" is opening this weekend to fanfare and very high expectation given that its predecessor was the legendary "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. But it's not just the Tolkien mythos that makes this exciting: Peter Jackson is once again in the director's chair.
Here are our top five Peter Jackson films.
#5: "The Frighteners" (1996)
Michael J. Fox is Frank Bannister, who gains the ability to communicate with ghosts after a car accident claims the life of his wife, Debra. He befriends three ghosts – an old west gunslinger, an Eisenhower era dork, and a gangster from the 1970s – who haunt houses that Frank then "exorcises" for a fee. The con provides a distraction and income for Frank until he discovers that a Reaper-like ghost is killing mortals and marking them with an ethereal number on their foreheads that only he and other ghosts can see.
It's a great premise that combines horror and comedy effectively in a way few others can without delving into camp. Visually, the film holds up spectacularly despite being sixteen years old and heavy on special effects. Much of that is owed to Jackson's style of filmmaking and eye for framing a shot.
#4: "Fellowship of the Ring" (2001)
Don't get us wrong: Jackson's a fine filmmaker, and even his misses are still watchable and gorgeously shot (i.e. "King Kong"). He shouldn't just be known as the director who made the "Lord of the Rings" movies. Yet he did, and they do rank as the finest fantasy films ever committed to celluloid, so you'll have to excuse us if they dominate this list.
The first film whet our appetite for what was to come, and they only got better from there. While Tolkien's novels were popular, they weren't always considered accessible. Each installment is lengthy, densely written, epic in scope, and packed with so many characters that it can overwhelm casual readers. Yet Jackson was able to capture the spirit of these books while also making a film that was watchable and fun.
#3: "The Two Towers" (2002)
"Fellowship of the Ring" was a great fantasy film, but "The Two Towers" was better as an action film. The character introductions, expositions, and conflict among the members of the fellowship in the first film was necessary to set up the next two installments. But the journeys and action in this film drive it, giving it an overall better pace and more enjoyable experience. In particular, the battle of Helms Deep is an awe-inspiring spectacle and arguably the high water mark of the franchise.
#2: "Return of the King" (2003)
The film concluded the epic trilogy in grand fashion, receiving critical praise and at the time becoming the highest grossing film in history. It was nominated for eleven Academy Awards and won every single one of them. While there's no doubt that many Academy voters cast their ballots with the trilogy as a whole in mind, "Return of the King" also stands out as the best of the three films in terms of consistency, performances, and character treatments.
#1: "Heavenly Creatures" (1994)
As the author of this piece, I take full responsibility for any and all fan backlash. I understand. I love the Lord of the Rings trilogy, too. But "Heavenly Creatures" was the film that established Jackson as not just a genre filmmaker, but an auteur.
It tells the real-life story of a murder in 1954 involving two teenaged girls who had become involved in a romantic relationship. The story juxtaposes the obsessive relationship with the escapist fantasy world they constructed, blending it in much in the same way the film "Pan's Labyrinth" later did. It grapples with themes of love, obsession, homophobia, cultural bigotry, and crimes of passion in a complex and thought-provoking manner.
"Heavenly Creatures" is one of the more disturbing, yet beautiful, films out there, and as a wholly original piece (Jackson co-wrote the screenplay with his wife, Fran Walsh) epitomizes Jackson's creative genius.
Bilbo Baggins journeys to the Lonely Mountain accompanied by a group of dwarves to reclaim a treasure taken from them by the dragon Smaug. Dork overload, people. Dork overload.
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Source: New Line Cinema/Miramax Films/Universal Pictures