New Zealand film-maker say Rings director's rise has eclipsed local industry.

The legacy of Sir Peter Jackson has again been questioned - with legendary Kiwi film-maker Geoff Murphy saying his commercial focus marked the end of a golden era for New Zealand cinema.

Murphy, 75, whose beloved films include Goodbye Pork Pie, Utu, and The Quiet Earth, said Sir Peter was a phenomenal director whose big-budget success was beyond belief.

However, his influence had meant New Zealand's national cinema was "kind of shunted sideways, because Peter doesn't make New Zealand films, he makes films for Warner Brothers".

Murphy made his comments at a Massey University graduation ceremony earlier this week. He was in Palmerston North to receive an honorary Doctor of Literature degree for his contribution to the film industry.


His comments come in the same week Viggo Mortensen, who starred in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, described the filming process as sloppy and Sir Peter's use of special effects as overdone.

Murphy told assembled students that at the start of his career in the late 1970s the NZ Film Commission came into existence with a call to film-makers to "give us our own heroes".

"And for a few golden years there we did, in fact, do that - we gave the country its own heroes and they loved it.

"This other fellow turned up, a fellow called Peter Jackson, and he stole the film industry off us, a bit like the Grinch that stole Christmas."

After a series of smaller films Sir Peter went to Hollywood and pulled off the biggest movie deal in history in the form of The Lord of the Rings trilogy - all to be filmed in New Zealand.

Murphy spent a decade directing in Hollywood, including on films such as Young Guns II and Steven Seagal train thriller Under Siege 2, before returning home.

He said Sir Peter securing the Rings deal was "fairy tale stuff", and he had stayed flavour-of-the-month in Hollywood ever since.

That was "an extraordinarily difficult act", but a downside was the marginalisation of New Zealand cinema. "The films he makes have got very little to do with us culturally. It's easy to tell a New Zealand film - films like Smash Palace, Once Were Warriors and Boy.

Peter Jackson
Peter Jackson

"You can tell at a glance that The Hobbit is not one of them. That's not to put the achievement down ... that achievement is phenomenal."

Last night Murphy stressed to the Weekend Herald that he was not blaming Sir Peter for a decline in New Zealand cinema.

"His arrival on the scene has dominated to such an extent that in most people's perception, New Zealand film industry means Peter Jackson. He has done something that doesn't have any relationship with our own cultural development, or very little.

"In fact, in some ways I'm blaming the industry itself because no one emerged to challenge his position, in the sense that around the time of The Lord of the Rings the New Zealand film industry was not making Goodbye Pork Pies and Smash Palaces."

Murphy said Sir Peter's level of popularity in Hollywood could not last forever, and he hoped eventually the film-maker would start making New Zealand films again.

"Nobody stays flavour of the month for long, and Peter's been flavour of the month for about 14 bloody years, he can't last much longer over there.

"It's inevitable that that business will collapse ... and then he might come back and make New Zealand films, that would be a bloody good thing."

Matt Dravitzki, spokesman for Sir Peter, declined to comment on the speech.

Murphy's movies

Herald entertainment editor Russell Baillie takes a look at Geoff Murphy's recent comments and key films.

I know what Geoff Murphy is getting at in his comments yesterday about Peter Jackson having marginalised "real" New Zealand cinema.

And he's possibly wondering why his view - widely held in the local film industry - has made headlines today.

The answer to that: Because a canny PR-minded university put out a press release headlined "Jackson stole NZ film industry" after it gave the veteran director his honorary doctorate and a platform to make himself heard, itself a public relations exercise.

But there is still an air of it-wasn't-like-this-in-my-day about Murphy's comments and some selective amnesia.

Murphy cited the likes of his Goodbye Pork Pie and Roger Donaldson's Smash Palace as offering the country its own screen heroes - as was the original intent of the New Zealand Film Commission when it was founded in the mid 70s.

Both those films came out in 1981. Which, in some minds, might be enough to constitute a heyday.

Trouble with that argument is there have been plenty of local screen heroes in recent times.

Pai from Whale Rider. Boy from Boy. Nanna Maria from No 2.The various gangs from Sione's Wedding, Stickmen and Scarfies. The folks depicted in the real-life events of Out of the Blue. Lilly and Jarrod from Eagle vs Shark.

I could go on. I will. How about Burt Munro from that motorcycle film by Murphy's old mate Donaldson? Or the kids from Shopping?

And just you wait until you see Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement's vampires from What We Do in the Shadows. That's a movie that takes two genres - horror and mockumentary - and still delivers a film with a uniquely New Zealand voice, successfully.

Trying to play by genre rules in a New Zild accent is a tricky thing. Murphy pulled it off three times - with his Goodbye Pork Pie, Utu and The Quiet Earth, then failed with his Hollywood hybrid action comedy Never Say Die.

Jackson did it too in Bad Taste and Brain Dead before making his artistic Great Leap Forward with Heavenly Creatures. That led to bigger things...

But while Jackson became an empire, other New Zealand films still got made and still got seen.

They still came with heroes to call our own. Just none of them called for a new Bruno Lawrence or required screeching handbrake turns in small yellow cars, as much fun as that was way back then.

Talking of which, here's a look back at Murphy's key films:

Goodbye Pork Pie (1981): The Kiwi classic car caper starring a couple of hard-case blokes driving a yellow Mini from Kaitaia to Invercargill. The first local movie to gross more than $1 million at the New Zealand box office. It remains a generational favourite - which is why directing son Matt Murphy has paid homage to scenes from it in a new Mini ad campaign. Rating: 5/5
Utu (1983): The New Zealand Wars done as a Western in a story of a warrior's revenge against the colonial forces who killed his whanau. This was re-released last year in a re-cut and digital remastering done at Sir Peter Jackson's Park Road Post. 4/5
The Quiet Earth (1985): The post-apocalyptic sci-fi tale about what might be the last three people alive in New Zealand, starring Bruno Lawrence in one of his most memorable performances. 4/5
Never Say Die (1988): The action comedy cum homegrown Bond spoof starring Temuera Morrison as a reporter who with his American girlfriend is chased from explosion to explosion on another Pork Pie tiki tour. Starred Norm from Cheers. 2/5
Young Guns II (1990) Murphy's first Hollywood feature after an earlier telefeature was this brat pack Western which matched its predecessor at the box office and starred fellow recent Jackson detractor Viggo Mortensen, among others. 3/5
Freejack (1992): Time-travelling mercenaries led by Mick Jagger in possibly the worst of his few acting performances beam back in time to grab the doomed racing driver Emilio Estevez as a body transplant for a dying squillionaire. 1/5.
Under Siege 2: Dark Territory (1995): Steven Seagal at the peak of his squinty action guy powers as an ex-Navy SEAL trying to take back a train hijacked by terrorists so they can take over a weaponised satellite (hey, it's complicated). No, not as good as the shipboard original. 3/5
Spooked (2004): A return to directing a New Zealand feature after working on second unit action scenes on the Lord of the Rings trilogy. This post-9/11 conspiracy thriller was inspired in part by Ian Wishart's winebox inquiry book, The Paradise Conspiracy. With Cliff Curtis in the lead role as a reporter, the film tanked at the local box office making a small fraction of its $2 million New Zealand Film Commission funding. 2/5