Most filmmakers love technical toys, and Peter Jackson is a shining example of that. The New Zealand director aggressively pursues the latest in technology for his films, sometimes resulting in advancements for filmmaking across the board. Mostly it works, pretty much everything WETA has done has been gold for example, but sometimes it doesn’t such as the push for higher frame rates.
The worry with any director who loves playing with new toys is if those toys are enough of a distraction that they interfere and/or hamper the narrative they are trying to convey. When the tech stops becoming a tool used for a function and starts being used just for the sake of being used, the result is often bloat or far more important aspects of the film (script, performances, pacing, etc.) suffering a quality drop from lack of adequate attention. The “Star Wars” prequels serve as an excellent example of that problem.
Where that line is drawn in regards to Jackson’s films is an interesting one. There’s no question his films run long and do suffer from overindulgence, but how much that detracts from the overall experience is up for debate. In a frank interview with The Telegraph, actor Viggo Mortensen has revealed where the line was drawn for him – the very first “The Lord of the Rings” movie – and how he’s had issues with Jackson’s subsequent films:
“Peter was always a geek in terms of technology but, once he had the means to do it, and the evolution of the technology really took off, he never looked back. In the first movie, yes, there’s Rivendell, and Mordor, but there’s sort of an organic quality to it, actors acting with each other, and real landscapes; it’s grittier.
The second movie already started ballooning, for my taste, and then by the third one, there were a lot of special effects. It was grandiose, and all that, but whatever was subtle, in the first movie, gradually got lost in the second and third. Now with The Hobbit, one and two, it’s like that to the power of 10.
I guess Peter became like Ridley Scott – this one-man industry now, with all these people depending on him. But you can make a choice, I think. I asked Ridley when I worked with him (on 1997’s GI Jane), ‘Why don’t you do another film like The Duellists [Scott’s 1977 debut, from a Joseph Conrad short story]?’ And Peter, I was sure he would do another intimately scaled film like Heavenly Creatures, maybe with this project about New Zealanders in the First World War he wanted to make.
But then he did King Kong. And then he did The Lovely Bones – and I thought that would be his smaller movie. But the problem is, he did it on a $90 million budget. That should have been a $15 million movie. The special effects thing, the genie, was out of the bottle, and it has him. And he’s happy, I think.”
Mortensen also candidly admits that it wasn’t until May 2001 when twenty minutes of the film was screened at Cannes did they “have an inkling” it might be a success:
“They were in a lot of trouble, and Peter had spent a lot. Officially, he could say that he was finished in December 2000 – he’d shot all three films in the trilogy – but really the second and third ones were a mess. It was very sloppy – it just wasn’t done at all. It needed massive reshoots, which we did, year after year. But he would have never been given the extra money to do those if the first one hadn’t been a huge success. The second and third ones would have been straight to video”