Monday, March 31, 2003

Insane Bearded New Zealander watch

In 1994, New Zealander Peter Jackson released the movie Heavenly Creatures, which told the story of Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme (played by Kate Winslet in her first film role), the two teenage girls who caused an enormous storm in the New Zealand of the 19?0s by murdering the mother of one of the girls. This was a turnaround for Jackson, who previously had made a couple of wild "splatter movies": the sort of thing based on filming him and his friends running around waving axes at each other and covering one another with tomato sauce. (Actually, given the simultaneously grotesque and very funny fantasy sequences the film contained, it perhaps wasn't as great a turnaround as it initially appeared). In any event, Heavenly Creatures was an extraordinary piece of work, and it won prizes at festivals, received superb reviews, and gained Jackson his first Academy Award nomination (for Best Original Screenplay). It also gained Jackson the notice of Hollywood. On the back of this, he got two projects underway at Universal. The first was a light horror movie called The Frighteners starring Michael J Fox. The second was Jackson's dream project, a remake of King Kong at Universal. The original 1933 King Kong was and is Peter Jackson's favourite movie, the movie that he claims inspired him as a child to want to be a filmmaker. Universal agreed to let Jackson make the films in New Zealand, using his own production company and his own special effects house.

In reality, with The Frighteners was Universal giving Jackson a little bit of a test. He would make a small film for them first, and if this was a success he would then get the chance to go on with the big budget remake of one of the studio's most famous movies. And, sadly, The Frighteners was not a great success. Jackson pulled everything off from a technical point of view, but the film didn't find an audience and it lost money. At that point, Universal pulled the plug on the King Kong remake, and Peter Jackson went off to make other movies elsewhere.

And, of course, as I and many other people have documented, Jackson did eventually get someone else to give him large sums of money to produce big budget blockbusters: Bob Shaye at New Line eventually hired him to make The Lord of the Rings. And, of course, saying that these movies have been a triumph would be something of an understatement.

Since the success of The Lord of the Rings there has been some speculation as to what Jackson would do next. Some directors (Quentin Tarantino, James Cameron) will be so intimidated by a huge success that they will wait a very long time before making anything else. It didn't look like Jackson would fall into this category. Given the success of The Lord of the Rings, Jackson could now do pretty much anything he wanted, and there there was speculation that Jackson would go back to Universal and attempt to unfreeze the King Kong project. And today, it was announced that this has in fact happened. Universal have announced that Jackson will be directing King Kong, and it will be released in summer 2005. (Harry Knowles has some more background at Aint it Cool News). The interesting thing is that it is once again emphasized that although Jackson has enjoyed making The Lord of the Rings, it is King Kong that he really wanted to make.

It would be interesting to know what the recent negotiations between Universal and Jackson were like. Whereas last time Universal basically fired Jackson, he is now Peter Jackson so he must have been treated rather differently. (I do not know whether any of the executives at Universal were the same. Barry Diller has had so many comings, goings, and returnings at that studio that it is hard to keep track). I would imagine though that this time round, Jackson's agents drove a very hard bargain from a financial point of view. Whoever is going to make money from it, I can't wait to see it.

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