Born on Oct. 31, 1961 in Pukerua Bay, New Zealand, Jackson was raised by his father, William, a civil service accountant, and his mother, Joan, a factory worker; both of whom emigrated from England. A film buff from an early age, Jackson began making his own movies as a teenager after a family friend gave him a Super 8mm camera, learning the tricks of the trade from trial and error rather than through formal schooling. When he was 17, Jackson left school and applied for an entry-level job at the Film Unit in nearby Wellington, only to be turned away. Distraught over the blow, he began work as a photoengraver at The Evening Post while proceeding to make a 10-minute short called "Roast of the Day" (1983), which he spent the next four years turning into his first feature film, Bad Taste (1988). A gory, violent and bizarrely hilarious splatterfest about aliens landing on Earth to hunt human flesh for their outer space fast food restaurant, "Bad Taste" premiered at the 1988 Cannes Film Festival and earned Jackson a reputation as a resourceful filmmaker, capable of churning out a decent-looking film with no discernible money.
Jackson's early films - also known as his splatter period - had an unabashed penchant for the grotesque mixed with a child-like playfulness that often delved into wry and witty commentaries on society. While humorous, in a manner both campy and cerebral, these early films also had a bleak outlook on humanity hidden deep within the zany action - unstable psychological states and unhappy family situations were mixed with extreme, yet cartoonish violence and a satirical glance at cinema itself. His second feature, Meet the Feebles (1995), was another venture into comic horror. This time, however, people were replaced with garish Jim Henson-like Muppets who indulge in sex, drugs, corruption and machine gun violence. Reveling in poor taste to the point of glee, "Meet the Feebles" was blasted by critics when first released, but over time, it developed a strong cult following of fans who thoroughly embraced the film's deliberately warped sense of humor. In the last of his splatter films, Jackson directed Dead Alive (1993) - Known as "Braindead" in his native New Zealand - a horror comedy that managed to up the gross-out quotient without losing its appeal or humor in telling the story of a nebbish son (Timothy Balme) trying to prevent his domineering mother-turned-zombie (Elizabeth Moody) from turning the rest of the town into the undead.
Employing a vast array of bloody prosthetics, miniatures and stop motion effects, Jackson's "Dead Alive" was what many considered to be a high-water mark in horror comedy. The popularity of the film allowed the filmmaker to form Weta Digital, a special effects company based in New Zealand that served as the digital arm of the Weta Workshop, a creature effects company formed by close friend Richard Taylor in 1987. Jackson formed Weta Digital in order to do manage the effects for his next film, Heavenly Creatures (1994), a dark, disturbing and wholly exquisite retelling of the Parker-Hulme murder, one of New Zealand's most infamous murder cases. Jackson made a complete U-turn in terms of style, tone and genre that many considered to be a real departure for him into more serious adult filmmaking. The film starred Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey as two teenage girls whose intense relationship bends the boundaries of reality to the point where one of their mothers tries to break them apart, resulting in the girls plotting and carrying out her murder. Stylistic and full of Jackson's signature camera moves, "Heavenly Creatures" earned considerable critical praise and an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay.
Thanks to the success of "Heavenly Creatures," Jackson found himself on Hollywood's radar, particularly Miramax Films, which distributed the film in the United States. Meanwhile, he followed up with Jack Brown, Genius (1995), a comedy about a modern inventor and a medieval monk, and The Frighteners (1996), a Michael J. Fox vehicle about a psychic investigator. Both films had their moments, but seemed like mere warm-ups before he undertook one of the most ambitious projects any filmmaker has ever signed on for when he tackled J.R.R. Tolkein's Lord of the Rings trilogy. After spending several years trying to negotiate the rights to the material, which included a false start filming a remake of "King Kong," Jackson finally began principal photography in his native New Zealand in late 1999. He filmed all three films - "The Fellowship of the Ring" (2001), "The Two Towers" (2002) and "The Return of the King" (2003) - in quick succession and ended production in December 2000 after over 430 days of shooting. Jackson spent the next year in post-production on the first installment, delving into the next film once the previous one was ready for release.
The first installment, "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," was released in late December 2001 after a massive wave of hype was built up through various mediums, including the Internet and at the Cannes Film Festival, where 24 minutes of footage was screened to much enthusiasm. Set in mythic, prehistoric times in the fictional Middle Earth, "Fellowship" followed the trials and travails of hobbit Frodo Baggins (a digitally-reduced Elijah Woods) who embarks on a dangerous adventure with the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) to destroy a magic ring inherited from his Uncle Bilbo (Ian Holm) in the fires of Mount Doom before the dark Lord Sauron enslaves Middle Earth. Aided by his best friends, Sam (Sean Astin), Pippin (Billy Boyd) and Merry (Dominic Monaghan), as well as an assorted cast of characters that include a human warrior (Viggo Mortensen), a mystical Elf (Orlando Bloom) and a Dwarf soldier (John Rhys-Davies), Frodo must avoid confrontation with the traitorous Saruman (Christopher Lee), who aids Sauron by raising a fierce Orcan army. Earning critical praise the world over, "Fellowship" was an enormous international box office hit, taking in over $870 million while en route to receiving 13 Academy Award nominations and winning four for cinematography, makeup, score and visual effects.
The second film, "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers," was released in 2002 to much fanfare, with many critics and moviegoers deeming it an even superior film to the first outing - particularly with its introduction of Gollum (Andy Serkis) which was the first time an actor's performance and digital animation were seamlessly integrated to create the world's first completely life-like computer-generated character. Despite the massive box office take and numerous critical accolades, Jackson failed to make the Academy's nominee list for Best Director a second time. But it was the third installment, "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" (2003) that proved to be the pinnacle for Jackson, winning universal praise as an immensely satisfying wrap-up to the epic tale and a landmark in cinematic innovation, though many offered slight criticism for the film's ending, which unfolded for what seemed like an hour on its own. Still, "Return of the King" had set the new technological benchmarks, while Jackson himself was rewarded at last with some major directorial plaudits, including a first Best Director Academy Award, a Golden Globe as Best Director, Motion Picture, and a Directors Guild Award. The third film garnered a total of 11 Oscar nominations overall - the first ever to achieve that many without any acting nods - and collected a statue for every category, tying the records held by "Ben Hur" (1959) and "Titanic" (1997).
Anticipation could not have been higher for Jackson's follow-up project, a remake of the classic monster film King Kong (2005), a childhood dream of his that almost came true in 1997 while he was battling for the rights to Lord of the Rings. Though he kept the time, place and story essentially the same as the original, Jackson completely revolutionized the special effects by again using Andy Serkis in a motion-capture body suit to portray Kong. Meanwhile, Jackson recruited an enviable cast, including Adrien Brody, Jack Black and Naomi Watts in the Faye Wray role, and made another film for the ages that, while at the time was the most expensive movie ever made, recouped its budget and then some after talking in over $550 million worldwide. Stepping into the role of producer, Jackson helped shepherd the independently made sci-fi opus, District 9 (2009), which focused on an alien invasion where the aliens never attack and are instead consigned to become refugees in South Africa, only to find themselves targeted by a multi-national company that seeks to acquire its DNA-based weaponry. Meanwhile, Jackson spent several years trying to direct adaptations of Tolkein's The Hobbit, only to eventually settle on writing and producing two installments directed by Guillermo del Torro. In the meantime, he directed the adaptation of Alice Sebold's bestseller, The Lovely Bones (2009), which told the tale of a young girl (Saoirse Ronan) raped and murdered by her neighbor (Stanley Tucci), and who finds herself trapped in purgatory while watching her family grieve and the killer plotting to murder again.
As the travails of attempting to get the "Hobbit" film off the ground continued, Jackson returned to more familiar genre fare when he partnered with director Steven Spielberg to co-produce "The Adventures of Tintin" (2011), a CGI animated adventure based on the comic book series by French creator Hergé. Planned as the first entry in a franchise, Jackson was slated to direct the second feature, with Spielberg co-producing. On a far smaller scale financially, but of equal significance to Jackson was his next project as a producer - the harrowing documentary West of Memphis (2012). Following the decades-long ordeal of a trio of three young men - collectively known as the "West Memphis Three" - who were accused, tried and convicted of the gruesome murder of a young boy in 1993, it concluded with the men's eventual release from prison and shed light on a more likely suspect in the grisly crime. Throughout all of these side projects, Jackson remained committed to helping Guillermo del Toro bring the "Hobbit" to life on screen. For more than two years, del Toro had pushed forward, working with Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens on a script and designing creatures, characters and set pieces. However, in the midst of ongoing financial difficulties with the troubled MGM, which had yet to officially green light the project, a frustrated del Toro regretfully announced his departure from the movie in 2010.
In a move that many fans had long felt was predestined, Jackson officially announced that summer that he would take over duties as the director of the film , which had by then been greenlit and would be shot in 3-D. Still, the road ahead would be bumpy, as more troubles arose when a labor dispute with the International Federation of Actors once again threatened to derail the project, or at least move its filming location out of New Zealand. Eventually cooler heads prevailed and an agreement was reached, much to the relief of politicians and business owners who feared a loss of revenue in the projected range of $1.5 billion should the production not be filmed in the country. After completing a filming schedule that lasted the majority of a year, Jackson was at last ready to unveil The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012), telling the story of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and his incredible journey to assist a group of dwarves in retrieving a fortune in treasure from the fearsome dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch). Initially intended as one of two films, it was announced that "An Unexpected Journey" would be the first in yet another trilogy of epic films, which would return fan favorite actors like Sir Ian McKellen, Elijah Wood and Cate Blanchett to the world of Middle-earth in their original roles.
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