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Peter re­turns with ‘Mor­tal En­gines’

‘Lord of the Rings’ di­rec­tor steps in as pro­ducer for the postapoc­a­lyp­tic ad­ven­ture film

- By Jane Mulk­er­rins

His­tory does not record if the late Sir David Frost ever ap­proached Peter Jack­son to star in his sem­i­nal tele­vi­sion show

Through the Key­hole. But the chances are he didn’t. It would have just been too easy. Who else could pos­si­bly live in a man­sion in New Zealand with an ex­act replica of a Hob­bit house in the base­ment?

Jack­son, who is worth an es­ti­mated $500 mil­lion (Dh1.83 bil­lion) and was re­spon­si­ble for a to­tal of six films about JRR Tolkien’s flat-footed he­roes, em­ployed some of his best set de­sign­ers to trans­form the lower ground floor of his house into a per­fect re­con­struc­tion of Bag End, Bilbo Bag­gins’s home.

The planes would also be a bit of a give­away. The 57-year-old di­rec­tor owns a hangar full of First and Sec­ond World War air­craft, and an air­field on which he hosts a bi-an­nual air show. And it is now com­mon knowl­edge, thanks to the broad­cast ear­lier this month of his as­ton­ish­ing doc­u­men­tary about life in the trenches, that Jack­son is some­thing of an ex­pert on the con­flicts of the 20th cen­tury.

They Shall Not Grow Old was a mam­moth project, which in­volved restor­ing and colouris­ing orig­i­nal, flick­er­ing, black-and-white footage of ev­ery­day life on the front line, much of it pre­vi­ously un­seen, and adding au­dio from 600 hours of BBC in­ter­views.

“It was a pas­sion project,” he tells me when we meet in an edit­ing suite in Los An­ge­les. “I wanted it to be 120 men telling a sin­gle story: ‘What was it like to be a Bri­tish sol­dier on the Western Front?’ “

Jack­son, who has re­gained a por­tion of the weight he fa­mously lost af­ter the end of The Lord of the Rings, is softly spo­ken, with the thought­ful de­meanour of an aca­demic. Born and raised in Welling­ton, New Zealand, the son of English im­mi­grant par­ents, the di­rec­tor was ob- sessed with movies from an early age.

He be­gan mak­ing short films with his friends on the fam­ily’s Su­per 8 cam­era, and first at­tempted to re­make King

Kong at the ten­der age of nine, with his own clay mod­els. His spe­cial ef­fects ex­per­tise is en­tirely self-taught.

Over the years, he has be­come known for his big-bud­get, spe­cial ef­fects-heavy films, in­clud­ing not only

The Hob­bit and Lord of the Rings, but also his (sec­ond) re­make of the 1933 mon­ster clas­sic King Kong.

His lat­est film is in this mould. Mor­tal

En­gines is adapted from the Young Adult nov­els of the same name by Philip Reeve, and is an am­bi­tious, post-apoc­a­lyp­tic ad­ven­ture, which Jack­son wrote and pro­duced.

But it is very dif­fer­ent, he tells me firmly, from the re­cent rash of dystopian tales. “There are very few dystopian films that I en­joy,” he says, run­ning his hands through a thatch of grey hair. “Lots of them have themes about try­ing to crush peo­ple’s spir­its, and they make the sur­vival of those peo­ple look ab­so­lutely mis­er­able. They’re just un­pleas­ant films to watch. We wanted to make a movie where you could imag­ine, ‘Well, OK, if I had to go and live in this world, it doesn’t look too bad’ — there are mu­se­ums, there are parks, there’s a li­brary. It is not an un­pleas­ant world, it’s not an un­pleas­ant ex­is­tence.”

Star­ring Hugo Weav­ing, Hera Hil­mar and Robert Shee­han, the high-con­cept

Mor­tal En­gines is set in a world rav­aged by the ‘Sixty Minute War’. “Coun­tries don’t ex­ist any­more, so there are no bor­ders,” ex­plains Jack­son. “The oceans have gone down and the land has risen up. Bri­tain no longer ex­ists — it is just Lon­don.”

What has emerged from the ru­ins is a new, trac­tion-based so­ci­ety, with cities on top of tank-style wheels ma­raud­ing across con­ti­nents.

The ac­tion cen­tres around Tom Natswor­thy (Shee­han), an ap­pren­tice his­to­rian from Lon­don, who has never set foot on solid ground, and Hester Shaw (Hil­mar), a fugi­tive as­sas­sin seek­ing re­venge for the mur­der of her mother when she was six years old. In Reeve’s four books — the first of which is the ba­sis for this film — the lead char­ac­ters are teenagers; Jack­son has aged them al­most a decade. He has also handed over di­rect­ing du­ties to his long­time col­lab­o­ra­tor Chris­tian Rivers.

What are his hopes for the film? One would ex­pect the man who di­rected

Lord of the Rings, the high­est-gross­ing film tril­ogy of all time — with its fi­nal in­stal­ment, Re­turn of the King, ty­ing with Ben Hur and Ti­tanic for the most Academy Awards in his­tory (11) — to be con­fi­dent. You could even ex­cuse a lit­tle ar­ro­gance. Not when it comes to a per­fec­tion­ist like Jack­son.

“You’ve al­ways got some­thing to prove — fear drives you,” he says. “There’s noth­ing I do that isn’t com­pletely ter­ri­fy­ing, be­cause you don’t know if what you’re mak­ing is good or bad.” He pauses. “It’s easy to make an aw­ful movie, any time.”

 ?? Pho­tos by AP and cour­tesy of Uni­ver­sal Pic­tures ?? Di­rec­tor Peter Jack­son.
Pho­tos by AP and cour­tesy of Uni­ver­sal Pic­tures Di­rec­tor Peter Jack­son.
 ??  ?? Ji­hae in ‘Mor­tal En­gines’.
Ji­hae in ‘Mor­tal En­gines’.
 ??  ?? Hera Hil­mar.
Hera Hil­mar.
 ??  ?? Hugo Weav­ing.
Hugo Weav­ing.

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