NZer of the year: Peter Jackson

This has not been a year the world will remember with satisfaction, but there have still been achievements that lift the spirits - and New Zealand has its share of outstanding people who deserve recognition.

In selecting remarkable individuals to be considered for the New Zealander of the Year, the panel of Herald senior editorial staff had a difficult task.

National political leaders were excluded because the very nature of their calling means they dominate public life. The test for those who remained was that the individual's achievement's should be exceptional and he or she must be committed to benefiting this country and its people or the world.

Our winners - the other contenders and many others we do not name - are worthy of our respect and admiration. They have made New Zealand a better place.

By WARREN GAMBLE

Too obvious, you could say, too populist, you might think, too easily swayed by the marketing blitz of The Lord of the Rings, you could argue. You could, but consider this.

Jackson deserves the recognition precisely because, despite the hype, the acclaim and the money, he has retained the best of what makes a New Zealander.

His is an unassuming, home-grown brilliance.

His feat of welding a creativity, which began with a childhood passion for filming Plasticine dinosaurs, to a business brain in which he ran the biggest movie project ever, is as stupendous as Frodo's quest through Middle-earth.

By most international accounts the first of the trilogy of The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, is a critical hit, an outstanding creative achievement and a box-office winner.

That he has done it all in New Zealand, down to the last hair on the hobbits' feet, has underlined his commitment to the country he could have easily abandoned years ago for the bright lights of Hollywood.

In effect, Jackson has been a one-man tourism board, generating more positive publicity than the All Blacks, the America's Cup or any clean, green campaign.

The fact he could make LOTR at all reveals his standing in the toughest market of them all, ahead of a galaxy of Hollywood directors.

The fact he could do it allegedly wearing one or the other of his two pink shirts, usually matched with shorts and sometimes bare feet shows his unaffected Kiwi style.

The giant project also reveals the cutting edge of his own Wellington-based movie empire, built with partner and co-writer Fran Walsh and friends who drive the Weta special-effects companies.

Jackson professes disbelief that Hollywood moguls at New Line Cinema took a $650 million gamble on him to deliver J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy which many regarded as unfilmable.

"I do think it's fairly unbelievable with the track record I have got and the fact that I have never made a movie that has made a huge amount of money. I've never made a successful commercial film, really, it is fairly unbelievable that we would be in this position," he told Herald entertainment editor Russell Baillie.

"Everything about this project was breaking the rules. Everything about it is kind of non-conformist which I think is kind of neat."

Jackson has been a non-conformist in the film industry since he was old enough to blow up sheep (in his first film, the alien gore fest Bad Taste).

That was followed by an even bigger bloodbath Braindead, where zombies run amok in Wellington, and Heavenly Creatures, the 1994 film which resulted in him being noticed in Hollywood.

His first Hollywood movie The Frighteners flopped, making the step up to the biggest movie project ever more courageous and daunting.

But his long-time obsession with The Lord of the Rings, which he first read as a 17-year-old photo-engraver, helped him to win over New Line.

The studio was built from the money made out of the Nightmare on Elm St horror films for which Jackson once wrote an unfilmed script. Winning approval was tough, but a mere prelude to the hard work ahead.

Making three movies at the same time had not been done before; making three movies about a fictional world where men, hobbits, elves and dwarfs clash with legions of evil creatures was as imposing as the fires of Mount Doom itself.

In a Newsweek article Fran Walsh revealed that Jackson's huge professional workload came as he was dealing with the death of both his parents.

"He lost his father in preproduction and his mother just a few weeks ago," Walsh said in the magazine's December issue. "He went in with parents, and he came out an orphan."

Jackson paid tribute to the unqualified support of his "utterly driven" mother, and his sweet, calm father, qualities which he combines.

He recalled his childhood moviemaking hobby: "I loved making dinosaurs with Plasticine, and if I wanted more Plasticine, Dad would go out and buy it for me. They never had any judgment other than total support."

He is also grateful for New Zealanders' support during the making of the trilogy, from the Government down to the small towns the crew invaded.

During the first film's international premieres, Jackson has tried his best to leave the limelight to the actors.

Walking down the red carpet in Wellington to screaming hometown fans he confessed: "This is not what I do well. I'm like a fish out of water."

Earlier this month he told the Weekend Herald: "I am happy if people in New Zealand feel proud about what we have done and it's not just me.

"What there is to be truly proud about with The Lord of the Rings is the fact that it was largely made by Kiwis and it's not just what I have done.

"I don't particularly relish [the attention]. What I relish is people seeing films I have made and saying 'I enjoyed that'.

"That is the reward you are seeking. I sort of never really want anything beyond that. I do like a degree of privacy and a degree of having a quiet life. I hope that isn't going to get too threatened."

Spoken like a New Zealander of the year.

2001 – The year in review


Feature: Lord of the Rings

December 8, 2001:

Special report: A long expected party

Best Lord of the Rings websites

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