Peter Jackson: indulgent jazz soloist?

02:43, Sep 05 2012

All hell broke loose this week when a British film critic dared to criticise our beloved national icon Peter Jackson.

A blogger for The Guardian newspaper said the decision to make three films out of The Hobbit showed Jackson was out of creative juice. James Russell wrote:

"Directing The Hobbit is arguably a sign that Jackson is out of ideas. His other projects haven't quite delivered in various ways, and so he has returned to terrain he covered successfully back in the day."

Unsurprisingly, this criticism made the papers. And why not? This is tantamount to a Kiwi film critic slapping the Queen Mother.

But I think Russell misses the point. Jackson's choice to return to Middle Earth and make a long-winded trilogy from a short-winded book is a creative decision.

It is not because Jackson has run out of creative juice, it is because his style is expansive.

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Jackson likes his movies to be set in detailed and deeply understood settings that he can explore and exploit at a gloriously languid pace. If it takes three movies to do that, then so be it. The man knows his Tolkien. Trust him.

When I read about the decision to make The Hobbit into three films, incorporating some other Tolkien material to tell the full story of Bilbo Baggins, I was reminded of my friend Symon's theory on Peter Jackson.

My friend Symon believes Jackson is like an indulgent jazz musician, going off on long-winded riffs that please no one but himself. My friend Symon believes that the bloated King Kong is more jazz than cinema. But, I'll let him speak for himself:

''He is sitting in the corner playing music that no one has ever heard before for his own benefit. That King Kong movie, I just don't get him as a director. I think he enjoys his own company a bit too much.

"We're doing this film about a big ape, but let's do a big riff about big beasties that have nothing to do with anything and also have these big wetas. I still don't know what were they about.''

I fear Symon might be right.

Jackson is like a jazz saxophonist who likes to fly free and jam for several hours on a riff because he's really digging it man, ya dig? He's Peter "Bird" Jackson flying free on the wings of movie jazz.

This style works in an epic setting such as Middle Earth where flights of fantasy are positively encouraged, but when it came to making a taut little monster movie, his jazz riffs were just distracting. We didn't need the valley of the weta or the ship's cook or the monster stampede in King Kong. But when Gandalf talked to that moth and flew around on that huge eagle? Awesome. BTW, you have to watch this slightly altered version of the moth scene.

When Peter Jackson is not in Middle Earth he needs to recover the taut discipline that made Heavenly Creatures so thrilling. But I think we should encourage him to fly free in Middle Earth. Sometimes, self-indulgent free-form jazz is awesome. Especially if there are orcs and wraiths thrown in for good measure.

What do you think? Has Peter Jackson run out of creative juice? Do you believe, like my friend Symon, that Jackson is an indulgent jazz man? Do you worry The Hobbit will feel a bit stretched at three movies?

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