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The maker of Middle Earth

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2013-12-11 London Evening Standard.jpg


Fans can finally see the second instalment of Peter Jackson's Tolkien trilogy on Friday - in his only interview, ; the director talks Hobbit haircuts, dragons and Doctor Who with Alastair McKay

INVARIABLY, when he directs a film, Peter Jackson has a dream. "I don't dream of Middle Earth. I dream every single night of being on the set and things going wrong. But it's always in relation to a film: it's always a film crew; it's people not knowing what they're doing; it's me not knowing what I'm doing."

It's understandable that Jackson might suffer from the odd pang of latenight anxiety. Having started out with homemade splatter movies, the Tolkien-loving 52-year-old New Zealander now finds himself at the centre of the world's most popular cinema franchise, with the second part of the Hobbit trilogy (The Desolation of Smaug) in cinemas on Friday.

If there's pressure, Jackson isn't showing it. Partly, that's because the second film in a trilogy is the one where the filmmaker can have fun. "We're going to give people a good time. You can add complication and add danger.

"The first Hobbit movie was ultimately nothing more than 'reclaim your homeland, it was taken by a dragon'. But what we're developing is more of a focus on the treasure. It's all very well to kill the dragon and reclaim your homeland but there is a lot of wealth in that mountain. And next year, in the third movie, it's about how you can't sit on all that wealth without a lot of people being interested in it."

If that sounds like a topical allegory, it isn't. At least, not intentionally. "We certainly didn't write with that in mind. Tolkien wrote The Hobbit in 1936-7, and he wrote Lord of the Rings in the Fifties, and people were trying to read allegory into his books at the time. America didn't discover the books until the Sixties, and then the hippie movement adopted them, which drove Tolkien slightly nuts - they were reading allegories for the Vietnam War.

"The thing with mythologies - and that's what Tolkien created - is that they work in whatever era you happen to read them. They're timeless, and people can see parallels. We released the first Lord of the Rings movie just after 9/11. In America, people were seeing things about good versus evil - it was a strange thing to witness, how the events of that period were read into the films, which obviously wasn't intended either."

The Desolation of Smaug is a technical wonder, employing state-of-the-art computer-generated imagery and 3D technology. It also moves with the pace and logic of a video game, though Jackson - with justification - suggests that many were influenced by Tolkien. "The thing that video games don't have are real characters and stories and plots."

In this instalment, the plot hurtles towards a showdown between Martin Freeman's Hobbit and the dragon, Smaug, voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch.

Freeman is fortunate. From the film's 752 wigs and 263 beards, he emerges with a stylish mod haircut.

"A mod haircut?! He's got a Hobbit haircut! But Martin is fantastic. He's just got so many natural attributes that you want for Bilbo Baggins. My way of thinking as a New Zealander is that he encapsulates that wonderful, slightly eccentric English quality of someone who doesn't want to travel, who doesn't want to go into the big bad world, he's happy to stay close to his village and put his feet up, he regards strangers with suspicion, and foreigners with immense suspicion. It's very charming - and Martin knows how to get the humour out of that."

Cumberbatch doesn't have to worry about hair, as he is all matinee-voiceover and CGI dragon. For Jackson, designing the dragon was an onerous responsibility in itself.

"Ever since people learned that we were doing The Hobbit," he says, "all I ever heard was 'I can't wait to see Smaug, what's he going to look like?' He's one of those iconic characters. In 2013 we've also got the problem of there being a lot of dragons in movies and TV shows. I found it hard to get Sean Connery out of my head because he played a talking dragon in Dragonheart. Even the name Smaug sounds like Sean Connery" - he affects the accent of an Edinburgh milkman - "Shhhmaug. But I made a decision early on not to try anything too fruity with the design. He's a classical dragon. It's ultimately about his personality. It's not what he looked like or how many teeth he had, what his eyes were like. It's going to be his voice, his character, and a lot of that's due to Benedict's performance."

Essentially, the director says, Smaug is "a cunning, smart, very dangerous psychopath" who has been hoarding gold, aware that one day, someone would show up to try to reclaim it.

"He's surprised, because he probably thought an army would arrive on his doorstep to take him on and who shows up but this little guy - this small hobbit. He's asking himself, 'Should I be scared of this guy, has he got friends outside, what's his power?'" When Jackson talks, his enthusiasm for the denizens of Middle Earth is obvious. But he is aware that after 16 years inside the Tolkien universe, his work there will soon be done. He is happy to confirm reports that he has offered to direct an episode of Doctor Who. "I'm a Doctor Who fan, certainly. I'm of the generation that hid behind the sofa, and Patrick Troughton was my Doctor. I have admired what they've done recently."

The offer came after Doctor Who actor Matt Smith jokingly suggested that the show might film in New Zealand if Peter Jackson agreed to direct. Jackson didn't hesitate.

"We started getting calls from journalists saying, 'Wow - is Peter interested in directing Doctor Who?' I just said, 'Sure'.

"I actually would, because I've never done TV before, and I like the show, and it would be fun. It was sort of a joke but we'll try to make it happen at some point. But, hey, the All Blacks v the Daleks would be the way I'm going. The All Blacks will have to win, as would be expected. The Daleks would have no chance!"

'The thing with mythologies is that they work in whatever era you happen to read them'

'The All Blacks v the Daleks would be the way I'm going. The Daleks would have no chance '

GRAPHIC: Brit factor: Jackson cast Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins to capture "that wonderful, slightly eccentric English quality of someone who doesn't want to travel, who doesn't want to go into the big bad world". Below left, Ian McKellen as Gandalf

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  • APA 6th ed.: McKay, Alastair (2013-12-11). The maker of Middle Earth. London Evening Standard p. 36.
  • MLA 7th ed.: McKay, Alastair. "The maker of Middle Earth." London Evening Standard [add city] 2013-12-11, 36. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: McKay, Alastair. "The maker of Middle Earth." London Evening Standard, edition, sec., 2013-12-11
  • Turabian: McKay, Alastair. "The maker of Middle Earth." London Evening Standard, 2013-12-11, section, 36 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=The maker of Middle Earth | url= | work=London Evening Standard | pages=36 | date=2013-12-11 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=14 July 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=The maker of Middle Earth | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=14 July 2024}}</ref>