Thirteen years ago, former gore auteur and monster enthusiast Peter Jackson brought The Lord of the Rings to the mainstream with his celebrated adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s landmark fantasy novels. Even today, the films are looked at as something of a miracle; no one guessed that a trilogy of pictures about Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, dark lords, swords, and occasional sorcery might end up being hugely successful on both critical and commercial levels, or that they might wind up nearly taking a clean sweep of the Academy Awards in 2004.
Fast forward to 2012, and Jackson’s three-film screen version of The Hobbit, Tolkien’s first novel, have met with comparatively less rapturous applause and increasingly shrinking box office rewards. Maybe their chillier reception is a symptom of just how much the Lord of the Rings movies achieved in the aughts; then again, maybe Jackson’s passion for Middle-Earth has waned in the intervening decade between the release of The Return of the King and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, a movie he didn’t even plan on directing to begin with.
Whatever the case may be, fans and critics aren’t the only ones who see a difference between the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films: Viggo Mortensen, Aragorn himself, thinks Jackson’s new set of Tolkien pictures are too overwhelmed by their special effects. Mortensen is currently doing the rounds at Cannes, where he took the opportunity to sit down for an interview with the The Telegraph to discuss his latest film, The Two Faces of January. During their chat, the topic of Lord of the Rings came up, which led into a frank and unflattering discussion of The Hobbit, as well as Jackson’s proclivities toward CGI.
Put in short, Viggo isn’t too impressed with The Hobbit‘s overindulgence of computerized effects work. Here’s the full quote from Mortensen:
Also, Peter was always a geek in terms of technology but, once he had the means to do it, and the evolution of the technology really took off, he never looked back. In the first movie, yes, there’s Rivendell, and Mordor, but there’s sort of an organic quality to it, actors acting with each other, and real landscapes; it’s grittier. The second movie already started ballooning, for my taste, and then by the third one, there were a lot of special effects. It was grandiose, and all that, but whatever was subtle, in the first movie, gradually got lost in the second and third. Now with The Hobbit, one and two, it’s like that to the power of 10.
Jackson fans are probably sharpening their Barrow-blades for Viggo already. But the once and future king of Gondor isn’t repudiating Jackson’s style as much as he’s quietly critiquing it; his comment is phrased gently and stated with class. For Viggo, this is a matter of taste and preference. Given his post-Rings role choices (which include a trio of more character-heavy dramas from Canadian director David Cronenberg, with A History of Violence, Eastern Promises, and A Dangerous Method), it’s easy to see where he’s coming from.
Does he have a point, though? There is a lot of CGI in both Hobbit films, and in places where Jackson would have used practical effects over a decade ago, but the key to Viggo’s remark might be his opening line. Jackson has indeed always been obsessed with technology and with FX, from his early days directing bad taste B-horror classics like Dead Alive and, well, Bad Taste, to his last pre-Rings effort, The Frighteners; the man loves his toys and it shows, though perhaps not always for the better. But as Viggo acknowledges, that emphasis on FX is apparent in his scrappier, DIY productions to the films that he’s known for making today.
So the Jackson we know today isn’t really all that different from the Jackson who built a cult following out of New Zealand nearly thirty years ago. The only real change is that he has money and clout now, which means greater access to state of the art tools to create his effects. Even if the results don’t always pan out, nobody can really say that the Jackson of 2014 is a fundamentally different filmmaker than the Jackson of 1987, no matter how much CGI he decides to use in his later-day projects.
Viggo’s comment probably won’t make him very popular among the Jackson faithful – it looks like he’s biting the hand that fed him, even if he isn’t – but given how much more PJ has come to rely on CG effects with The Hobbit films versus the Rings films, perhaps it’s not totally unwarranted, either.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies hits theaters on December 17th, 2014.
Source: The Telegraph