Tag Archives: peter Jackson

Peter Jackson’s King Kong

Peter Jackson has made a name for himself as one of the most ambitious, resourceful filmmakers out there, and his version of King Kong isn’t so much a film as it is literally a three hour trip to another world. The 1930’s Kong was a marvel of its time, admittedly now very dated, but this film is really something else, and for me is the minted definitive version of the story, brought to howling, lush, terrifying and affecting life by Jackson and his army of F/X wizards. The main beef people take up is its way too long, and I’m not even going to try and argue. Of course it’s too long. Of course. But I love it anyways, and part of what makes it so immersive and captivating is the length. We spend almost two hours in a New York prologue leading to oceanic escapades before the ship even finds the island! You almost get so tied up in smoke n’ soot vaudeville and scenic intrigue that you forget that there’s a giant gorilla on the way, among many, many other things. Jackson reaches for the stars here, sails off the edge of the map past the borders of the known world and awakens something dark, primal and enthralling in the viewer: a genuine sense of wonder, like films were always meant to since the beginning, and these days don’t often achieve. He also films in a way that you really feel scope, size and the tactile, spacial dynamics of his world, from the gorgeously foreboding mega forests of skull island to the vast expanse of an open ocean to the titanic skyscrapers of old world NYC. Naomi Watts makes a perfect Ann Darrow, her striking femininity harbouring a deeply intuitive courage that ultimately spells her survival and acts as a magnet to Kong, who is a wonder in himself and played right out of the park by Andy Serkis. Jack Black and Adrien Brody embody the hustling filmmaker Carl Denham and the wiry playwright turned adventurer Jack Driscoll neatly. Jackson takes time in getting to know the supporting characters as well, and in a film with this much breathing room, who wouldn’t? Thomas Kretschmann steals every scene as the intense, heroic Captain Englehorn, Evan Parke is implosive as the first mate and Jamie Bell does terror to a turn as a crew member. Skull island itself is the real star of the show here; along with the living, breathing and feeling vision of Kong, the primordial rock is home to all manner of threatening, awe inspiring ecological splendour including vicious T-Rex’s, graceful herbivores, cunning raptors and more. Two sequences in particular test the boundaries of comfort in the viewer and push into almost outright horror as the crew falls victim to an insect pit home to the kinds of spiders, worms and other creepers you wouldn’t want to find in your worst nightmares, as well as the scariest bunch of indigenous tribes-people I’ve ever seen in a film. Nothing quite compares to the otherworldly atmosphere Jackson infuses in the island, we really feel like we’re in a place that time forgot and the attention to detail is remarkable. In a film full of human characters, Kong wins us over as the most emotionally relatable, a rampaging beast whose softer side is brought out by Ann, until the harsh realities of the human world catch up with them in a flat out spectacular aerial smack down set atop the Empire State Building where we see how savage behaviour begets the same back tenfold when you mess with a creature of his size, it’s a heartbreaking sequence. This is a testament to what can be done in film, from effects to world building to period authentic detail to music (the score by James Newton Howard is brilliant) and more, all combined in a piece of adventure cinema for the ages, and one that reminds us why movies are so fun in the first place.

-Nate Hill

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After the Apocalypse: A Conversation with Barry Hunt by Kent Hill

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There are too few films in this day and age that leave you with something to ponder in the wake of experiencing them. But, The Further Adventures of Anse and Bhule in No-Man’s Land is, I’m pleased to report – does not fall into that category.

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As I remarked to its gentleman director – Barry Hunt – I found myself thinking to the influences which drove his artistic choices and compositions. I found traces of Herzog, Annaud, Jodorowsky – even Samuel Beckett.

For you see, this ain’t your typical day in the wake of the devastation of the world as we know it. Mr. Hunt has crafted here a sublime and visual feast that is as deep as it is vast. I found myself recalling films like Quest for Fire, Aguirre and Holy Mountain – even the lost children scenes from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.

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One of the founders of the Sowelu Theatre in Portland , Oregon, Hunt has taken this intriguing, theatrical source material and constructed a film which is at once engaging and thought-provoking. And you can’t tell me there are too many films about which offer these sensations anymore. From the opening scene, to the world after the fall, Anse and Bhule also brought back to me the emotions evoked by McCarthy’s The Road. Both are absorbing journeys in which the characters we follow must shed, if you will, their emotional and even physical ties to all they have known. Then and only then can they truly become creatures of the new age, thrust upon them.

I urge you to seek this film out, and prepare yourself for a profound cinematic experience. The burgeoning cinema of Barry Hunt I eagerly anticipate. He has a new film in the spawning, and I have a feeling it will, just as Anse and Bhule did, exceed my expectations while completely stripping them away.

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https://vimeo.com/107316810

I present a fresh and brave new voice in the service of pure cinema. I give you, Barry Hunt.

 

“By the look of you, you haven’t come to bob for apples.” : Remembering Sword of the Valiant with Stephen Weeks by Kent Hill

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“How the hell do I relieve myself in this tin suit?”

Sword of the Valiant might come across as just another Cannon curiosity, especially for the uninitiated. For the casual observer it may simply look like another film in which another director managed to con Connery into yet another pair of strange/fancy duds?

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But while Boorman managed to get Sean to into his Zardoz get-up, which for my money is more so in the strange/fancy category than SOTV, the film in total is both an elegant and joyful rendition of the days of Arthurian legend from my guest in this interview, Stephen Weeks.

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Yes before Connery got to be the king himself in First Knight, before Clive Owen and way before Charlie Hunnam – in days of old, when knights were bold, there was the tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which as I discovered, is not the film I know it to be. Turns out I’ve no seen it in all its glory…

Working with Cannon was by no means a cakewalk, as Stephen shall tell you. And the subsequent release of the picture was grossly mishandled. Thus, the world has really not experienced this movie as the filmmaker’s intended, and that was one of many intriguing tales proffered me by the eloquent Mr. Weeks.

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This was not his first rodeo, having made a version of the film some years earlier, Stephen saw this as an opportunity to expanded his canvas. Unfortunately for him and what no one knew, or knew well enough, at the time, was the grimy underbelly of the behemoth at the top which sat Golan and Globus.

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Despite these trappings, and now knowing what I know, I still love the movie and feel privileged to have been gifted an audience with its director, who not only informed and enlightened, but also entertained.

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Stephen Weeks is an impressive filmmaker and now is an accomplished author (please see the link to his work below). As a fan of his work and SOTV in particular, I enjoyed and hope you too shall enjoy, this little trip back into the mists of time – to a fantasy world, and a fantastic film…

 

 

The Puppet Master: An Interview with Kevin McTurk by Kent Hill

They say in the film business, never work with children or animals. Of course you may find yourself working with dinosaurs, aliens, lions, beast-people, scrunts, kothogas, ghosts, morlocks, Batman, Spiderman, Hellboy, kaijus, wolfmen, clones, cliffhangers, vampires, giant crocodiles, homicidal maniacs, killer sheep, Predators, cowboys and mysterious brides out to Kill Bill.

Sounds ominous, doesn’t it? But that’s just some of the astounding creations and magnificent beasts that Kevin McTurk has encountered in his eclectic career in the realms of special effects.

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Working under the banners of legends like Stan Winston, Jim Henson and the new titans like Weta Workshop, Kevin has had his hand in erecting and simulating everything from the real world as he has from empires extraordinary. And, while I could have spent the entirety of our chat talking about his adventures working on the countless films, which are favourites of mine, he has in his CV, his impressive effects background is only part of the story.

For Kevin McTurk is a bold and visionary filmmaker in his own right. His puppet films, The Narrative of Victor Karloch, The Mill at Calder’s End and now The (forthcoming) Haunted Swordsman are exercises in capturing a style from a bygone era with modern filmmaking techniques. The results are beautiful, not only in their aesthetic quality, but in the level of excellence from the many different disciplines on display.

There is still time for you to join Kevin in his latest cinematic offering (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/935772123/the-haunted-swordsman-a-ghost-story-puppet-film), and to listen in now to the man himself talk about his movies, influences and career.

I give you the talented Mr. McTurk.

Visit Kevin’s website for more: http://www.thespiritcabinet.com/

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The Making of: A Conversation with Robert Meyer Burnett by Kent Hill

I love behind the scenes documentaries – always have. What began as 60 minute specials and from there graduating to EPKs (or Electronic Press Kits) have become full-blown features, at times several hours long. And the longer the better I say.

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Robert Burnett has been that guy. The guy behind the scenes. Armed with light-weight equipment and a small crew, he has captured the people who make the magic and the war it is to bring a dream to life on film.

He has been there to witness the making of the multi-Oscar winning Lord of the Rings trilogy. He has seen what it took to orchestrate Superman’s return. He has ventured back in time and brought us wonderful retrospective looks at films like Disney’s cult classic Tron.

But Robert is also a passionate filmmaker in his own right. Having made his own film Free Enterprise, directing episodes of the TV series Femme Fatales along with short films as well. He is a prolific producer having shepherded films like The Hills Run Red and Agent Cody Banks 2. And, just when you’re about to say, “Stop it Rob, you’re just too talented,” he is also an experienced editor; often times chopping his own work, whether it be for DVD special features content or the films he has worked on.

Beneath all of his success, Robert is a massive film lover, citing The Right Stuff, All That Jazz and The Godfather among the countless films he adores.

It was a real pleasure to chat with him about all he has seen behind the scenes, but more so to simply chat movies with a man who knows his stuff. Turns out he loved his time here in the great southern land (Australia), along with our beer and music. It is my hope Rob finds his way back so that I might take him up on my invitation to share a cold VB (Victoria Bitter) and talk movies…

…but until then, enjoy our chat.

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – A Review by Nate Hill 

Some people give me funny looks when I say I enjoyed the Hobbit films. There’s this giant festering stigma around the entire trilogy that’s hard to wade through if you are one who geniunly did enjoy a lot of what Peter Jackson brought us with his second barrage of Middle Earth sagas. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of things he muffed up, the chief aspect being editing and length. We did not ask for, need or want an entire LOTR lenghth trilogy based on a book that could have fit into one volume of that series. Jackson has a tendancy to overreach, film too much and throw it all into his final cut. It started with the extended cuts of LOTR, which were somewhat unneeded, continued with King Kong, which could have been at least 45 minutes shorter, and has now climaxed with The Hobbit films. They’re so long and stretched out that at times we realize we’re not even watching stuff from Tolkien’s annexes or archives, but simply shit old Petey made up to pad the waistline of content that’s begging to be slimmed down. I’m still waiting for a fan edit that condenses everything down into what is necessary to tell the story, and pitch everything else into the purgatorial halls of DVD deleted scene land. And therein lies my argument: There’s gold to be found here, but a lot of folks are so turned off by all the unnecessary razzle dazzle that they have become blind to what actually worked. An Unexpected Journey kicks off the trilogy and definitely fares the best, feeling the most akin to the book. Martin Freeman is lovely as a young Bilbo, baffled to find thirteen rowdy dwarves dumped on his doorstep, the work of Gandalf The Grey (Ian McKellen, like he never left the role), who wishes to prod him in the direction of a most dangerous and thrilling adventure. Bilbo is a mild creature and deeply in love with the comforts of home, but is whisked along all the same, after a chaotic dinner party and plate throwing contest from this knobbly group of mountain dwelling pygmies. Orcs, Wargs, Goblins, colossal mountain giants and an appearance by the ever fascinating Gollum await them. There’s an interlude into Elrond’s heavenly glade where Gandalf, Saruman (Christopher Lee) and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) have a little CSI: Rivendell episode with an ancient dagger that hints towards the return of Sauron. One thing Jackson added that is a highlight is additional wizard Radagast The Brown (Sylvester McCoy) an eccwntric hippie who rides a chariot led by massive rabbits in breakneck bouts of Need For Speed: Middle Earth with Orcs atop Wargs. A distinct feature about these films compared to LOTR is the ramping up of CGI; many Orcs are no longer stuntmen in gloriously goopy makeup, but giant computer rendered behemoths, taking some of the texture and authenticity away. Jackson also chose to shoot in many more frames per second than the human eye is used to, giving everything a strange, wax museum sheen that is pretty distracting. Close your bag of tricks and make us a goddamn straightforward flick Pete. Fuck sake. For all the issues, it’s terrific to be back in Middle Earth, however different it looks and feels. The production design is still an elaborate wonder of creative design and decoration, Howard Shore’s now timeless score makes a triumphant return and there’s a beautiful new song courtesy of the dwarves. Say what you want, bitch and moan til the Wargs come home, I love this first outing dearly and rank it nearly as high as LOTR. I can’t say the same for the next two, especially the exhausting Battle Of Five Armies which diminished my patience for Jackson and his tricks a whole lot. But, like I said, there’s always gold to be mined from the needless padding that’s been tossed in. One day someone will edit that perfect cut for us, and we’ll have that definitive Hobbit film. Until then, cherry pick the best parts and try to put the rest from your mind. 

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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It was the film many thought would never happen and that languished in development hell for years, bouncing from studio to studio until New Line Cinema took a very big gamble with filmmaker Peter Jackson who, at that point in his career, was known for making slapsticky low budget horror films (Braindead) and had one art house hit (Heavenly Creatures). He wasn’t someone you would necessarily entrust millions upon millions of dollars on making a trilogy of fantasy films – not the most commercially successful genre (Willow, anyone?). Jackson was also tackling The Lord of the Rings, the much-beloved series of books by J.R.R. Tolkien – get it wrong and you’re going to have legions of very unhappy fans.

However, Jackson was a fan too and he had a vision, which, with the help of his co-screenwriters Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, and an army of collaborators, brought The Lord of the Rings vividly to life. The first film, The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), was a massive critical and commercial success and would be followed by two even more successful sequels, The Two Towers (2002) and The Return of the King (2003). Everyone has their favorite film of the trilogy and for me it’s the first one because it has an intimate feel rendered on an epic scale, if that makes any sense. In other words, The Fellowship of the Ring is about a small group of characters, the Fellowship, and the journey they undertake.

Jackson establishes this intimacy early on with Bilbo Baggins’ (Ian Holm) birthday celebration. The Special Extended Edition version takes its time introducing the hobbits and their world. Jackson uses warm, inviting colors and folksy music to convey that the hobbits are a friendly, down-to-earth people who live in a tight-knit community where everyone knows each other. Most importantly, we are introduced to Frodo (Elijah Wood), the hero of this epic tale. For it is he who Bilbo entrusts with the last remaining Ring that he must to take Mordor to destroy so that it doesn’t fall into the hands of the evil Sauron.

The Shire sequences also establish the dangerously seductive lure of the Ring, the origins of the quest and the creation of the Fellowship as led by the mighty wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen). Aside from Frodo, fellow hobbits Sam (Sean Astin), Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) join him on his journey. The group starts simply enough and over the course of the film others join their ranks, including Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), a human ranger, Legolas (Orlando Bloom), an elvan archer, Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), a grumpy dwarf, and Boromir (Sean Bean), a human fighter. At heart of the Fellowship (and really all three films) is the friendship between Frodo and Sam. It is Sam who looks out for Frodo and sticks with him for the entire quest.

There are all kinds of parallels, story structure-wise, between The Fellowship of the Ring and Star Wars: A New Hope (1977). The Tolkien books were an obvious influence on George Lucas’ films. The main characters from both films are plucked from obscurity, a remote rural environment to go on a dangerous quest and are mentored by an elderly wizard type. Hell, Han Solo and Aragorn are characters cut from the same cloth and are both given cool introductions to establish their respective badass credentials.

Jackson manages to get some career-best performances out of many cast members. Elijah Wood, Sean Astin and Orlando Bloom, in particular, have never done anything better since (or before for that matter, except maybe for Wood and his chilling turn in Sin City) and this film launched a series of very eclectic leading man roles for the always watchable Viggo Mortensen (it doesn’t get more diverse than disparate roles in Hidalgo and Eastern Promises). Both Ian McKellen and Christopher Lee give the film some serious class and loads of genre credibility. It is Wood and Astin that anchor this film and give it its heart. The relationship between their two characters epitomizes most noble aspects of friendship and of the Fellowship. This only deepens in subsequent installments.

Once our heroes begin their journey, Jackson establishes a riveting urgency as they are pursued by the nightmarish ringwraiths and a vicious army of orcs. And yet this only strengthens the camaraderie among the hobbits and the rest of the Fellowship despite its dysfunction in the form of Boromir. However, when it matters and when faced with dangerous opponents, they work as a team as evident in the exciting and visceral battle against a monster in Balin’s Tomb and the even grittier battle against the orcs at the film’s climax.

Contrary to popular belief, Peter Jackson did not have a lifelong ambition to adapt Tolkien’s books into films. Producer Saul Zaentz owned the film rights for years and gave them to Jackson when he and Fran Walsh met with him and expressed their passion for the project. Zaentz sold the rights to Miramax who wanted to make only one film with Jackson. Disney was the financial backer but they didn’t believe in the project, refusing to give Miramax the money to make it. Harvey Weinstein, head of Miramax, gave Jackson three weeks to find someone else to make the film and in 1998, New Line agreed to make it into three films. Jackson originally proposed two films but it was New Line’s idea to make three.

In order to cut down on costs, Jackson decided to film all three films back-to-back over a grueling 274-day shooting schedule on location in remote areas of New Zealand in more than 100 locations with 20 major speaking roles and 20,000 extras. At the height or production, the film crew swelled to 1,300 people with seven units shooting multiple elements simultaneously. Jackson and company were at the mercy of New Zealand’s notoriously mercurial weather – unseasonal snowstorms and overnight flooding but in the end, the filmmakers accomplished what they set out to do and the proof is in the impressive final results.

rings2The Fellowship of the Ring is one of those rare films that lives up to its mountains of hype. Jackson tells an engaging story and crams as much of the source material as possible into the film. Sure, certain characters and subplots have been cut-out but that is the nature of a feature film adaptation. Maybe, someday, someone can turn it into a mini-series so that everything can be included. Until then, we have Jackson’s magnificent films to enjoy.