December 28, 1999Blood & Gore
Director Can't Score a PG-13
"I think," Peter Jackson says calmly over the
phone, "that I shot myself in
Were this a typical Jackson movie, you could almost see the scene before you -- with a
smoking gun, a gaping wound and a gallon of crimson blood.
This is the director, after all, who made "Dead Alive," which ends with the hero
literally mowing down zombies. This is the auteur of "Meet the Feebles," a
scatological puppet movie generally described as "the Muppets on acid."
But Jackson isn't talking about real self-mutilation. He's talking about his
new movie, "The Frighteners" -- and his own attempt to tone down the gore.
"We set out to make it as a PG-13 -- we shot the movie with every intention to do
that," he says. "Because I was going for the PG-13, I deliberately steered clear
of some things."
So Jackson restrained his usual blood-red appetites. And the movie still got an R.
Which is why now, calling from his San Francisco hotel room, he sounds a
little frustrated -- but resigned.
"At the end of the day," he admits, "the film is fundamentally about serial
It's also, despite its blood and violence, a Michael J. Fox comedy. And a real attempt by
Jackson to crack the mainstream American market.
It wasn't a market he always seemed interested in. As a young director in New Zealand,
Jackson once described Hollywood executives as "genuinely stupid." Dealing with
them on a regular basis, he predicted, "would drive me crazy."
He didn't need to deal with them, either. Jackson was already the rudest,
rawest talent in a national film-making renaissance that included Lee Tamahori and Alison
Maclean. He'd also made a name for himself as the man who got the New Zealand Film
Commission to invest $3 million in a zombie comedy.
"I know, it's amazing," he says now. "That's something even I can't
"Dead Alive," however, turned out to be extremely profitable, for the
commission and the director. So Jackson -- who lists splatter-auteurs Sam Raimi and Stuart
Gordon among his heroes -- turned to a new challenge. For his next project he made
"Heavenly Creatures," a nearly bloodless, hallucinatory crime drama. It gained
him a new reputation as a serious filmmaker.
"The Frighteners," a movie with American actors and money and a New Zealand
location, offers another challenge. Can Jackson go mainstream without going Hollywood? Can
he move on to bigger projects while staying home and staying himself?
The answer isn't clear, yet -- "The Frighteners" stumbles a lot, probably due to
its pursuit of that PG-13 rating. But Jackson's American studio has already talked to him
about doing a big "King Kong" remake. And Jackson remains optimistic -- about
his American opportunities and his commitment to genre films.
"I have a love of a sort of fantastical cinema," he says. "I like movies
that give you experiences and take you places that you could never go in the real world. I
love films that take you on a ride."