(Ok, first, don’t take my translation for granted as I’m more used to do it from english to french than the contrary.)
When he was a child, PJ was fascinated by mythological adventures created by the special effects’ master Ray Harryhausen: The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, Jason and the Argonauts.
When he reaches adolescence he decides to do his own short movies with poor quality puppets and image-by-image effects animated according to a very old technique.
When he’s adult and film-maker, he answers journalists’ questions. After the issue of Bad Taste in 1987, he announces his greatest wish would be a vast legendary story like The Lord of the Rings from JRR Tolkien, which has been translated into 25 languages and has sold over 50 million copies.
About twelve yours later, the dream has become true. He is the chosen film-maker of The Lord of the Rings, a legendary blockbuster, planned in three episodes of about two hours each. Exceptional duration and format according to the original book, the numerous characters, the twists and turns and the quests. Resizing the movie to a conventional length would have been a kind of mutilation.
In 1978, Ralph Bakshi had done it in an animated version full of shortcuts and cutting-out. The result was that after 30 minutes of narration, the neophyt audience was completely lost.
Two decades later, PJ has the advantage of time, of financial means and of special effects which would make feasable what was only possible by animation before.
In the case of the previous attempts, the one by Ralph Bakshi in 1978 was acceptable, whereas the one by Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin in 1990 (televion animated The Return of the King) was pathetic.
Peter Jackson: "If I chose to give five years of my life to The Lord of the Rings, it’s to do justice to heroic-fantasy movie making. All different kinds among movie-making have been served with talent by film-makers, except this one ! I had to do it justice. With The Lord of the Rings, we are heading into an almost virgin world."… almost, adds the journalist, except for Legend and Conan The Barbarian !
The project is breathtaking: 130 million dollars, six months of filming, still unkown postproduction period, and special effects which create a whole universe, three movies. The Fellowship of the Rings planned by the end of year 2001, The Two Towers, end of year 2002 and The Return of the King, end of year 2003.
The french distributor of the movie, Samuel Hadidan, president of Metropolitan FilmExport says that with these movies, we face an event of the same scale as Star Wars.
After that, we have a paragraph about the genesis of the project:
Two big companies were candidates to this project: Dreamworks and Lucasfilm. How did Peter Jackson eventually succeed in being elected ? The bosses of Miramax, the Weinstein Brothers, gave him less than a month to find financial partners and at that time the project was already evaluated at 100 million dollars for two films. But they could not assume it entirely. So PJ and his wife (co-writer Frances Walsh), with great determination and a huge script, decided to pay a visit to the firm New Line whose president of a subsidiary, Fine Line, Mark Ordesky, was an old friend.
PJ gets all necessary appointments: lawyers, producers, agents, financial backers. Negotiations are very fast. At first, representatives are doubtful about his ability to lead such a huge project. But PJ has with him a film short realized by some genious in Weta Ltd. The audience is astonished by what they watch: spectacular sets (Middle Earth), titanic fighting scenes gathering 200.000 extras in digital images, the army of the orcs. A short vision but already impressive. All New Line members applaud, as well as Saul Zaentz who has the rights on the book. And the decision is made. The Lord of the Rings will not go to Dreamworks or Lucasfilm. Jake Kasdan, son of film-maker Lawrence Kasdan, entitled with privileged relationships with Christopher Tolkien, and who had a script already ready, is very disappointed.
PJ’s determination and will give him what he wanted: three films instead of two. Despite the important economy of filming in New Zealand, the previous budget is increased.Three years before, PJ had made this demonstration through his movie The Frighteners which was supposed to take place in California.
PJ : "In New Zealand everything is possible. Production costs are obviouly lower than american budgets. In the United States, The Lord of the Rings would have reached 350 million dollars. In the Auckland or Wellington area, the renting cost of a movie camera is about one thousand dollars a week compared to three thousands dollars in Hollywood. And we also have the advantage of the exchange rate. Consequently we are able to provide three big shows for an unprecedented price."
However, the film-maker doesn’t take pride in it. He overlooks the fact that despite a very small budget he’s been able to accomplish good quality and visually rich movies such as Bad Taste, Brain Dead and Feebles, whose three budgets together wouldn’t be enough to fund the sandwiches department of a movie like Titanic.
In the last paragraph of this article, it is explained that for PJ and his team, working in their country is much more than a cheap way of doing a movie. He and his wife have no taste for exile. They like coming back home every day and being with their two children. They also like working with their friends. And there is also the fact that New Zealand is far from the United States, even very far. And that makes controls over their work from a studio both expensive and difficult. The journalist calls this a "geographical strength" which added to PJ’s experience with The Frighteners, led him and his wife to sign a contract giving them full control over The Lord of the Rings, from artistic and financial point of view. It’s a unique privilege, but did financial people from New York have a choice ?
PJ : "Believe me, The Lord of the Rings will be anything but Willow. You’d rather imagine a mythological saga at half distance between Legend and Braveheart. Legend for the enchanted part and Braveheart for the authenticity and the fightings. Obviously my fighting scenes cannot be so violent as I undertook the commitment to make a PG’13 film. But of course I’m reserving the right to do a harder version for the DVD."
The following is a very short summary of the quest with a mistake (Bilbo the Hobbit, Gandalf the Wizard and Frodo the Knight, sic). The journalist thinks that the story is not so far from the legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. About the actors he says: they have been wisely chosen: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Ian Holm, Liv Tyler, Christopher Lee, Sean Bean, Ethan Hawke, Cate Blanchett, Brad Dourif, Viggo Mortensen… no stars among them, only reliable performers. The star of the movie is the movie itself. And also Peter Jackson, the short plump new-zealander in charge of an epic which sounds like Star Wars.