Filmmakers never get a break, do they? They spend years struggling in obscurity to improve their craft and gain some kind of recognition, but when fame finally comes, what happens? Well, admittedly, bags of money and simpering adulation. But after that they're only ever a Jar Jar Binks action figure away from ruining everything. Recently, people have started worrying this might be happening to Peter Jackson after the first part of The Hobbit trilogy was released. Oh, sure, it made lots of money, but all the CGI gave some people horrible, PTSD-induced flashbacks where the disembodied voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi repeatedly said: "I have a bad feeling about this..." So, are people right to be worried about Jackson becoming the next George Lucas? Could Peter Jackson be on the road to flannel shirts and a bad 1950s quiff?
To answer this, we have to start at the beginning. According to modern physicists, 13billion years ago, our tiny, compressed universe began to rapidly expand. 12.999999999billion years later, Peter Jackson began making films. His first, Bad Taste, was released in 1987 and became a cult classic. Its production highlighted two things about Jackson as a filmmaker: his interest in special effects and his personality. The official story is that a film council board member recognised Jackson's talent and funded him. The unofficial one is that Jackson harangued the entire board until they paid him to go away. Either way, Jackson walked away with a complete film and recognition at Cannes.
Jackson continued making films and attracted the attention of Hollywood. Nevertheless, it was a surprise when he was picked to direct the Lord of the Rings film (yes, 'film' singular as, at that point, the three books were to be crammed into one heavily edited film). Jackson promptly made some phone calls and got his trilogy. He was ultimately correct and the Rings trilogy became a critically acclaimed, moneymaking spectacle with visuals that audiences had never seen before. It was way better than any new Star Wars film, anyway.
After the trilogy, Jackson's success meant he had the freedom to pursue personal projects, but they didn't work out very well. He got $20million up front for King Kong but, despite lavish praise for the CGI, the rest of it was found lacking (but we can blame most of that on Jack Black). His next project, The Lovely Bones, fared worse and received a lot of negative press. Coincidentally, after this failure, Jackson decided to work on The Hobbit. He stretched it into three films, filmed it in 3D and filled it with enough special effects to make George Lucas blush.
Executives gave into all Jackson's demands. This resulted in the third of a Hobbit film released last year, where about 86 pages of a small children's book were translated into three hours, cinema-goers threw up and had CGI-induced seizures (say what you will about Lucas, at least his Star Wars prequels only made you nauseous). It seems that execs were right to give Peter Jackson a thumbs-up, though - An Unexpected Journey grossed $1billion worldwide. The second film, The Desolation of Smaug, released this year, is expected to make a similar amount. It'd be silly for Jackson to address his critiques, namely too much padding and excessive CGI, when he'd only be lowering profits for his company and getting rid of enough material to make three films (not one, which would only have made $1billion, as opposed to a potential $3billion).
It would seem, then, that Peter Jackson is now George Lucas's padawan in the sense that they both make visual-heavy, fantasy/sci-fi trilogies that are popular with people and make money - the art of it doesn't come into it. Like Lucas before him, Jackson's recent solo projects failed and his surest bet of continuing success was through milking dry his former successes (and a dead guy's oeuvre). With the Hobbit trilogy, Jackson has given up on filmmaking as an art, and his policy now seems to be in line with Lucas's: try to make as much money as you can, for as long as you can.
Follow Planet Ivy on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@planet_ivy