By Alex Berry, Ancient History, Third Year
On October 31st 1961, in a small coastal town in Wellington, New Zealand, two working-class immigrants from England celebrated the birth of their newly born son, an individual who would go on to create some of the most successful, influential and cult-classic films to grace the big screen.
Peter Jackson: the father of the Lord of the Rings film trilogy and the man who pioneered a new age of fantasy on screen, producing films which would eventually make an estimated 2.98 billion dollars, inspire generations of fans and budding film makers, and to put it frankly, ‘clean up’ at award ceremonies.
It’s difficult to escape or ignore the impressive scale of Jackson’s success in the industry – you would struggle to find someone in this world of accessible, popular and fast-developing media content who hasn’t heard of Lord of The Rings, and while J.R.R Tolkien’s novels are certainly an excellent read for both children and adults, the movie trilogy transformed this franchise into something so colossal and iconic that to experience it in some medium was almost a rite of passage for teenagers and young adults across the globe.
And so, on Jackson's 59th birthday, we're looking back on the unconventionality of his path towards becoming a multi award-winning film maker, and how his experience may inspire a new generation of budding film makers.
What Jackson lacked in formal training, he made up for in intense love and passion for film
To this day Jackson has still never received any official training or education in film making. The epitome of success by trial-and-error, he grew up being a keen photographer and film-lover, who from a young age would make amateur short films on a camera bought for him as a present by a family friend. This, eventually bookended by his massive success in the big-screen film industry may come as a pleasant relief to some readers who are familiar with the concept of making a short film with their friends at school and thinking ‘I reckon if someone in Hollywood saw that, they’d give me a job.’
However, what Jackson lacked in formal training, he made up for in intense love and passion for film, arguably the most essential ingredient. Taking his earliest inspiration from Thunderbirds, Monty Python and King Kong (the 1933 thriller cited as being his favourite film of all time), Jackson began his film-making journey by exploring the splatter genre and black comedy, with the releases of Bad Taste (1987) and Meet the Feebles (1989).
He has, over the course his career developed his own stylistic trademarks and methods, such as wide-angle lenses for close-ups on actors, the use of digital special effects and repeated takes for increased optionality during the editing process.
Jackson’s interest in and success with thrillers allowed him the industry presence to approach the famous Parker-Hulme murder case and adapt it into a feature film, Heavenly Creatures (1994) starring Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey.
He has, over the course his career developed his own stylistic trademarks and methods, such as wide-angle lenses for close-ups on actor
The critical acclaim of this film earnt him not only an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay but perhaps more importantly, the recognition in Hollywood to drive his career further, as he was now in conversation with Miramax, New Line and Universal Studios.
This ultimately gained him the rights to adapt Tolkien’s novels, allowing Jackson to produce arguably one of the most iconic and successful film franchises of all time, creating ground-breaking cinema. Jackson televised this text in such a dramatic way that many fans, students and critics since have compared it to classical epic genre, drawing links between the battle scenes described in Virgil’s Aeneid, likening the fictional Battle of Helm’s Deep to the famous Trojan War.
Filmed largely on location in New Zealand, starring an impressive cast, and with the famous and detailed set for ‘Middle Earth’ being envisioned and designed by Jackson himself with the assistance and artistic creation of Weta Workshop, The Lord of the Rings project surely embodies perfection and success for a creative film-maker with no formal training, not to mention the gobsmacking box office reception making it the highest grossing movie trilogy of all time (2020).
The film industry’s recognition of the franchise’s excellence is easily illustrated in the award season of 2004, with The Return of The King, the trilogy’s final instalment winning all eleven Academy Awards for which it was nominated, earning the fantasy genre a definite place in movie theatres, with a newfound respect from some of the biggest, most prestigious names in Hollywood.
Following the victory that was Lord of the Rings, Jackson went on to adapt and create several other stories into big-screen features, for example with his take on his own favourite film with King Kong (2005) and his adaptation of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones (2009) starring Stanley Tucci and a young Saoirse Ronan.
Furthermore, he was, after a minor debate, of course trusted with the adaptation of Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit,’ brother of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Jackson is currently working towards and scheduled for involvement on a number of different film projects, such as a feature film of the video-game ‘Halo’, and a sequel for Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin franchise, with which Jackson is already involved due to Spielberg’s admiration of his digital style and the work of his company, Weta Digital.
And so, as we reflect on the enormous success of this individual and the work he has created, we must ask the question: is formal, official training absolutely necessary for somebody wanting to embark on a career in the creative industry? Surely Peter Jackson is simply a living, breathing, Academy Award possessing answer to this question: a film-maker whose huge recognition, experience and financial success is owed completely to a combination of hard work, passion, talent and ambitious drive.
It seems fitting on his birthday to celebrate the raw and authentic talent and creative vision that he holds, and to perhaps conclude that in order to succeed in the film industry, it is creativity and drive that is needed, as Peter Jackson has in buckets.
What's your favourite Peter Jackson film?