Tonight I had the very good fortune to be invited to a private event with Mr. "Lord of the Rings" himself, Peter Jackson. It was the latest in a series of cool happenings that also had me catching an early screening of "District 9" -- the upcoming Jackson-produced sci-fi flick that already feels destined to change the face of genre filmmaking.
"It cost thirty million dollars," Jackson said to audible gasps in a function room at a Comic-Con hotel. Not that you could tell watching the movie, which boasts intense effects shots that make “Transformers” look like "My Dinner With Andre." "In raising the money, I had to sign off on everything, final cut, etc... but it was Neill's film."
Neill, for those who don't already know, is Neill Blomkamp, the young South African filmmaker whose eye-popping flick looks like it cost at least five times its budget. "You can YouTube Neill and see some of his short movies... he moved down to New Zealand to begin work on 'Halo,' we worked on it for 3 or 4 months, and then the movie died... we felt really bad. We had found an exciting young filmmaker... and we felt incredibly guilty."
Blomkamp notably produced a series of "Halo" short films to drum up interest in the now-aborted project. The handheld, rough-looking aesthetic in evidence in these shorts is clearly inspired by Blomkamp's earlier effort "Alive in Joburg," which serves as the narrative inspiration for "District 9."
After Jackson's movie based on the immensely-popular video game fell apart, he and his producing partners came up with a plan B. "We thought 'Why don't we take control of the situation and create something original with Neill?'"
"District 9" is certainly original, a film set in a world where aliens walk amongst us -- or they would if they hadn't been placed in ghetto containment camps. "We financed the development of it for the first six months independently... we wrote a screenplay that was more of a treatment than a screenplay. We needed actors who could improv."
That necessity gave Jackson and crew lead actor Sharlto Copley -- an old friend of Blomkamp’s who had never acted in a film before, but whose hilarious, heartbreaking performance is the spine of the film.
"It was an independent movie, shot independently, distributed by Sony," Jackson said of "District 9."
In addition to talking "District 9," Jackson was game to fill in journalists on his eagerly-anticipated upcoming flicks "The Hobbit," "Tintin", “Dambusters,” "The Lovely Bones" and more. Stay tuned to MTV for more details from Jackson on those projects, straight from Comic-Con ’09!
What do you think of the footage you’ve seen so far of “District 9”? Will it be as revolutionary as some people are saying?