art Thou? maakte.
Beste film: Miller’s Crossing

6. Stanley Kubrick
De perfectionist. Leverde meesterwerken af die voor altijd verankerd zijn in de filmgeschiedenis. Wist uit te blinken in verschillende genres waaronder sci-fi (2001: A Space Odyssey), oorlog (Full Metal Jacket) en misdaad (The Killing)
Beste film: A Clockwork Orange

7. Steven Spielberg
Objectief de beste regisseur ter wereld. Weet de magie van film te pakken als geen ander. Heeft talloze klassiekers op zijn staan waaronder E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Schindler’s List en Jurassic Park.
Beste film: Raiders of the Lost Ark

8.
Alfred Hitchcock
Hitchcock weet van een kartonnen doos nog tot een super spannend voorwerp te maken. Ze noemen hem niet voor niets de Master of Suspense. Is waarschijnlijk de meest invloedrijke regisseur ooit. Talloze scènes uit zijn oeuvre staan voor altijd op mijn netvlies gebrand.
Beste film: Rear Window

9. Sam Raimi
Maakte de hoogst vermakelijke Spider Man films, maar waar hij zichzelf wat mij betreft mee onsterfelijk heeft gemaakt is de Evil Dead trilogie. Heerlijke films. Maakte met The Quick and the Dead ook een fantastische western.
Beste film: Evil Dead II

10. Francis Ford Coppola
Hey, hij regisseerde The Godfather trilogie, hoe ga ik hem niet in mijn Top 10 zetten? Was ook verantwoordelijk voor de beste oorlogsfilm aller tijden met Apocalyse Now. Fenomenaal.
Beste film: The Godfather

Daarna volgen:
11. George Lucas (Beste Film: Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope)
12. James Cameron (Beste Film: Terminator 2: Judgment Day)
13. Danny Boyle (Beste Film: Trainspotting)
14. Brian De Palma (Beste Film: The Untouchables)
15. Akira Kurosawa (Beste Film: Throne of Blood)
16. Paul Verhoeven (Beste Film: RoboCop)
17. Robert Zemeckis (Beste Film: Back to the Future Part II)
18. Richard Linklater (Beste Film: Dazed and Confused)
19. Robert Rodriquez (Beste Film: Sin City)
20. Jim Jarmusch (Beste Film: Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai)