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Last Updated: Monday, 1 March, 2004, 14:33 GMT
Peter Jackson: King of the Rings
Director Peter Jackson
Jackson is hailed as hero in his native New Zealand
Director Peter Jackson has won global plaudits for his Oscar-winning film The Return of the King, the final part in his epic The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Jackson's native New Zealand has always reserved its greatest adulation for sporting giants like Richard Hadlee and Jonah Lomu, but a place must now be found on the victory dais for director Peter Jackson.

The trilogy, starring Elijah Wood, Sir Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee and Liv Tyler have been enough to guarantee Jackson's celebrity status.

But what elevates him to hero in his native land is his success in persuading Hollywood backers New Line Cinema to film the £210m project in New Zealand, a country many Americans would have trouble locating on a map.

Jackson was adamant. "New Zealand is the best country in the world to shoot this film, because of the variety of locations we have."

Amateur

The beauty of New Zealand was not the only inducement, though. There was also the prospect of better value for money than the US could offer.

In particular, Jackson's custom-built studio in New Zealand capital Wellington, Weta Studios, created the hundreds of computer-generated special effects at a fraction of Hollywood costs.

It has meant an economic boom for Wellington.

The Return of the King
The films featured a heavyweight cast including Liv Tyler (pictured)

Jackson was just 12 when he made his first film, which was set in World War II.

He and a couple of friends dug a hole in the garden, and Jackson demonstrated his early verve for special effects by making holes in the celluloid to simulate gun flashes.

Financing his efforts from his work as a photo-engraving apprentice at a Wellington newspaper, Jackson's amateur movie-making continued until one film, Bad Taste, changed his life at 22.

Shooting at weekends only, it took four years to complete, as Jackson directed, produced, filmed and starred in a number of acting roles.

The film, a sci-fi comedy about aliens abducting Earth people to use as food in an outer-space fast food restaurant, was awash with vomit and blood.

But it possessed enough originality to persuade the chairman of the New Zealand Film Commission to take it to the Cannes Film Festival, where it was acclaimed by most critics and sold to 30 countries.

Oscars

Meet the Feebles, characterised as "the Muppet show on drugs", and a gory zombie comedy, Braindead, followed.

Jackson made his big breakthrough in 1994 with Heavenly Creatures.

It featured the then unknown Kate Winslet and local actress Melanie Lynskey and was a subtle, scary movie about a famous New Zealand murder case from the 1950s.

Riders outside Minas Tirith
The Return of the King has monumental battles

It brought Oscar nominations for Jackson and partner Fran Walsh for their original screenplay.

Jackson then talked of remaking the 1930s classic King Kong.

He refused to relocate to Hollywood - almost unheard of - and developed his special effects studio to do work on other Hollywood films, such as Jodie Foster's Contact.

In 1996 he released The Frighteners, a darkly comic tale of a reluctant ghost-hunter starring Michael J Fox.

He and Walsh came up with the unlikely idea of adapting Tolkien's epic The Lord of the Rings six years ago.

'18-month shoot'

"It just popped into our heads," said 40-year-old Jackson, who lives in Wellington with Walsh and their two young children.

It should have been a daunting ambition, especially because Jackson made the unprecedented decision to film all three movies in one 18-month shoot.

Jackson, usually dressed in a pair of scruffy shorts, would film several scenes at once, keeping in touch with assistant directors through a video relay.

His special effects team invented a new computer programme for the films' epic battle scenes, populated with thousands of artificially intelligent warriors and beastly orcs.

Horsemen from the Lord of the Rings movies join the parade
The Return of the King première in Wellington attracted 100,000

The Fellowship of the Ring was released in December 2001 and almost immediately became one of the biggest films in cinema history. The second film The Two Towers followed suit in 2002.

The two films received technical Oscars and other honours at the Golden Globes and Baftas in 2002 and 2003, but were overlooked in the creative categories.

But the final instalment - which includes some of the most awe-inspiring battle scenes ever seen on screen - was hailed as a potential best picture Oscar winner on release in December.

The film was launched with a première in Wellington, with a crowd of more than 100,000 people.

Critics' groups had already picked the film as one of the year's best before Jackson's Globes success, and he was assured of some kind of Oscars victory before his Academy Awards coup.

Jackson's future is rosy. He has reportedly picked up an upfront director's fee of more than £12m for his remake of King Kong, which will begin filming in New Zealand soon.

And he has not ruled out returning to Tolkien with the possibility of a film based on The Hobbit.




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