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The Obituary of Peter Jackson, Died April 1, 2055

Dec 2, 2014 People

First published in Metro, January 2013.


The grandfather of New Zealand film, Peter Jackson, has died, aged 94. It is believed he was filming on location at Cape Palliser when he fell from a 60-foot cliff.

Jackson’s lifelong passion for movie-making began with plasticine models baked in the family oven. By his 20s, he was drenching all of fashionable Wellington in buckets of blood for splatter movies and acquiring a prestigious fringe reputation in Hollywood.

Audacious brinksmanship saw his career build all the way to his life’s dream, a film trilogy of The Lord of the Rings. With an appetite for the grandiose that made Cecil B. DeMille look hesitant, Jackson made the franchise his — and New Zealand’s — own.

The trilogy would catapult his reputation into the stratosphere, including Oscars and a knighthood, but its three-part sequel The Hobbit very nearly undid it.

Embedded local press delivered rapturous reviews of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey but the response from critics in the international press was less eager.

The second movie attracted similar criticism and was further hobbled by the release in the same month of a documentary by Barbara Sumner Burstyn, My Life as a Hobbit — Inside Peter Jackson’s Wellington.

Burstyn’s documentary found many disaffected Wellingtonians who seized the microphone to complain about the soul-sapping experience of living in a company town where even cab drivers were censured for making wry observations about hobbits.

The final instalment of the trilogy went straight to DVD and it seemed for a time that Jackson’s star might be on the wane. But in true Hollywood style he returned bigger and brighter with a movie that took him back to his true love: special effects.

Genesis, Chapter One, Verse One was a five-hour epic that saw God creating heaven and earth in seven days, although one critic wrote “it felt like 10”.

Audiences loved the interactive experience in specially built theatres in which body-temperature lava poured over the seats as volcanoes erupted at a technologically dazzling 1800 frames per second.

Over the next 40 years, Jackson and Wellington became synonymous with the entwining of film and adventure-park experience.

Critics were again lukewarm at the launch of Genesis, Chapter Two, but the idea of a movie that was viewed while travelling on an actual roller coaster would prove to be box-office gold.

Genesis, Chapter Eight saw the advent of the first rocket-ship movie flight and although the ticket price of $2 million made it something of an elite pleasure, it was the hottest ticket that year among Apple and Google executives.

There was also some embarrassment when an early technology trial saw Prime Minister Simon Bridges turned into a pillar of salt for two weeks. But, as the ever-cheery politician said from his hospital isolation ward as soon as his lips were prised open: “Peter’s still the best thing that happened to us. Anything that puts New Zealand on the map is fine by me.”


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