How Sir Peter Jack­son res­cued Mid­dle Earth


THE au­thor of a new book about Sir Peter Jack­son and the mak­ing of The Lord of the Rings tril­ogy says dis­graced pro­ducer Har­vey We­in­stein nearly killed the block­buster project.

Ian Nathan is a writer and con­tribut­ing ed­i­tor to Em­pire magazine, and has en­joyed spe­cial ac­cess to Peter Jack­son and the cast and crew of The Lord of the Rings in or­der to write Any­thing You Can Imagine: Peter Jack­son and The Mak­ing of Mid­dle-earth.

And Nathan says Pukerua Bay-raised film-maker Jack­son had to fight against the odds to res­cue the film adap­ta­tion of the JRR Tolkien clas­sic.

‘‘I don’t know if there’s such a thing as fate or des­tiny, but some­times it must have felt like that. All of these things came up against them, and it must have been heart­break­ing the num­ber of times that The Lord of the Rings fell apart,’’ he says.

‘‘Peter had this team of de­sign­ers and dig­i­tal artists that he wanted to keep in jobs. He wanted to cre­ate this com­mu­nity, and it must have been aw­ful to keep let­ting them down. But it must have seemed like there was some cos­mic force that was mak­ing it hap­pen, as all these hur­dles were knocked out of the way.’’

Nathan reck­ons that We­in­stein’s first look deal with Jack­son in the late 1990s meant the films nearly didn’t get made at all.

‘‘The truth of it is that I don’t think it would have been made, as it got to the point where We­in­stein couldn’t fi­nance them,’’ he says. ‘‘Peter wasn’t will­ing to com­pro­mise and do what he thought would be a ter­ri­ble ver­sion of the books. But Har­vey re­ally wanted Peter to do it, and when he said to him: ‘If you go, I’ll give it to Quentin Tarantino or John Madden,’ who is a slightly more likely can­di­date, I don’t know if he ac­tu­ally planned to do it that way. But it was cost­ing him too much money at that point, and thank­fully it didn’t hap­pen that way.’’

We­in­stein even gave Jack­son an al­most im­pos­si­ble ul­ti­ma­tum – just a fort­night to find new back­ing.

‘‘In Hol­ly­wood, a two-week turn­around is usu­ally un­think­able, as they usu­ally give you six months to a year to see if you can sell it else­where. But to have just two weeks, they must have thought it was a dead duck. Also We­in­stein wanted all his money back on sig­na­ture, which was a night­mare. All the other stu­dios went: ‘It’s too quick, we can’t agree,’ so the fact that New Line agreed to it was just mirac­u­lous. And they didn’t just want to make two films, they wanted to do three, so they were pre­pared to go the ex­tra mile.’’

Nathan also says Jack­son is so ‘‘sym­bi­ot­i­cally re­lated’’ to New Zealand that ‘‘he says that he never wants to make a film any­where else’’.

‘‘There’s some­thing in New Zealand that he feeds off, and that’s a part of how he makes films, as it’s in his blood. You can say that The Lord of the Rings films aren’t New Zealand films as they were fi­nanced by Hol­ly­wood and they don’t tell New Zealand sto­ries. But some­how they are New Zealand films be­cause of who Peter is.’’

Ian Nathan, above, says Sir Peter Jack­son’s deal with Har­vey We­in­stein nearly killed the The Lord of the Rings project.

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