Peter Jackson's long goodbye to Middle-earth
Given how long he has been hanging around Middle-earth, it's easy to imagine that Peter Jackson finds it hard to say goodbye.
In the end credits of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, the Oscar-winning director includes the ballad The Last Goodbye - sung by his Lord of the Rings star Billy Boyd - as a way to honour the many fans of his six adaptations of JRR Tolkien's magical world over the past decade and a half.
A more subtle farewell, however, occurs just before that, when Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) returns home after his quest to help the dwarves retake their mountainous kingdom and rehangs the portraits of his parents above his fireplace.
It's a callback to the original from 2001, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, when those paintings - of a beardless Jackson and his partner, producer Fran Walsh, done in 1998 - first appeared.
"Everybody always asks me about what's my cameo," Jackson says. "And that painting is my final cameo in these films."
The filmmaker was 37 when the cameras started rolling on Fellowship in 1999, and now, at 53, Jackson finds it hard to pinpoint how his life has changed in the lifespan of his Middle-earth movies.
"At the beginning, (he and Fran) had tiny little kids, and now they're 18, 19 years old," says Jackson, who received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on December 8. "That's true of anybody no matter what your job is or profession - your life is going to change."
He definitely sees a better and more confident filmmaker at work in Five Armies, which puts the finishing touches on Bilbo's story and leads into the Lord of the Rings trilogy. That series focuses on his nephew Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) and the journey to destroy the all-powerful One Ring.
The Hobbit movies were filmed in sequence over 266 days, and during that time "I felt my mojo getting up", Jackson says.
"I was on a roll. Unfortunately, I finished it and now I'm going to lose all that and have to be back at square one," he adds, laughing.
During the shoot in New Zealand, Freeman found he and Jackson shared a mischievous sense of humour. Yet the actor was most impressed by his director's informality.
"He trusts me, I trust him, he lets me play, and I know that he'll choose what he chooses."
Ian McKellen, who played the wizard Gandalf in all six of Jackson's Middle-earth films, has always found Jackson shy and unassertive though capable of enormous imagination and absolute dedication to his filmmaking.
"At times I've feared for him - not that his behaviour has become obsessive but that he hasn't been able to find time for anything else in his life," McKellen says. "But he's kept sane by Fran, of course, and his family."
With Jackson, who has two children with Walsh - son Billy, 19, and daughter Katie, 18 - "you feel that sense of family is very strong", McKellen says. "It keeps them both going, personally and professionally. And it spreads out to the people they work with."
Screenwriter Philippa Boyens remarks that "a lot about Pete hasn't changed at all over that span, which is really rather nice".
She does state, for the record, that he still revels in his kid-friendly pursuits.
"My development stopped when I was about 8 or 9, much to Fran's frustration, I think," Jackson says. "I still make model planes - I actually don't have any adult sort of passions, which is great. It's the way I like to be, like a big kid."
Even though the last Hobbit is hitting cinemas, he's still not done tinkering with it. Jackson has another four or five months of work to do back in New Zealand on the extended edition of Five Armies.
Then he'll start wondering what fresh film projects to tackle, though he says "it's going to be very, very difficult to do anything for the rest of my filmmaking career, however long that is, that is going to overshadow what these have done".
The one thing Jackson most looks forward to is the day when he has grandchildren and "I can sit and watch their faces as they watch the films. That sort of thing is going to be the moment where I sit back and actually reflect backward, I think - seeing somebody actually experience these films rather than thinking about it."
- USA Today