After criticism from Mortensen and McKellen, it seems “the genie is out of the bottle” for Peter Jackson.
Imagine watching a movie for the first time and being completely involved in it, when suddenly the actor breaks character and starts writing out their grocery list. The illusion is shattered and your beliefs disintegrated. You’re no longer in the world presented by the storytellers – you are sitting in a cinema with salty popcorn fingers, watching a man dressed as an alien decide on what flavour of crisps to bring home. For many, this is a major issue with live action films overusing computer generated imagery to tell their story, in place of subtle and realistic effects work like miniatures, prosthetics, and painted backdrops.
Whether your film takes place in the modern day or in a galaxy far, far away, the audience has to believe the storyteller
Quality cinema is all about escapism. Whether your film takes place in current society or in a galaxy far, far away, the audience has to believe the storyteller every step of the way. The filmmaker is our trusty tour guide, and we are just along for the ride. In a recent interview with The Telegraph, Danish actor and all-round stud Viggo Mortensen praised the finished product we know as The Fellowship of the Ring, but dissed the rest of the original Lord of the Rings film trilogy, as well as Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Hobbit.
“The first script was better organised,” says Mortensen. “Peter was always a geek in terms of technology but, once he had the means to do it, and the evolution of the technology really took off, he never looked back. In the first movie, yes, there’s Rivendell, and Mordor, but there’s sort of an organic quality to it, actors acting with each other, and real landscapes; it’s grittier.” Mortensen went on to explain how The Fellowship of The Ring turned out the way it did because everything was shot at once, while the rest of the original trilogy was scattered throughout, but also because Jackson’s budget hadn’t grown to the giant amount we know today.
“I was sure he would do another intimately scaled film like Heavenly Creatures, maybe with this project about New Zealanders in the First World War he wanted to make. But then he did King Kong. And then he did The Lovely Bones – and I thought that would be his smaller movie. But the problem is, he did it on a $90 million budget. That should have been a $15 million movie. The special effects thing, the genie, was out of the bottle, and it has him. And he’s happy, I think…”.
The Hobbit’s Azog the Defiler could’ve been more realistic and intimidating if he’d been realised via prosthetics and make-up
Moviegoers cheered over Viggo’s statements – similar comments can be found on film forums across the web. Though most sensed the overwhelming ‘kid in a candy store’ vibe from Jackson during Return of the King, opinions were cemented with the introduction of Azog the Defiler in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Here was a character who could have been far more realistic and intimidating if he had been realised via prosthetics and make-up.
Peter Jackson knows how to recognise potential in a story, but modern audiences are beginning to question his storytelling decisions, at least compared to other fantasy filmmakers, like Guillermo Del Toro, who even in a movie about giant deadly monsters still manages to use tangible effects to heighten the realism. The God-like Sir Ian McKellen also broke his silence on Jackson’s CGI obsession when he said that he actually cried out of frustration over filming scenes for Peter Jackson’s new Hobbit film with a green screen instead of with other actors.
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“Pretending you’re with 13 other people when you’re on your own, it stretches your technical ability to the absolute limits,” McKellen said. “I cried, actually. I cried. Then I said out loud, ‘This is not why I became an actor’. Unfortunately the microphone was on and the whole studio heard.” Filming the scenes set inside Bag End, instead of using the genius forced-perspective manoeuvres of Lord of the Rings, McKellen had to give his performance to simple printed pictures of the 13 dwarves, with little lights shining above them.
When all subtlety is lost, it becomes more and more difficult for fans to escape. Peter Jackson has a lot of money, and a lot of people working for him. He can do whatever the hell he wants, and he most certainly will. The technology at his fingertips may have corrupted him, but we can still hope for a better and brighter future. Best case scenario – he takes on a smaller budget piece and works the magic he was born with, in place of the mega-scale movie magic he has come into. Until then, it’s best to re-watch Fellowship and imagine what the rest of the series could have been.
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All images: Warner Bros