Peter Jackson: indulgent jazz soloist?

Last updated 12:38 05/09/2012

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.

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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29 comments
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Karlos   #1   12:49 pm Sep 05 2012

"Do you worry The Hobbit will feel a bit stretched at three movies?"

No. If it was just The Hobbit story and nothing else then yes, but it's not.

Leon   #2   12:51 pm Sep 05 2012

Well, I didn't like King Kong ... however I don't accept the premise that all Peter Jackson films that aren't LOTR are going to be bad films.

I'm looking forward to the Hobbit films a lot, because we know that he loves the source material to bits, and he's done good stuff with it in the past. I think what he shows is a lot of respect for the source material, and that turns into a slower storytelling experience.

However, I'm a one eye Wellingtonian, and a geek, so it's about as surprising that I think that as it is that I wore black to work today.

Ataahua   #3   12:51 pm Sep 05 2012

I remain to be convinced about three films for The Hobbit, but PJ has shown so much respect for the details and tone of Tolkien's writing that I'm not in a sweat about it.

As for him being short on creative juice: What bollocks. The man has a rich storytelling style and great passion for cinema. Whether you like his style is another matter, but he ain't running dry.

L   #4   12:51 pm Sep 05 2012

What a lovely perspective to take.

Neil   #5   12:54 pm Sep 05 2012

As much as I enjoy his movies,LOTR was fantastic,King Kong was probably an hour too long,I think somebody should remove the vast finances being made available and force him to rethink the budget.Go back to the days of 'Brain Dead','Bad Taste' ,'Meet The Feebles'and 'Hevenly Creatures'.Shorter well made enjoyable fims that didn't cost the GPD of a several small countries to make.

george   #6   12:55 pm Sep 05 2012

Hi Charlie, Do you mean wetas rather than wekas? i don't remember giant flightless birds getting into fights in king kong.

Having seen the 1930's king kong prior to PJ's version - I thought the movie was amaaazing, the way it was setup was as if the 1930's version of king kong was what jack black's character(he was the director) actually filmed, a really cool tribute to the original.

Missy   #7   12:57 pm Sep 05 2012

Weren't they Wetas not Wekas? Wekas are a flightless bird...

samm   #8   01:00 pm Sep 05 2012

Valley of the "Wekas"? I think you mean Wetas :)

Stuff the Hobbit, what about The Dambusters? I'd rather see that than more of the yawny and ponderous word according to Tolkein.

CB   #9   01:02 pm Sep 05 2012

Critics get paid to criticise, so there's not much point in worrying what they say. When James Russell makes a movie, we'll see if he knows what he's on about. As for Peter Jackson running out of creative juice, Yeah Right. Aren't all creative thinkers just a wee bit indulgent...that's why we like them. They suck us out of our hard reality in bounce us into their odd little worlds for a few hours. If you've had a rubbish day, it's worth the $16 timeout. Three movies for the hobbit should be okay but we'll have to wait and see. I'm picking there is more than just Hobbit lore in there. Middle Earth's a pretty big construct. Can't wait to see the films.

Roccoco   #10   01:04 pm Sep 05 2012

I know the vitriol of some stuff commenter's arose from us "PRO PJ" lot extolling his virtues but for this I do not apologise. PJ provided a studio and jobs for people like me in Miramar at a time when I wanted to break into film. (and I didn't have to move to Auckland or L.A to do it) Wingnut studios is now on par with any major Hollywood studio for capability yet is unfettered by burgeoning unionism and high US expenses. We do it commando style here in NZ and if a guy like James Cameron is impressed, you should be too. PJ is not self indulgent, Michael BAYhem is self indulgent. You are either on the inside looking out (like I was) or you are on the outside looking in,to quote MINGUS: Explain jazz? if you don't get it I'm not going to explain it to you.


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