The King Is Back, and He’s Peter Jackson: Proud to Be a Kiwi

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King premiered in director Peter Jackson’s homeland of New Zealand over the weekend and our own Rita Street was there to share with you all the fanfare that is sure to spread around the world as the movie (which she says is awesome) rolls into theaters starting this month.

“I don’t want this day to end,” said Sir Ian McKellen at a press conference Monday in Wellington just hours prior to the four-mile long ticker-tape parade and the worldwide premiere of the third installment of director Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Return of the King. Referring in part to the kindness of Kiwi fans who adore him (and camped out on streets en masse last night to see him) as well as the bittersweet nature of the day that would see the close of the largest chapter in New Zealand entertainment history, McKellen added, “I’ve never known anything like it.”

McKellen’s sentiments were echoed by the entire cast, which has come to love Jackson’s hometown of Wellington and all of New Zealand as a second home. Some, like John Rhys-Davies (Gimli) are even buying land here. Producer Barrie Osborne said he is vying for citizenship.

There’s no doubt that the making of the trilogy has deeply affected all of the cast and crew–Shakespearean thespian McKellen said the role of the Gandalf will be his most important achievement–but it has also affected the economy and future of New Zealand. As Prime Minister Helen Clark said during the official party for the LOTR at Parliament on Monday, “There were some who said this project was just too big–that wasn’t Peter Jackson and that wasn’t New Zealand.” New Line co-chairman Bob Shay echoed the Prime Minister’s faith in her people, explaining that the making of the trilogy had not been simply a “material success” for his company, but a “spiritual success” in which NL came to appreciate Kiwi ingenuity in all of its many facets. Not only have native countrymen given the world innovations like splitting the atom, the more than 20,000 Kiwis who worked on the films have raised the bar for visual effects filmmaking the world over.

Although no agency has yet measured the real impact of what is now called the “Frodo Economy” on New Zealand filmmaking or tourism, New Zealanders are loath to question the impact of Jackson’s Herculean undertaking. So impressed by the new found importance of filmmaking in her country’s future, Clark announced what the Weekend Herald dubbed a “raft of measures designed to boost the local film industry … linking the initiatives to benefits that have flowed through Weta studios in Miramar and into the economy.” What is not clear, is how this new large budget grant scheme, which is chiefly orchestrated to provide tax breaks for large productions coming from off-shore, will help local filmmaking.

Still, no one in Wellington today is willing to do more than cheer. They’ve invited New Line in and that’s that. It’s time to cheer everyone who had anything to do with the films, and no one but no one does a parade sweeter or better than a Kiwi. Some fans were almost in tears as the crowds squeezed along city streets that followed a four-mile red-carpet leading to the premiere at the newly refurbished Embassy theater. Local actress Ruth Gottleib, in line with a LOTR apron and charming umbrella, screamed, “They should call it Peter Jackson day and make it a holiday!”

The stars, flanked by extras from the movie in garb of various LOTR cultures, rode in vintage Mustang convertibles and waved exuberantly to their fans, even signed autographs along the way. Overhead, an Air New Zealand 747, decked out in a new LOTR character paint-job came down on the deck to 300 feet and buzzed the crowd. Confetti flew and frenzied teens blew kissess at Viggo Mortensen, but there was no greater hoorah than for Peter Jackson, who waved to the crowd, smiled shyly and filmed the world around him with a handheld while the world filmed him.

In almost every celebratory event of the day, the word genius was used to describe Jackson. Not only were his abilities and bravery touched upon–to make three massive movies in one go was not only insane but the type of venture legends are made of–but his kindness and inspiration to all his cast and crew has proven to be Kiwi green-gold. Jackson, who had yet to see the completed film when he spoke at Parliament prior to the parade, was fighting back tears when he said, “For me this is the end of seven years of work, but the great thing about making movies is they’re going to live on way past us. The memory I’m going to have in years to come [of this process] is of friendship.”

And fellowship! A day in which more than 100,000 happy fans, notably gathered far outside the boundaries of Hollywood, provided closure to an amazing journey in film.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King opens across North America on Dec. 17. Go behind the scenes with the visual effects wizards at Weta in the December issue of Animation Magazine.