Peter Jackson was in an upbeat mood as he began his marathon round of interviews promoting the final, long-awaited chapter in his epic Lord of the Rings trilogy. Sporting his trademark purple t-shirt, khaki shorts, Jackson doesn’t quite know whether or not he is really glad that his dream project is at end.
"Am I glad it’s over?" he repeats when asked the question in a Los Angeles hotel room. "Three films feels good," he muses, even though the director is still working on the DVD extended edition. Three years following our first interview in New York, Jackson is surprised but gratified that even now, he is able to talk about a film trilogy that has consumed him for close to a decade.
"I guess that it’s good that we’re talking about it because if they weren’t very successful nobody would want to talk about it, so I guess it is a sign that people are responding well to the movie."
He concedes, especially at a time when Hollywood studios take few risks, that embarking on this monumental undertaking was "an unbelievable gamble, a gamble that all logic and common sense would tell you that it shouldn’t happen."
Yet happen it did, with The Fellowship of the Ring having taken well over $100 million much to the relief of Hollywood’s New Line Cinema and naturally Jackson himself, who admits he was certainly more relieved than surprised when ‘Fellowship’ took the world by storm.
"You never know or have a clue what you’re making when you’re making it, so at the end of the day, all that I ever rely on is making the movie for myself. I think that this was kind of fraught with little traps where if we listened too much to what the Tolkien fans wanted or their opinions, that we would trip ourselves up and so we just regarded ourselves as Tolkien fans. Thus the decisions that we made were really just what we wanted to enjoy out of the Lord of the Rings."
The Return of the King offers Tolkien and movie fans alike, an emotional conclusion to the classic trilogy, during which Frodo, Sam and Gollum make the final leg of the journey to Mount Doom to destroy the Ring, while Aragorn and the rest of the group defend the city of Gondor from the armies of Sauron.
For Jackson, the trilogy is all about the finale, which has always remained his favourite.
"We always felt that Return of the King was, for us, the strongest film, simply on the basis that it had a climax, and an emotional payoff. The reason why you make a trilogy is because you want to get to the last one as the last chapter is the reason for the first two even existing, so it always felt the most comfortable of the scripts to us."
Interestingly, Jackson first saw the finished film at its New Zealand
premiere, with all visual effects and colour grading. He admitted liking the finished film, he says with typical modesty, "but I was a bit distracted by being interested in what everyone else’s reaction was to it so I wasn’t able to disengage from the fact that this was the first public screening of the movie and the first opportunity that I had to gauge what people were thinking of the film."
Peter says that he could easily have worked more on the film, even conceding that "nothing is perfect and we’ve never once at any stage had a script, edit, special effects shot or a music cue where we’ve said ‘that’s perfect, don’t touch a thing’.
You get to a point when you run out of time, so if we’d worked on it another week or month, it would have been better. Scripts would be better if you worked on them longer but at some point you have to send it out into the big world and hope that people like it."
Much talk of Return of the King has centred on Oscar speculation. After all of these years, perhaps Jackson will admit to actually wanting to clutch that Oscar this time around.
"These Oscar questions are terrible because you’re damned if you do and you’re dammed if you don’t. As a kid that grew up making movies, winning an Oscar is obviously an absolute dream. It’s possible that these movies are the closest I’m ever going to come to an Oscar as I imagine King Kong is not going to get me as close to an Oscar as Lord Of The Rings. Therefore, it would be really, really nice to win an Oscar but we have the fantasy stigma against us, so I have no real idea. I’m happy to try to disengage and not get emotionally invested in it, but rather let other people do the Oscar thing and see what happens."
Talking of King Kong, for his mammoth follow up to Rings, Jackson has thrown out the old script and is re-writing from scratch.
"What we are doing with Kong now, which is a lesson that we learnt from Lord of the Rings, is to actually treat it as very real. What we did with Rings, was to say, ‘Okay, we have the fantasy elements, to have the Balrog, the Trolls, Orcs, Elves and Dwarves, but we’re going to write it with a degree of truth within the world that the story exists in," he says.
"So we tried to eliminate a lot of artifice and simplicity from it and tried to actually have the actors play their roles as genuinely as they could and with as much depth and true spirit as they could and we think that Kong is going to be interesting if we do that with Kong now. Our first script was a very Hollywood/Indiana Jonesy type thing and now we think it is going to be much more interesting."
"How would you react if you went to an island and found dinosaurs and a giant gorilla? How would you react if you see the woman being kidnapped by the gorilla? If you were a woman, how would you react if you were kidnapped by the gorilla? What would you do? And the exploration of what you would do and how you would feel and who is Kong and why is he doing this and what does he represent and to make him real. So our interest now lies in writing a script which now has a lot of emotional truth to it."
In the meantime, the Lord of the Rings trilogy has not only made this hobbit-like New Zealander one of the most celebrated directors of today, but has brought the mythology and ideology of Tolkien to a generation of
fascinated and eager moviegoers. Now that it’s more or less over, one
wonders what led to his initial obsession.
Jackson ponders the question, and his response is concise:
"Wanting to see the finished film."
That simple it appears.
"I don’t have any agendas, other than I just love movies and I always have, so you get excited about an idea of a film, whether or not it’s adapting Lord Of The Rings or a film about an original screenplay idea, so for me, what’s behind the excitement is the fact that one day this could be a finished movie that you could look at which other people could see."
As for why the Tolkien mythology remains so contemporary, Jackson says that it’s timeless. "All of the themes that Tolkien wrote about were stuff that he was passionate about. What I like about Tolkien is that he was wound up about quite a few things and put a lot of his opinions and beliefs into the book. He was ahead of his time in some cases, with his love of the English countryside, his hatred of factories, his hatred of chopping forests down to fuel the engines of industry which grew out of the 60’s in a way."
"He wrote this book between 1939 and 1953 so no one was caring about the forests particularly when he was and so in some instances, political thinking has actually caught up to Tolkien. But other themes of his are very much more on board – like the theme of friendship and of war and the fact that some wars are worth fighting which Tolkien was certainly saying and that what is worth fighting is enslavement. That if people are trying to enslave you then you should stand up against them and fight back and yet he also very clearly was making a point that if you win that war you don’t really win. That there are no ultimate winners in a war there are only people that lose and you come out of war changed and no matter what the justness is of the war you come home and you’re different which is obviously very much true of Frodo. He didn’t win but lost who he was and lost his sense of innocence even though what he did was justified."