What Went Wrong With… Peter Jackson, The Hobbit, & HFR?

A caricature of Peter Jackson by What Went Wrong Or Right With...?

Peter Jackson, the once underrated cult director of low-budget, ultra-gory horror comedies such as Bad Taste and Braindead, has now become synonymous with big-budget adaptations. He has now become an unofficial member to an ever-increasing clique of overrated blockbuster-bullshitters whose inability to enthral audiences or display directorial individuality, are glazed over by their profitability. Mr. Jackson, who is responsible for King Kong and The Lord Of The Rings trilogy (which have netted Universal and New Line half a billion and almost three billion dollars respectively) is now allowed to destroy any piece of optioned literature he sees fit.

The piece of literature currently being forced into hollow digital entertainment is the three hundred-ish page novel The Hobbit which Peter is trying to turn into yet another trilogy. By bolting on elements mentioned in the appendices from The Lord Of The Rings, this comparatively short book is being stretched to the point of becoming translucent in an effort to string out the profits. Even though the character Gandalf says in the film “All good tales deserve embellishment”, I don’t think even he would approve the extent to which the New Line/Wingnut team are going to. A money hungry studio and a trilogy-loving director does not make for an enjoyable movie-going experience. The end result is an overly long, un-focussed vanity project for Jackson who thinks he is some way intrinsically connected to Tolkien.

What may have fooled swarms of nerds a decade ago, now just looks tired and familiar. A mythological, motion-captured, makeup-filled, green screen mish-mash is no longer a fresh concept. And in a post Harry Potter, Avatar, and Lord Of The Rings world, an effect-laden fantasy film is slowly becoming commonplace and contrived. So in an attempt to increase ticket sales, a tech-savvy Hollywood constantly looking for the next illegal download killer, has added “High Frame Rate” (or HFR) to the mix.

Anybody who has seen a High Frame Rate movie knows that the finished product, which in an attempt to add realism to cinema, ends up resembling a mini-DV movie similar to Spike Lee’s Bamboozled. High Frame Rate, which although could be a great aesthetic if the subject or plot concerned real-life events, just makes an already hammy yet cheesy film look more amateur. And in the case of The Hobbit which is teeming with British TV actors suffering from delusions of grandeur, is not a welcome addition. The Hobbit in HFR ends up feeling like a TV Special, with the sped up “real-life” feel just adding to the weird amalgamation of expensive effects and cheap actors.

Martin Freeman who always acts like he does in The Office but with the addition of a wig and novelty feet prosthetics, is joined by James Nesbitt who’s masked face is nullified by his instantly recognisable voice from Ballykissangel and Cold Feet. Richard Armitage also of Cold Feet-fame features as a Fabio-esque, soft-porn dwarf along with the “most handsome dwarf in the village” played by Aidan Turner. Added to this TV-mix is Ken Stott with his perpetual Rebus expressions resulting in a $200,000,000 film with a heavy television aesthetic. The whole movie looks too familiar to anyone who is a couch potato (especially if you’re British).

Criticisms of Peter Jackson and his films seem to fall on deaf elf ears however, and he has now become an untouchable and incontrovertible force in both Hollywood and in nerdy fantasy circles. For some reason he is portrayed by the media as a faultless and God-like director, even though he has not made a true “Peter Jackson” film since The Frighteners. A self-styled invincible, self-absorbed sci-fi director and a cast of second-rate television bit players in an almost masturbatory make-believe movie, makes for the most obvious exercise in fishing for geek’s hard earned money in recent years. But until the gross gets low, Mr. Jackson’s decimation of British literature and trawling of British actors will not be criticised, and The Hobbit seems to be yet another one of his unstoppable juggernauts. Nobody seems to care about the clichéd aesthetics, the drawn-out films, the lifeless 3D, the mistreated and dead animals, and the bored audience.

Compared to his earlier work; Mr. Jackson is all Petered out.

14 replies »

  1. Thank goodness I didn’t waste my good money on such nonsense. But to be truthful I wasn’t too keen on Lord Of The Rings, I walked out after first 20 minutes.

    • With respect, I disagree. That and the original star wars trilogy are classics that tower over most cinema. Incidentally, what is your opinion of empire strikes back? And Smaug himself was fucking awesome. And the cliffhanger was fine.

    • Unfortunately, I am not one of those people who thinks George Lucas is some kind of God. I do agree however that the original Star Wars trilogy was important for cinema; especially for effects and computer animation. We wouldn’t have ILM or THX etc. if it wasn’t for Star Wars.

      The Lord Of The Rings trilogy and the Hobbit trilogy are another thing entirely; they are not even in the same league. When I first watched “The Fellowship”, I remember some of the digital compositing looking obviously fake and sometimes moving incorrectly in comparison to the background layer. WETA (who although have done better work since) were not as “game changing” as LucasFilm in that respect, since most of the technology was already used to better effect in T2, Jurassic Park, and even The Mummy. The only addition was “real-time” motion capture, but the finished rotoanimation of Gollum was nothing special for 2001-2002.

      The films themselves were average in my opinion, and not paced or structured as well as the Star Wars films. The main problem, is that George Lucas was more of an inventor/investor in technology whereas Peter Jackson is just someone who sold out their original techniques for big-budget money. I mean, watching Braindead and Bad Taste, or even Heavenly Creatures and Meet The Feebles, you wouldn’t recognise the style or the aesthetics if you compared them to LOTR or King Kong etc. It looks like a different Director entirely.

      To be honest, I haven’t been impressed by cinematic effects (and the films that use them) since the early nineties. From the late nineties to the noughties, it seems one big coagulated mess; with most films looking too similar to each other. The Star Wars Prequels, LOTR, Harry Potter, Avatar, The Hobbit are extremely obvious (visually) in their use of CGI, and even though more than two decades have passed in the use of this technology; the worlds created look just as fake as they did at the start.

    • I just found your website and I must say it has helped me pass a few slow hours at work. Thank you.

      With regards to Peter Jackson, I feel compelled to comment because this article sums up exactly how I feel about the guy. I was a huge fan of his back in the nineties and early 00’s before he did LOTR and was following his career closely, pumped up to see what he did after the early schlockhouse classics and The Frighteners. I admired his ability to sequence a fluid story and load it up with powerful visuals. If you watch Braindead closely it’s not just a brainless gore fest. There are a ton of different things happening at the same time during the orgy of violence at the end and they all bleed into each other seamlessly.

      I wasn’t thrilled with LOTR but I sort of accepted it as something anyone sane would do given the chance. It got him huge exposure and creative free rein going forward, plus the films were pretty good if you like that sort of thing (I don’t). After that, though, I was hoping he’d do another film like The Frighteners or a good dynamic horror flick or two but he got Hollywood brain and started pumping out dross like King Kong. I think that was the last one of his I bothered to watch because the decline after that was predictable. He wants to be a big event director and money-maker like James Cameron or something and that isn’t really who he is. You have to do what’s in your roots and what you enjoy and I think for him that was quirky, bloody, irreverent fare like Meet The Feebles, not all this glossy crap he shits out now.

      I suspect the guy is more concerned with being successful than having a blast, which is a shame because his visual sense is extraordinary and he’s an incredibly talented director. I think Peter Jackson is one of the biggest wastes I’ve seen in cinema, a man who came out of the gate strong as fuck with a bunch of brilliant films then nosedived into the toilet. I now consider his name on a movie poster to be more of a warning than a seal of quality but if he ever does another ninety minute zombie/monster/alien film with an interesting premise and a lesser-known cast I’ll be intrigued.

      For now I’m avoiding him, though.

      Loving the website. Keep it up, mate.

  2. A little tough on Jackson, do you not think? Granted, he has a tendency for over-indulgence and insanely long running times – the extended editions not the superior theatrical cuts – but he clearly has enormous talent even in spite of his blind spot concerning judicious editing choices…

    That being said, the decision to split ‘The Hobbit’ into three films is hard to defend, even if that decision was an artistic one (which it was), Tolkien’s source novel is a bright, brisk, and breezy affair that should take no more than two three-hour movies to fully translate faithfully from page to screen, with some small amount of appendices material included to smooth over the narrative (explaining Gandalf’s frequent departures from the group), but including almost all 125 pages of appendices material is nothing short of indulgent in the extreme, Tolkien never intended that additional material to be incorporated into the body of ‘The Hobbit’ story arc, he had ample opportunity to do just that, or even to include the appendices in later editions of the book, neither of which he did, preferring to leave the novel as was.

    Jackson’s intent to make the ‘Hobbit’ trilogy fit into the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy as a kind of prequel story showing the rise of Sauron is ill-advised and leaves what should be a relatively simple and focused story about the quest to get back a kingdom, slay a dragon, and learn a few life lessons along the way, has become a lumbering, cumbersome, and ever-so-slightly overstuffed affair that has a wildly shifting tone and gratuitous flashbacks that lose both focus and overall momentum, reducing the pace of the film – the first hour in particular – to a veritable crawl.

    ‘An Unexpected Journey’ should have lasted no more than 180 minutes at absolute most, and should have ended with the dwarves’ capture by the Elven-King, setting up a fine cliffhanger ending whereby the second and final film, ‘There and Back Again’, would begin with Bilbo rescuing them, and after that, onto the encounter with Smaug the dragon and the climactic Battle of Five Armies, with that film again lasting no more than 180 minutes at most. Had Jackson handled ‘The Hobbit’ this way, I don’t think anyone would have found fault with it, and Jackson would once again be rightly lauded, but to stretch (and it is a stretch) a relatively straightforward children’s tale into an epic is manifestly unwarranted, and certainly from my perspective, diminishes Tolkien’s tale to unrestrained indulgence at best and crass commercialism at worst.

    Just my humble opinion, of course…

    • Thanks for taking the time to reply. I agree with you to a point, however I think that the majority of Hollywood in recent years has been far too focused on profit making than storytelling. I cannot remember the last time I sat down to a three hour plus movie with the comfort of knowing that there will be no sequel. Surely a piece of succinct entertainment can be achieved in one sitting (with maybe a short interval). Peter Jackson in my opinion guilty of putting money before the satisfaction of both film and literature fans.

  3. Hollywood indeed is more focused on money and not storytelling. I liked the Lord of the Rings movies, however with the Hobbit, it’s the shortest book of the bunch, and I don’t understand why it has to be drawn out to a trilogy. I had a bad feeling about it the moment I seen that. The book is not that long, it don’t need multiple films to sum it up, but he did it anyway, because of course more films means more money. Look at all the mass marketing that goes with it hand in hand. The Hobbit was also a disappointment in the box office, considering how much time was built up hyping the movie up.

  4. I remember being a teenager and seeing Braindead and despite it’s over the top gory mess, I found it to be hilarious and some how enjoyable. The preacher popping up with that epic quote “I kick ass for the Lord!” has been in my head ever since, best one liner ever. Just randomly saying that out of the blue can make anyone laugh their ass off.

    I’d love to see him go back to doing crazy witty stuff like that. I did enjoy the Lord of the Rings films but I found them to be full of so much filler, and then the Hobbit is the shortest book indeed, why does it need to be stretched out so long?

    I don’t understand why directors don’t stick to their guns after becoming a major success. Forget Lord of the Rings, and he already had a reputation for his cult classic horror films. This guy had all the potential to still do the shock horror gigs off to the side while he’s got the big studio productions. I didn’t like the King Kong remake at all. I know something like Braindead isn’t for everyone, but he at least seemed like a guy doing something he loved and wanted to do back in those days.

    • I agree, Fincher is one of the most consistent directors out there who makes very satisfying films, I’ll probably do a “What Went Right With” on the guy at some point. You forgot to mention the opening titles to Se7en which were also very influential, although his film’s title sequences are made by other people, it’s all part of making something memorable and original. (I removed the several YouTube links from your comment because that’s too many irrelevant links for an article about Peter Jackson).

  5. Oh yes I forgot to mention Se7en’s opening title as well, it’s great as well and apologies for the many YouTube links…

    I just wanted to highlight based on the YouTube links that David Fincher (and his team) seems to know how to use visual effects & editing effectively and appropriately in films, music videos and other works (eg. Netflix show House of Cards) than most directors today, with the sole purpose being to immerse an audience into the story and not making the effects look too obvious…

    Oh and by the way, he’s got a new show now out on Netflix called Mindhunter. The opening title is pretty great too

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