Peter Jackson: Movie fans are ‘fed up with the lack of original ideas’

July 29, 2009 | 12:29 a.m.

On the eve of last week’s Comic-Con International, I spoke to Peter Jackson about oppressed aliens, Hobbits and, most interestingly, the proliferation of remakes, sequels and adaptations in Hollywood. The interview was for a lengthy Los Angeles Times Calendar cover story previewing the San Diego expo. Only a few quotes were used in that piece; here’s the full Q&A… — Geoff Boucher

Peter Jackson into the woods

GB: Welcome to Southern California or, as we like to call it, the fiery surface of the sun… 

PJ: Yes, it’s very hot. I’ve just come from winter in New Zealand. My God, It was like stepping into a furnace yesterday. The hot wind coming off the concrete was just appalling.

GB: I saw the trailer for “District 9” and I’ll be watching the whole film soon. It’s looks quite compelling. You must be excited to be bringing it to San Diego.  

PJ: I think one of the good things with that movie is that no one is expecting anything really. So I think one of the advantages we’ve had is we’ve sort of came out as a complete surprise which was actually quite good, really. It wasn’t really planned that way but we quietly made it down to South Africa and New Zealand sort of under the radar. It was never a film that people knew about until it suddenly started getting the trailers and the posters started going around and then it was like, ‘Oh my God this is a weird, little strange film.’ “

GB: “District 9” is a bit of a rarity in the Comic-Con sector in that it’s not an adaptation of a comic book or a toy, it’s not a remake or a sequel, it’s not based on an old television show….  

PJ: Yeah, I guess so. I mean I guess Comic-Con in a way celebrates popular culture so its emphasis is always going to be on the culture that exists, I guess, which is clear enough. But I suppose it covers everything doesn’t it? It covers movies and TV and it’s obviously become a place where if you’ve got something new it’s a good place to expose it to the fans.

GB: Certainly, it’s a place to introduce the new and celebrate the past, but I suppose what I was suggesting is that these days it seems difficult to make a big special-effects film unless it’s based on some pre-existing, known quantity in pop-culture, such as  a novel, comic book, video game, TV show, toy line or previous movie. You look at the Harry Potter films, “Iron Man,” “Star Trek,” “Transformers“…  

PJ:I mean, personally I think that’s one of the most depressing things about the film industry generally today. The writers and directors should be blamed just as much as the studios because really everything seems to be a remake or adapting a 1970s TV show that was never particularly good. Why anyone thinks that it would be a good feature film now, you know, goodness knows why. And I guess it’s easy to say it’s security that you know a studio is only prepared to put $150 million or $200 million into something if it’s a known quantity. But at the same time I’m also aware that audiences are getting fed up with the lack of original ideas and original stories. And if you look back to the great days of “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones” and those sorts of movies, they weren’t based on TV shows, they weren’t based on comics. They were inspired by them and they had DNA in them which came from years of Flash Gordon and various things in the past but nonetheless they were original. And yet we seem to be incapable as a general industry, which includes not just the studios but the filmmakers and writers and directors, we seem to be incapable of doing that now for some reason. It’s a little bit depressing. But hopefully it’s a cycle. Everything in the film business tends to be cyclic and hopefully this all drains itself out in a couple years and we’ll be back into original stories again.

District 9

GB: I think there’s also a sense now that special effects have finally made it possible to successfully adapt the great past works in literature that couldn’t be realized visually on a screen in the past, such as your own “Lord of the Rings” series, “Alice in Wonderland” and the Narnia films. Those sort of properties are a bit different than making a movie about a bestselling toy… 

PJ: There are perennial stories like “Alice in Wonderland” and Sherlock Holmes and those sorts of things, which have been around since almost as long as film, and Frankenstein is another one. They’re perennial favorites, which get remade every 20 years and that’s OK. We almost expect that but it is really the making and putting huge resources into something that was never that good in the first place, which I guess nonetheless is a brand name. And I guess one of the most cynical ones is when people can take toy lines and turn them into films. To some degree I was very dubious of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” idea — taking a theme park ride and turning into a film — even though they seemed to end up being quite fun films.

GB: That’s true, although “Country Bears” and “Haunted Mansion” suggest that the rest of the theme park might be best left alone. Can you talk a bit about “District 9” and how you came to the project as producer?

PJ: Well I came to it because Neill Blomkamp, the director, and I got to know each other when we were supposed to be making “Halo” together, with me producing it and he directing it, and that movie didn’t happen. It’d been about three or four months in prep and we were working on the screenplay and he was in New Zealand where the production was going to be based and he was working with the visual-effects guys and doing lots of maquettes and lots of production design and conceptualizing.

Then the studio didn’t want to go ahead and make it and they started sort of arguing amongst themselves. It was a co-production between Fox and Universal and so the thing kind of imploded and fell apart. We felt sorry for Neill because we’d offered him the job as director and we’d spent quite a few months working on it and it’s pretty traumatic when a film falls apart, even though we saw it coming a little bit ahead of time. It’s a pretty gut-wrenching thing because it happens when you’ve spent three or four months on a project and you’re kind of emotionally committed to that project, so there is emotion involved and it gets pretty tough.

So we just felt terrible for Neill and thought, ‘My God, thisis his introduction to the world of feature filmmaking?’ He’d only done commercials and short films and then this happened, which we felt responsible for. We were supposed to look after him and nurture him and put him through this process and instead he’s gone through hell. We felt terrible and obviously we still felt totally believing in his abilities as director. But they didn’t want to make it and there’s nothing we could do. We don’t own the ‘Halo’ franchise. We can’t raise the money somewhere else. It’s their property, they’ve got the license for it. So the way to avoid this [happening again] is to do something original, to do it at a lower budget, finance it independently, and not finance it through a studio. You know, there are ways of avoiding it. We came up with the idea for ‘District 9.’

GB: The film is an expansion on Blomkamp’s 2005 short film, “Alive in Joburg,” correct? That was a six-minute, documentary-style film about extraterrestrials living a slum life in South Africa…

Peter Jackson

PJ:Yes, is based on one of Neill’s “Alive in Joburg.” Because he grew up in South Africa, he had witnessed the end of the apartheid era and all the ugliness that came with apartheid and also the difficulties that the country’s gone through since then. That was his life and I thought it was really terrific; often young directors make their first movie based on popular culture. They don’t base it on something that they’ve actually experienced. They base it on something they read or a comic book that they liked or a TV show they liked. But I thought it was really neat that Neill was affected by apartheid to the degree that he felt he had something to say about it through aspects of it being used in a genre film. And so we financed the development of it ourselves. My partner and I just paid for the development of the project out of our own pocket and he went to South Africa. He shot some test film of his friend Sharlto Copley, who’s not a professional actor as such. He’s an old buddy of Neill’s … they used to know each other when they were young and Neill wanted Sharlto to be the lead in the film. And he’s actually really, reallygreat. You’ll see that for yourself when you see the film. But we’d never met Sharlto so we sent Neill to South Africa to shoot a little 10-minute test of Sharlto and to shoot some more South African stuff just to sort of inspire the story. And then he came back and we wrote a script with him — or, more precisely, he did the script and we sort of helped him and advised him with the structure and stuff. And then it was all go and we raised the money through QED, an independent finance company. And it all happened quietly and below the radar.

GB: That’s an interesting point you make about a tendency of new filmmakers to celebrate material they love as opposed to creating something entirely new. I suppose it makes sense that homage and craft are less elusive than unique personal voice…  

PJ: I can understand it because when you’re a young kid or a young adult and you’re wanting to make a film — and this is pretty much my story too — you tend to interpret. To be an original is probably the hardest quality to find if you’re a young filmmaker. Everything you want to do is based on some level on something you’ve already seen and obviously you either want to remake some favorite film or bring something you love to the screen, such as a comic book. I grew up wanting to do a new vision of “King Kong.” I tried to do a remake of “King Kong” when I was about 12 years old on a Super 8. So that was sort of a long-held dream of mine. I was inspired by the great [Ray] Harryhausen movies and I did a lot of stop motion on a Super 8; it’s other people’s movies that inspire your direction in the career and the reason you want to be a filmmaker is the fact that you love these films so therefore you’re heavily inspired by them. You tend to want to make your movies based on something you’ve seen and then you get a little bit older. Sometimes it takes a few years until you feel enough confidence to be a bit more original. You are open to try things out that are not based on things you’ve seen, but come from ideas you’ve got in your head. It does take a certain degree of self-confidence to get to that place and a lot of young directors don’t have that and I understand that. But Neill, I mean when you see “District 9,” what you will see is a very original and particular vision for a movie. He didn’t want to shoot it like a traditional drama. He didn’t want the visual effects to be pretty and intricate. He wanted a sort of down-and-dirty documentary style. He wanted to have a raw energy about it. That’s one of the qualities Neill has — he’s an original thinker, which is terrific.

GB: I spoke to Guillermo del Toro recently and was reminded how delightful he is. There’s such great excitement about “The Hobbit” films that he will be directing to add to the canon of your “Lord of the Rings” films. The fact that you are producing those films and are making your first trip to Comic-Con, there are lots of rumors that you might announce some news about the casting for “Hobbit”…   

Viggo Mortenson and Peter Jackson


PJ: No, not unless I get kidnapped and tortured for that information! I’m there really pretty much to support “District 9.” We made a decision that Guillermo and I talked about and we talked about it with the studio as well, and decided that on anything to do with “The Hobbit” … it was too early. We decided that every time someone sticks a microphone in our faces and says, “Is there anything to say?” that we’d always just answer ‘No, no it’s too soon, too soon.” But when we want to release our first real information or our first imagery, we’ll figure out a way to do that. But we literally aren’t there yet. We’re still working on the scripts, and Guillermo’s still doing a lot of conceptual design. We’re exploring ideas. There’s no final designs, necessarily, that we want to share with anyone yet. We haven’t cast a single person in the movie yet. Obviously we have hopes that some of the existing actors from “Lord of the Rings” will come back. The ones that we need for “The Hobbit,” we’re hoping we’ll get them back. But deals haven’t been done with any of the new actors that we will need. We haven’t yet made any offers to anybody. So there isn’t really anything to say. I imagine at next year’s Comic-Con it’ll be a little different. I would imagine because at next year’s Comic-Con we will have been shooting for eight or nine months, so I’m sure that there will be something cool then. We’re looking forward to that. We decided to get the screenplays finished first and then, because some of the casting, and particular for the dwarf characters, is pretty much dependent on the personalities and the type of characters they are. So we thought we’d just get the script written and make our decisions on the characters based on the script, and then we can go out and cast the right people.

GB: It’s pretty astounding that you haven’t been to San Diego before this year… 

PJ: Every time that Comic-Con’s happened I’ve been busy and it’s mainly because of the release of the “Lord of the Rings” films and “Kong” always happened in December. They were always December movies so at this time of the year I was often shooting pick-ups because I used to like doing three of four weeks of pick-up shooting during post-production, which always used to happen around July, and so I got locked into a schedule of never really being available to come over. I used to shoot little greetings, videos and things … this is the first time I’ve ever actually been able to come over. I’m looking forward to it. Don’t quite know what to expect because everyone says it’s a lot of fun. I mean the trouble is, the thing I’d like to do at Comic-Con — and I really wouldlove to do it more than anything — is just go shopping and buy some model kits, because I still collect and make them and paint them and I’m sure there’d be some great ones there. But I just know there’s no way I could actually do that. It’s a shame actually. I’m sure that’d be the brilliant, the perfect place in the world to buy some new kits. I do have someone who’s going to go around and photograph kits for me. The other alternative was to dress up in a stormtrooper costume. I don’t think I’d have the time to do that, unfortunately. It is tempting. Tell people that the nearest stormtrooper could be me.

— Geoff Boucher


District 9 ad

The Lord of the Geeks arrives in San Diego

Jackson: “Hobbit” script is 3-4 weeks away

Jackson: “District 9” director has “courageous sense” as filmmaker

“The Hobbit” is just the beginning of the Del Toro Decade

A travesty: Tolkien heirs made zero off of “Rings” trilogy

So what’s up with all of those alien ads?

CREDITS: Top: Peter Jackson in 2004/Lawrence K. Ho-Los Angeles Times. Second photo: “District 9” image/Sony Pictures. Third photo: Jackson in 2006 at Golden Globes/ Mark J. Terrill — Asociated Press. Bottom: Viggo Mortensen and Jackson on the set of “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King”/New Line Productions.


31 Responses to Peter Jackson: Movie fans are ‘fed up with the lack of original ideas’

  1. Kevin says:

    He does a retread of "Alien Nation" then slams others about a lack of original ideas? WTF?

  2. mothrpe says:

    He does yet another remake of king kong then says there's a lack of original ideas, hahaha. what a guy

  3. resbih says:

    Hobbit, Kong, talk about Halo. I like his movies, but give me a break

  4. MSG says:

    What an ass. LOTR is an original idea? It's based on a set of books. WTF?

  5. chronicm5 says:

    His most successful movies also happen to be the least original of his. You're right about the originality thing, but its definitely not what you're good at.

  6. Bill says:

    A profound statement of the oblivious.

  7. Emily says:

    Yes because Peter Jackson clearly thought of Lord of The Rings and King Kong up all on his own…

  8. Seems like all his movies stories that have already been told, but at least most of them are entertaining.

  9. anonymous says:

    He does not exclude himself when he refers to the "film industry" and it is also true about lack of ideas, what's the problem ? What he said was fine.

  10. Danichi says:

    I agree, the fans are fed up with the influx of old ideas made new in the land of Hollywood. Most of the films out today I grew up watching on TV when I still had a paper route. Part of the problem is if the studio heads ever got hold of a great script from a new writer with fresh ideas, they would be budget minded and not even take a chance on it. Hey, I got an idea, Peter could start a mentor program, maybe he can grab a coffee shop screen writer and check out some new range of ideas for public consumption because we really need brand new ideas before the major film studios ask for a congressional bail out.
    Oh, if you need me to shut up or put up, you know where to find me.

  11. Bella says:

    I don't think that Jackson was necessarily separating himself from productions he would deem "unoriginal" or adaptations of old films or books; rather, it is his and other filmaker's realization that studios are unwilling to shovel 100-200 milllion on an unknown pet project. "Heavenly Creatures" was a great film but I wouldn't anticipate Fox or Paramount eager to bank upon a similar movie any time soon . . .

  12. Mike Giles says:

    Jackson stated that there were classics that deserve to be remade. He mentioned "Frankenstein" for example. And how often, and in how many ways has "Romeo and Juliet" been remade. Sometimes the remake is better then the original, witness the two "Hulks" and I wish that "Starship Troopers" had been more in line with Heinlein's novel. God knows what PC Hollywood would do with "Farnham's Freehold"?
    In any case, I don't think original stories can be written, only a new take on an old theme. And in this age of instant information at our fingertips, it's difficult to really surprise the audience with something "new".

  13. says:

    Peter Jackson: El público esta cansado por la falta de ideas originales en el cine. [ENG]

    Peter Jackson, director de la triolgía de El señor de los anillos, opina acerca de la industria cinematográfica y su situación actual. Entre otras cosas, afirma que en la actualidad casi todo parecen remakes de series de los 70. También habla de la fru…

  14. Anya Moren says:

    I do not go any more to see any movies. at all! It is all the same boring theme. Most of it is a lot about WW 2,and the nazys,ou about priests and catholic church.The last ones I think the name was Walkiria with Tom Cruise and before that something with Kate Wisnlet to name few.My Lord I do miss Hitchcock or Agatha Christie mistery movies!.

  15. Danny says:

    Man I wish I knew a way to get Peter Jackson my story.
    Without spilling the beans, my story is 1000000% original and it is about aliens. A lot of parts of the story would be gold on screen and the story itself is basically the celebration of life and the human races victory and place in the universe.
    While as a regular person I would never have the chance to present the story to someone who could do something with it. I have had the opportunity to present it to over 40 other people. While that is a small sample they all thought it was extremely original and well thought out and that it was filled with a lot of ideas that would satisfy UFO watchers and SciFi buffs alike.
    It is a mix of today and tomorrow all based around our place in the universe and where we came from and where we are going. Friends and enemies in a story that is absolutely possible yet just on that edge of fantasy but it all takes place in the world as we know it.
    It has its heroes and some funny aspects but it is also serious and will pull all humans together along with some unexpected friends and twists.
    You want original, well I have one that is just waiting for the opportunity. It is about 1/8 written into a script but since I am just a nobody, it ill probably never be finished.
    I thought about a book but I am not a writer either so no-one will take it serious even if I did write it.
    If you are out there and want an original story that we can all connect to email me.

    • Jono R says:

      Good luck with that, but to be pedantic; you can't get higher than 100%, and secondly NOTHING is original. Not just today but forever. Everything is inspired or influenced by things that have gone before. Obviously your tentative blurb is vague, but it still calls to mind other stories with that theme. By all means pursue it – I wish I had the staying power to complete any of the dozens of "original" storylines I've thought up over the years. But, no one can ever make something truly original because of the perfectly worded quote, "Standing on the shoulders of giants." I get that by original you mean not based on any existing material specifically, but there will inevitably always be elements that can be traced back to something before. To name but a few of the most successful "original" titles: Star Wars – inspired by Flash Gordon, Dune, Hidden Fortress; Lord of the Rings – inspired by Arthurian legend, Beowulf, Scandinavian and Celtic mythologies; Indiana Jones – Spielberg wanted to make a Bond movie, Lucas already had a semi-similar story inspired by 1930s serials, Golden Age adventure films and Westerns with a little flavouring of rumoured Nazi Occultist experiments. But for your story to be a million percent original it would have to break the rules of physics and be written not on paper and in words but via some sort of gaseous melange extruded from the creation glands of a Saturnian Story-Lizard. Keep up the good work though, I've bored everyone by now I'm sure…

  16. danny says:

    district 9 is best and most original movie since 1st Matrix

  17. danny says:

    good ideas should always be stolen and represented in interesting ways, but making movies on superheroes and known quantities does indeed truly suck, i agree with the man.

  18. Brad says:

    I love how many people criticize him for agreeing that there are not many original ideas in Hollywood and explaining why. Did any of you actually read the article? Obviously not – mothrpe, Kevin, MSG, Emily etc.. sheeps… all of you.

  19. Warong_3_ching says:

    Its nothing wrong with adaptation movie unless if it made for worse as dragonball, as for district 9.. Neil really hit the second half of the movie…

  20. Doug says:

    Anyone complaining about Jackson's resume and his remarks in this article really should read it and then try pointing out where he even hints at considering himself and exception to the problem.
    He goes so far as to explain why, from a yound age the wish to recreate is instilled into young, would-be filmakers including himself.

  21. EndlessGrowthEconomi says:

    Fed up- so true. I've really been noticing this for the last few years and stumbled upon this page… there is no creativity or originality what so ever in most films. All they're doing is remaking old films, albeit usually altering them to make them more politically/demographically correct to today. And it's not just with films; it's everywhere that brains are required- the engineering of everyday products, figuring out everyday problems, and even in the running the country.
    What is the cause of this apparent devolving of the human brain (in the US at least)? Is it the 80% nutrient depletion of our soils (and so foods) thanks to mass-farming? Is the flouride in the water accumulating in people's brains, like the Nazi's and Russians used pre-WWII to control populations and make them sheepish? Is the lack of true knowledge expectation in schools? Is it from having massive populations of immigrants that are no longer expected to assimilate and become "one people"? Is it the CFR and their complete control of mainstream American media used to forward their agenda?
    I suppose it's all of the above and more. A society that supports, indeed promotes, not having to use your brain; basic evolution dictates "use it or lose it"…

  22. Andrea Smittana says:

    I love Peter Jackson's movies, so who cares if it's original or not? As for unoriginal, I would REALLY love it if he made a movie of the Wheel of Time or Sword of Truth series, though either or both of those would be HUGE undertakings.

  23. […] Peter Jackson: Moviegoers “fed up” with uoriginal ideas […]

  24. Brian Lussier says:

    Am I the only one to see that Jackson didn't put all adaptations and remakes in the same basket? He talked two or three times specifically about "those that are based on TV shows that weren't good to begin with". It's true that "Transformers" and "G.I. Joe" were shit shows in the 80s, and the movies are just as shitty! So he's right. He also said that some stories, such as "Frankenstein" and "Alice In Wonderland", are expected to be remade every twenty years, because they're timeless, they're in a class of their own, they're important in literary and film history. And "King Kong" belongs in that category: it's cinema's greatest myth ever! And "The Lord Of The Rings" is a goddamn masterpiece, so shut up all those who don't know what the hell you're talking about!

  25. Vaishak Nambiar says:

    This Peter Guy is a fake because the film he boasts as a 'strange, weird film' [district 9] is a 10000000000 times remade cliche concept of alien invasion and watching it was such a bore that you will hate the medium of films itself. There was no originality or creativity in that film. Even the makers couldn't make a alien creature that's different from the 'Alien','Predator' and other 100 films which deals with Alien invasion. How this man could be such a hypocrite ? Oh, man, His KIng Kong was the most horrible film i have ever seen. I didnt have any clue why somebody made that film. oh,. i dont even want to think about it one more time

  26. Website says:

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  27. greasepaint says:

    Can't stand the appalling heat huh Peter? Careful big guy, (or shall we say recently 'shrunk' guy. your true colors are starting to show through) Jackson clearly hates the U.S. hence why he didn't film one single frame of his endless, three hour long 'drowning in CGI King Kong' in New York City, which was a shame.

  28. Jono R says:

    It's when movie-making establishments reached a new low plumbing the depths of 1970s/80s toys and boardgames that most of my faith committed creative suicide. I can kind of understand Transformers – they were giant, transforming, alien robots. I can conceive of that as a movie. But Battleship? A pock-marked grid for red and white pegs and a handful of plastic ships? "B2, miss. G7, hit – you sunk my battleship!" I mean, is that how stuck for ideas they are, or are they simply too scared to risk ANYTHING where there is money involved? I even hear there's to be a Monopoly movie! My God! It really makes me weep for all the creative talents out there, be they writers, artists, film-makers or whatever, who will not have the tiniest chance of telling an original story because their not a guaranteed multi-million cash cow.

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