SAN DIEGO, California – Peter Jackson has been a gamer his entire life, so when Microsoft hired him to produce the movie version of Halo, there was genuine excitement in the air.
The buzz grew as fans, and Hollywood, questioned Jackson's choice of first-time director Neill Blomkamp to helm the big-budget project. But that ultimately became a moot point. As the movie budget escalated and the demands by Microsoft increased, not even a pair of giant Hollywood studios could afford to foot the bill for the big screen version of Halo. But fate stepped in and Jackson ended up creating an original sci-fi film with District 9.
Gamers will get to see a sci-fi collaboration between producer Jackson and co-writer/director Blomkamp this summer with Tristar Pictures' District 9. Rather than basing the film on a hit game, the duo created an original alien story and filmed it documentary-style. Jackson was on hand at Comic-Con to screen the film and talk about how Halo begat District 9.
Jackson and Blomkamp were going to bring Microsoft's Halo videogame franchise to the big screen, but when Hollywood bailed on Microsoft's demands, the duo ended up creating District 9, which opens August 14.
"Well, I believe in fate. And a lot of times in my career I've just let fate decide what happens," said Jackson. "I don't try to influence things too much. ‘Cause I kind of believe in some weird force that's out there, sort of deciding what happens in your life. And I just look back on it and think, well fate made a decision that it wasn't gonna be Halo that we made, it was gonna be District 9. 'Cause it literally happened within 24 hours. I mean, we woke up one morning thinking we were making Halo. That day we got the news that the studios, Fox and Universal, didn't want to make the film anymore."
When asked exactly what happened with the Halo film, Jackson replied, "It wasn't like the studios didn't want to make it with us, they just didn't want to make Halo anymore because they were arguing amongst themselves and with Microsoft and the rights and the deals and everything else. It was all these little politics that were kicking in."
District 9 is set in South Africa and focuses on a quarantined area where aliens have been kept for 30 years. The film literally took shape the same day that Jackson's Halo was scrapped.
"During the course of that day, 'cause we were all in New Zealand together… Neill had been working on Halo for five or six months, we decided to take control of our own lives a little bit and we thought, ‘Well, let's make an original movie. Let's keep it low budget. Let's try to finance it independently so we don't have to get involved with studio politics,'" explained Jackson. "It's sort of, do something that we can control without putting ourselves into a Halo situation again. And that's what happened. And so by the end of that day, we had lost Halo but we had started District 9."
Jackson is best known to fans for adapting the Lord of the Rings trilogy to films. He's currently producing Guillermo del Toro's Hobbit film adaptations. Jackson, who is an avid gamer, equates books and videogame adaptations on the same level.
"If it's a book or a videogame, even though you've had the experience of reading or playing that story, it's affected you, and now you can imagine it as a film," said Jackson. "I also see the role of video games as one that will continue to command respect and attention due to the improved graphics, forms of narrative, interactive capabilities, and ways of immersion."
Jackson, who has worked with Ubisoft on the King Kong videogame and currently has a deal with Microsoft to create original games through WETA Interactive, believes that intrinsically, most videogames, and virtually all movies, do one basic thing: tell stories.
As game technology improves, Jackson believes games will become even more cinematic experiences. One result of HD graphics and advances in sound will be the sharing of digital assets between game developers and filmmakers, which will create more authentic representations of movie-based games.
One of the big themes at Comic-Con this year was the explosion of 3-D films, including the new TRON Avatar movie. Jackson is interested in embarking in the third dimension with future projects.
"I personally love 3-D," said Jackson. "I love the fact that it's become a much more gentle experience than it used to be. It always had this kind of eye strain and lack of quality associated with it. It was sort of gimmicky and difficult. But now it's technically become easier and it's also much more…it doesn't give you bad headaches anymore. And I think 3-D is just another really great tool to help an audience step into the movie."
"When I'm a filmmaker, I try to make movies that invite the audience to step into the film and to become part of the world of the film, if I can," added Jackson. "Rather than be an audience, I try to take that barrier away so you're not just sitting watching something like a sports event on a TV screen. You're actually participating. I try to shoot my scenes in a way and move the camera around in a way that sort of invites you into the movie to some degree. And 3-D is just a tool that makes that easier. It makes it more vibrant. I haven't shot a feature in 3-D yet, but I'm certainly looking forward to doing that."
Fans can see Jackson's latest directing venture, The Lovely Bones starring Mark Wahlberg, on the big screen December 11.