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INT: Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson could use a break. It’s been seven years since the portly Kiwi began work on the groundbreaking trilogy – seven years of hobbits, elves, orcs, dwarves and God knows what else. The guy should be given an Academy Award just for making it through it all without having a coronary. Having just arrived from New Zealand, where THE RETURN OF THE KING premiered, the director entered our room at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills looked weathered and disheveled. Come to think of it, that’s pretty much how Jackson always looks. But that’s part of what makes Jackson such an icon among fans of the fantasy/sci-fi genre. Here’s what he had to say about ROTK.

PETER JACKSON

At what point did you decide to make this a three-hour film?

We felt that this film should be as long as it needed to be. We had a self-imposed three-hour deadline on the first two because we felt, with the first one especially, that there was a real risk involved, because if FELLOWSHIP didn't work at the box office, then New Line's gamble would have ended up in a disaster. So everybody felt some degree of pressure with FELLOWSHIP that the film had to open well and play well and had to obviously fulfill the expectations. We always felt that anything that was over three hours would tend to scare people off because there would be people who just wouldn't want to come see it. And so we worked it until it was two hours and 58 minutes, squeezed it in under three hours.

So when Fellowship was a huge success, that gave you more leeway to do what you wanted?

We felt that we didn't really want to justify THE TWO TOWERS being particularly longer than FELLOWSHIP -- I mean it was a little bit longer, but only by a minute or so -- and we just felt it was a middle chapter; it didn't have an ending. It was always a problematic film, so felt again we didn't want to make that a humongously long film. But with RETURN OF THE KING we felt that we had a little bit of latitude now, that people were looking forward to seeing it, that they had seen the first two and that now we could go a bit beyond.

But we found, because we looked at lots of different cuts of RETURN OF THE KING – I mean I saw one that was four hours and 15 minutes long earlier this year – there is a certain length where you stop being emotionally involved in the film and you just get a little bit tired of the whole thing and you want to go home and get out of the cinema seat. For us, the biggest fear with RETURN OF THE KING was that people would become sort of tired of the film before we got to those last 20 minutes, which we wanted to be quite emotional with the closing up of the movie. So we were always fearful that, if it was too long, that we would actually be sabotaging the emotional impact of those last scenes.

When you're editing the film, does knowing that there will be an extended DVD version alter your approach?

You are aware of that now and obviously it was a bit of an experiment with FELLOWSHIP, but now it's become something that the fans have certainly embraced. I always regard the extended versions of being versions for the fans. People ask me if the extended version is the “definitive version,” and I don't really think of it quite like that. I don't have such grandiose ideas about it. It's like, you know, the theatrical version of the film is really the best film that we feel that we can get out of the material. And when we look at the scenes that we have left over, we've chosen a few of the best scenes, not everything by any stretch, but we've chosen the stuff that has interesting back story or interesting additional plot information or character development that the fans would like to see so we've put those into the DVD.

And I'm always aware when I'm putting the stuff in the extended DVD, that essentially I feel that I'm creating problems with the pacing. I'm sort of going backwards; everything that I tried to do with the pacing on the theatrical versions, I'm now padding it out and, kind of, the nature of just putting the stuff back in makes it a much more leisurely pace. I guess in a home theater environment or a living room, you can watch it over two nights, you can stop, make a cup of tea, do anything you want; the expectations and the feeling is just different. Now people watch these because they love seeing the extra stuff and learning about the characters and responding to it. It's very debatable what the results would be if the extended cuts were the ones that you just went straight to the theater with in the beginning – we'll never know that.

You’re likely to be criticized by those who don't know the books for the way the film ends – because it ends 5 or 6 times. Was there thought to leaving some of that one the DVD?

Right. We knew we had to go to the Gray Havens, always. There was never any sense of not having the Gray Havens in the film, the final scene. But then there was the case of what other bits and pieces do you actually have? At the end of the day, I felt that we were wrapping out of a nine hour-long movie. I wanted it to be an ending for the three movies and not just an ending for this particular film. I also wanted to capture something of the melancholy spirit of the book, which we needed just a little bit. We needed to let it kind of flow to feel that you're wrapping out and creating that atmosphere.

Everything has a domino effect when you cut scenes together and I think that Gray Havens works quite well, I think it's quite strong and I don't know whether it would have been strong if we had rushed to that very quickly or whether or not it's the fact that you've been allowed to come down into this much slower pace and it sort of creeps up on you, I'm not sure. I not really have any apologies to make about the ending and I know that the ending is quite long, it's basically 23 minutes after the ring is destroyed before the film actually finishes, I just felt that we justified doing that after nine or ten hours – whatever it is – of film.

Where's your cameo?

Oh you'll have to go see it again. You missed me. I'm not going to tell you, you'll have to go and you'll have to pay this time you go see it. There's a little shot of me in there. I actually had a bigger cameo, but I cut myself out.

What about The Hobbit? In her interview, Fran Walsh mentioned that you wouldn’t want anyone else to direct it.

Well it would feel awkward if somebody else... I mean, I would feel funny about it, I'd always feel like I should really do it if it ended up being done by somebody else, so...

Are there definite plans at this point?

No. I've never had a conversation with the studio about it. I think the reason why I haven't had a conversation is because they haven't really got the rights to do it because the right to THE HOBBIT are a bit complicated. United Artists, for some reason – I have no reason why – have distribution rights to THE HOBBIT, I believe. I might not be getting this 100 percent accurate, but they have some sort of distribution rights that date back to the '70s or the '80s.

But with the money that LOTR has brought in for the studio, I can't imagine that it won't happen.

Well, if I was New Line, I would assume I'd be pretty motivated to talk to United Artists, but I honestly haven't heard of any conversations taking place and they wouldn't talk to me about it until they had the rights. But I do agree with you. For New Line, seeing the box office of these films, I would think they'd be pretty motivated to want to try to get THE HOBBIT done because it's like it can continue this thing on a bit long, but I'm not aware of anything actually happening.

There's bit a lot of talk about the voice of Saruman being left out of ROTK. Have you been following that?

Not really. I heard there was a petition to put Saruman back in, but it was all too late. I mean petitions are only of any use if there's still a moment that you can actually change things if people feel that strongly, but this petition was happening long after it was all locked and we couldn't go back. Anyway, I think we made the right decision, I mean this was just a director's decision, at the end of the day you've got to make a million of these decisions. I mean, I saw the movie – and you will all get to see it eventually on DVD, I assume – I just felt that people coming to RETURN OF THE KING, after waiting for this movie for a year, you've just got to sit them down and you've got to start cranking into the tension of that storyline.

Saruman doesn't have anything to do with RETURN OF THE KING. The scene that we shot was actually never supposed to be in RETURN OF THE KING. The scene that we shot was shot for THE TWO TOWERS, it was written for that film; it was in that script. We didn't put it in the movie because it was anti-climatic; once we saw that cut last year, we felt that we wanted to get the film finished as quickly as you can after Helms Deep. And so we had a choice really, either put it in the DVD for THE TWO TOWERS as a scene at the end –  which was possibly in hindsight what we should have done – but we did think for a while that it was a way in which we could open THE RETURN OF THE KING, to actually go to the voice of Saruman scene...

We had it in there for a while and we certainly looked at RETURN OF THE KING many times with the Saruman scene actually in place, because we had a four hour, 15 minute version of the movie at some stage. We just felt that we were actually wrapping out last year's film before we were starting this year's film and it just felt wrong. I just assume, obviously the fans are one thing, but I just assume the average film goers wouldn't even really think about it because, in the minds of most people, they saw Isengard being attacked by the Ents, they saw the flooding of Isengard, everybody would naturally assume that Saruman was now under control and imprisoned, effectively, in the tower. And now in this movie, the villain is Sauron; they are now confronting Sauron. I think the decision was the right one, I made the judgment based on seeing the movie.

Did you expect Christopher Lee’s fans to react the way they did?

Well, Christopher has been fine. He's got a fan site and I think a lot of the fans were not doing him a service, really, doing this petition. I don't think for a second it was Christopher's idea to do petitions or anything else, he's got a more class than that, a lot more style. Look, it will be fine. It's a good scene, it's a perfectly good scene and Christopher's great in it and nothing's wrong with it – it was a scene where having a home for it was the issue really. It will be a good thing for the DVD.

100,000 people showed up to the premiere in New Zealand.

They did. And they couldn't all fit in the theater unfortunately. It's a shame, but it was a fantastic welcome. It was just like, like I said to them, we made the movie but the entire city decided to give us the party, you know? And they all came out....

How many people live in Wellington?

I think about 300,000... A third of the population of the city. Yeah, it was amazing.

As you were making the films, how conscious were you of the fans of the book and what they would want to see?

You try to think purely on what's the best movie. We've never made the films for the fans as such, because that's opening up the door to basically committee filmmaking where you're not just making the film with a committee, you're making it with hundreds and thousands of talking fans. At that point, you may as well open up a website and have votes on what's going to be in the film or not, you know what I mean? You may as well invite everybody to participate, and you can't do that. It's a director's thing, filmmaking, at the end of the day there has to be somebody saying, “this is what I feel we should do.”

If you looked at the book and turned the pages of the book while the DVD was running on the movies, everything's different. In adapting the books, you somehow create the illusion that you're being faithful, but what is being faithful? I don't even know what the definition of that term is because even the scenes that we have in the film that are in the book are very different in terms of the dialogue, how long they are, what happens in them – even when we take a scene from the book, we adapt that scene within itself to be something very different than what was actually in the book. So it's all different. I don't know where the boundaries are at the end of the day, because there are no boundaries you've just got to rely on your own instincts, really.

There’s been talk among Oscar pundits that this is the film to beat this year.

Well I just think it's a fantasy movie, and everyone's sort of dubious about whether fantasy films have generally ever won Oscars and I tend to feel the same way. I think it's a bit of a leap when you have to compare a fantasy film with a so-called drama, although I'd obviously say that I think this film is as dramatic as anything else. I don't personally feel that fantasy should be stigmatized in any way, but I'm certainly not holding my breath.

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Source: JoBlo.com

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