After writing about the early career arc of Alfonso Cuarón, I recognized a similar trajectory in Peter Jackson’s work. When Jackson was tasked with directing all three Lord of the Rings films at once, he had previously directed only a few low-budget horror comedies (with the exception of Heavenly Creatures)—a situation similar to that of Cuarón and his tepid box office performances before helming the third Harry Potter film. Dissimilar, though, was the unprecedented scope the creation of the Lord of the Rings required. And although Cuarón hadn’t yet proven himself a box office draw for a major franchise, the Potter world, unlike Middle Earth, was already an established movie commodity. Jackson pulled it off, though—both critically and commercially. Thanks to the success and acclaim these films garnered, he became my first film role model.
Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings adaptations were the first films I consciously categorized and evaluated based on who directed them. Prior to these movies, I paid attention only to surface-level details, such as actors, plot, or genre, without considering the artist at the wheel, controlling and managing the project. I watched where the car was headed without understanding, or particularly caring, why the filmmakers had chosen to steer the car in a specific direction. Jackson, primarily through his commentaries and behind-the-scenes special features spread throughout the four-disc extended-edition DVD box set of each Lord of the Rings film, introduced me to the artful side of cinema—the strategy and craftsmanship, from both the director and additional crew and cast, that drive excellent filmmaking. (Thanks, Peter! Without your influence, I’d be blogging about an entirely different subject.)
Like David Fincher, another one of my favorite directors, Jackson is a perfectionist. He’s a known editing buff, preferring to shoot many takes with lots of coverage to give him more options in the editing room. Although not credited as an editor on any of the Lord of the Rings films, he did sit directly across from the official editor, offering input and suggestions for the entire editing process. Famously, he didn’t finish the extended cut of The Return of the King until a month after he received the Best Director and Best Picture Oscars for the film. Because he was busy adding the finishing touches to the movie right up to the end of the post-production schedule, he hadn’t seen the theatrical version in its entirety until the world premiere—after which he said, “Yep, it’s pretty good.”
I can’t end this post without mentioning the elephant in the room: the Hobbit trilogy. Yes, he did rely too heavily on CGI instead of practical effects, such as miniatures, makeup, and costumes. And, yes, the films were notably bloated, so he couldn’t rely on Tolkien’s writing as he did in the Lord of the Rings films. But I submit, and firmly believe, that the Hobbit debacle was only partially his fault. Here’s a video in which Jackson makes his case: The Problem with The Hobbit Trilogy.