PETER JACKSON has gone from making rough figures out of plasticine to moulding some of the biggest movies in film history.
The bearded, bespectacled, tousle haired 43 year-old Kiwi defied convention when he determined to do Tolkein's epic Lord of the Rings his way. It seemed an enormous gamble to film the tales of Middle Earth in one marathon trilogy but Jackson's faith was fulfilled as the films became box office bonanzas and Academy Award winners.
Now, as a consequence of this phenomenon, Jackson is the hottest film maker on the planet, and he's more than midway through the painstaking process of bringing his latest magnificent obsession to the screen… a multi-million dollar version of King Kong.
Creating his vision of the mighty beast has been his passion since Jackson, an only child from a small coastal town in New Zealand, was overwhelmed by his first contact with the original 1933 movie.
Seeing those black and white images that transported Kong from the primitive splendour of Skull Island to the iconic final battle as aeroplanes buzzed round the beast while it perched high on the Big Apple's Empire State Building turned out to have a life altering impact on Jackson.
“When I saw King Kong, when I was nine years old, it did make me want to become a film maker,” reveals Jackson, who from that moment on knew his purpose in life was to create movie magic.
He began in the world of horror and fantasy with low budget movies like Brain Dead and Bad Taste that got his talents noticed and brought him to the attention of Hollywood. Jackson then helmed The Frighteners, a ghost romp that starred Michael J. Fox, before embarking on the route that brought him to Lord of the Rings and now King Kong, the iconic figure that started it all.
“I've no idea whether I would still be making films if I hadn't seen King Kong. But I remember that it was on TV on a Friday night here in New Zealand and the very next day after I saw King Kong I started making little stop motion films with a Super 8 movie camera that my parents had used for home movies,” says Jackson.
“I got some plasticine and I started to film some little movies, which then took me all the way through my teenage years. So it did get me going.”
Now 35 years on from watching the mighty gorilla on the TV, his dream is becoming reality. High up on Mount Crawford, on the outskirts of Wellington, a star-studded cast that includes Adrien Brody, Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Jamie Bell and Andy Serkis is assembled to act out this classic adventure. And Peter Jackson, of course, is the brilliant, inspired puppet master pulling the strings as King Kong roars back to life.
And it's evident when he takes a break from orchestrating a crucial scene – when a terrified Naomi Watts is dragged screaming by the Skull Island natives to be prepared for sacrifice to Kong – which Jackson remains as thrilled today with this epic tale of how beauty killed the beast as he was when he was an awe-struck, short trousered schoolboy.
When asked to describe his profound feelings for this tale, the director's words tumble forth as though he can't wait to impress on the visiting Press just what the movie means to him. “I think the original Kong is a wonderful blend – possibly the most perfect blend – of escapism and adventure and mystery and romance,” he says. “It does everything I think that good escapist cinema should do. It transports you and takes you places that you are never going to see and experiences that you are never going to have and it has that wonderful mixture of emotion and fantasy.”
Given that starting point you begin to understand the enormity of the task that Jackson has set for himself and his team. “It's hard,” he agrees, as he underlines that it's all of the magnificent elements that made the original King Kong film be rightly regarded as a classic that he's determined to bring to the screen. “I want to try to do a version of Kong that basically catches the wonderful, mysterious adventure.”
Inevitably, Peter Jackson finds himself facing questions about how he proposes to improve on the original film. The inquiry is expected and he has a perfect, considered response. “Improving is a very weird term when you are talking about a movie that was made in 1933; that was a film of its time and it was a classic the moment that it came out. It was one of RKO's most successful films; it saved the studio from bankruptcy. They were almost down and out and Kong saved them. How are we going to improve on it? Well, you know we are probably not.” he says with a smile.