After starring in one of the most iconic movie franchises of all time, The Hobbit, it’s no surprise that Peter Jackson’s career took off like a rocket. The monumental success of The Lord of the Rings propelled him into superstardom and onto the A-list, and he has never looked back.
Jackson’s latest cinematic triumph, the epic fantasy series The Mandalorian, has just been released on Netflix and has been hailed by critics as both a spiritual successor to The Lord of the Rings and a fresh start for the franchise. The series is set in a gritty Star Wars-style environment and follows a young gunfighter, The Mandalorian, and his quest for justice.
If you’re curious about the talented director’s body of work, you’re in luck because he’s recently released a documentary, Peter Jackson: King of the Jungle, which explores the making of his trilogy of films and its extraordinary global success. While the movie does contain plenty of behind-the-scenes footage, it is essentially a compilation of interviews with the filmmakers and stars from the series.
The Making of The Hobbit
While Jackson’s rise to prominence was undoubtedly fueled by the remarkable success of The Lord of the Rings, it began much earlier. The Tolkien bard’s fiction proved to be quite fertile ground for the filmmaker, and many consider his adaptations to be some of the best ever made. Although some details about the making of The Hobbit have remained shrouded in mystery, it’s no secret that the project was an important turning point for Jackson.
The Hobbit began as a passion project for Jackson, who’d first conceived the idea of adapting Tolkien’s groundbreaking book back in 1994. At the time, he couldn’t even think of a way to make it work for the big screen, but as he delved into the project more and more, he couldn’t help but see the potential it had to be much bigger and better than anything he could’ve imagined.
In the almost 20 years since its initial release, the fantasy epic has become one of the best-loved and most-quoted films of all time. Despite the considerable hype surrounding its DVD/Blu-ray release in November 2014, The Hobbit is still regarded by many as the best version of the popular book. The combination of Peter Jackson’s iconic style and grandiose special effects have definitely not dated the film; in fact, it’s quite the opposite, as many consider it a masterpiece that is as engaging and exciting today as it was when it was released all those years ago.
From Book to Screen
The Hobbit was a turning point for Jackson, and not just because it was the start of his epic film trilogy. It was the culmination of a significant journey to bring a book that most consider to be an improvement on J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings to the big screen. The project had originally begun back in 1994, when Jackson had contacted the Tolkien estate about adapting the book for the silver screen. The author’s representatives were initially dubious about the prospect of making an ‘entertainment’ out of one of their creation; after all, Jackson was a professional filmmaker and had never adapted a story for the big screen before.
However, when Jackson presented the project to them as a creative venture, the author’s estate came on board and offered their full support. Tolkien himself even visited the set of The Hobbit to lend his expertise and offer constructive criticism. Furthermore, the author’s son, John, worked closely with Jackson and co-wrote several scripts for the film (including the finished ‘An Unexpected Journey’). This close collaboration resulted in a more faithful adaptation of Tolkien’s work than ever before.
The making of The Hobbit was a massive undertaking, and not just because of the scope of the story; Jackson and his team had to travel to New Zealand to shoot the film, which was only made possible due to the country’s generous tax incentives. In fact, the whole production lasted an incredible 18 months, and it was only the sheer will of the filmmakers that kept them going. As Jackson himself stated in an interview:
“I was absolutely driven by the desire to make it as good a film as I possibly could. It was such hard work, but it was also so much fun. With every new challenge, there was always something exciting to look forward to.”
More Than Meets The Eye
Besides the astonishing visuals and craftsmanship that went into making The Hobbit, it is the storytelling that truly stands out. Jackson’s screenplay not only adheres closely to Tolkien’s novel, but it also takes the opportunity to update the tale for the 21st century. The result is an engrossing adaptation that also offers a feminist perspective not often presented in such a lighthearted manner. (The character of Bilbo Baggins himself is written with more than a whiff of feminism about him, as he sees himself as a strong, independent individual who stands up for what he believes in and is not afraid to stand up to the likes of Sauron himself should the need arise.)
The other two Hobbit films continue this trend of Jackson’s work, with the director tackling more than one topic and not shying away from controversial issues like climate change and modern-day sexism. Fans of Tolkien’s books and fans of Peter Jackson’s films can certainly agree that his body of work is a triumph of cinema.