A Jackson Of All Trades

On December 11th, The Lovely Bones gets a limited release Stateside, with the full shebang rolling out a whole month later on the 15th. Over in the land of Blightly, we’ll get our fill of Peter Jackson’s latest six weeks later on January 29th, pretty much last in the world release queue. Not that we should feel maligned – the release date has been endlessly shunted about. It was originally slated for March 2008, ostensibly to ensure The Lovely Bones a spot on the Oscars shortlist. We can exclusively reveal, however, that England is actually last in the queue ’cause P.J. overheard two Bristolian teens sniggering at repeated mentions of “Frodo’s Ring” during a matinee showing of The Two Towers, thus cementing his hatred for our Chav-blighted shores. Probably.

We’re Glad The Girl Ain’t Shy

The release of The Lovely Bones – the story of a murdered girl Suzie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) watching over her family from a stylised, limbo-like afterlife – might strike the unenlightened cinema-goer as an odd choice for Jackson. Those in the know, however, will already be well aware of P.J.’s pre-Rings low-fi offering Heavenly Creatures, which set that glorious precedent for occasional nudity in future Winslet vehicles. Did we mention she’s a great actress too?

The two films certainly have much in common – girls and murder, for instance, or low-key suburban settings contrasting with elaborate fantasy sequences. If Heavenly Creatures and The Lovely Bones seem like complimentary films, they’re not alone when compared to the rest of Jackson’s cinematic output. The fact is, Peter Jackson is a filmmaker who steadfastly refuses to be tied down to a single genre.

Zombie Slaughter, Puppet Sex and Just The One Ring

Two of Jackson’s earliest films, Bad Taste (1987) and Braindead (1992) are pretty easy to categorize: All-out, unabashed splatter. You can’t really class either of them as horror films, either – both have their scripts and performances set very firmly in the ‘comedy’ category, even if the comedy itself is pretty bleak and, above all, fantastically tasteless. The aptly titled Bad Taste includes a scene where aliens drink the vomit of their leader, Lord Crumb (Doug Wren) while Braindead‘s forays into the unsavoury are even more insane – zombie sex and an intimate incident with a lawnmower being two of the most brain-twisting examples.

Between these, Jackson made Meet the Feebles, arguably his least-successful project to date. A bizarre mix of The Muppets and Fritz the Cat, Feebles is bold and broad with its depictions of sex, drugs and violence perpetrated solely by a cast of puppets. But the humour doesn’t quite hit the mark and the film comes across, if anything, as a bit immature (Jackson says as much himself). Then we got the aforementioned Heavenly Creatures and the rather underrated The Frighteners, a supernatural comedy featuring Michael J. Fox in his last film role to date.

And then, of course, we got those films about the fellers with the Ring.

Look Who’s Tolkien

To understate The Lord of the Ring‘s impact on Jackson’s career would be a task in itself. To understate its impact on Hollywood would be the sole preserve of the single PhD student in the Department of Understatement at the University of Wasting Your Life. What sets LOTR apart from other blockbusters is the consummate artistry so clearly present in every aspect of production, and the fact its special effects were secondary to a stellar cast working with some great scripts. Though clearly studio films (in the fact that their aim was squarely to make money), the eternal good-vs-evil story, wall-to-wall brilliant acting and the painstaking recreation of a living, breathing Middle Earth raised the bar for what the Blockbuster could be. This, unfortunately, led the way to King Kong – a bloated Victorian folly of a movie that did little besides showcase new special effects and pay lip service to the superior 1933 original.

This is all well and good, but what does it prove? Jackson is clearly a talented director, and the visionary approach he takes to filmmaking has changed Hollywood for the better by redefining the blockbuster, shaping into something that’s more than gaudy effects and star-orientated vehicles. Mainly, though, it’s refreshing to have a big name director who hasn’t simply rested on their laurels, content to lazily churn out the same film time and time again: Michael Bay, Roland Emmerich and Bret Ratner should take note, but even well-respected directors such as David Lynch could be accused of working to a certain type.

And then, of course, we’ve got his upcoming projects: Tintin, The Hobbit and his continual on-again, off-again romance with the much-mooted Halo adaptation – all of which we’re sorely looking forward to. But that’s the thing about PJ – he delivers. Whether it’s a gob-stomping fantasy epic or the next adaptation of a thoughtful, low-key novel, we just know in our bones that it’ll be, well… lovely.

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