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Viggo Mortensen Throws Shade On Peter Jackson; Says ‘Lord Of The Rings’ & ‘Hobbit’ Films Sacrificed Subtlety To CGI

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by Edward Davis
May 15, 2014 7:25 PM
21 Comments
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Viggo Mortensen Lord Of The Rings

If “The Lord Of the Rings” movies were universally beloved with Peter Jackson sweeping the Oscars for “Return Of The King” as a kind of “well done” overall achievement award, then his “Hobbit” films thus far have received possibly the opposite response (or at least a far more divisive one). Jackson’s predisposition for CGI seems to have taken over from practical effects and not only have fans noticed.

In interview with the Telegraph today, “The Lord Of The Rings” star himself Viggo Mortensen threw some shade Jackson’s way, echoing a similar sentiment and throwing a little diss at the ‘Hobbit’ films as well.

Turns out Mortensen likes “The Fellowship of the Ring” largely because it was shot in one go. “It was very confusing, we were going at such a pace, and they had so many units shooting, it was really insane. But it’s true that the first script was better organized,” he said. “Also, Peter was always a geek in terms of technology but, once he had the means to do it, and the evolution of the technology really took off, he never looked back.”

Mortensen then suggests as the first movie took off, the sequels started to lose touch with the original’s organic quality. “In the first movie, yes, there’s Rivendell, and Mordor, but there’s sort of an organic quality to it, actors acting with each other, and real landscapes; it’s grittier. The second movie already started ballooning, for my taste, and then by the third one, there were a lot of special effects. It was grandiose, and all that, but whatever was subtle, in the first movie, gradually got lost in the second and third. Now with The Hobbit, one and two, it’s like that to the power of 10.”

Ouch. So no invite back to the “The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies”? There’s been rumors that Jackson is planning “surprises” for his final film, which leads everyone to believe that’s going to mean more cameos from characters from “The Lord Of The Rings” series, but Mortensen has already suggested he wasn’t interested from the beginning. In fact, Mortensen turned down Jackson and returning as Aragorn a long time ago (last summer to be exact).

But wait, all “The Lord Of The Rings” movies were shot all at once, how did “Two Towers” and “Return Of The King” balloon as the actor suggested? Well, actually once ‘Fellowship’ took off, Jackson was allowed to go back and do extensive reshoots.

“Anybody who says they knew it was going to be the success it was, I don’t think it’s really true,” he said. “They didn’t have an inkling until they showed 20 minutes in Cannes, in May of 2001. They were in a lot of trouble, and Peter had spent a lot. Officially, he could say that he was finished in December 2000 — he’d shot all three films in the trilogy — but really the second and third ones were a mess. It was very sloppy — it just wasn’t done at all. It needed massive reshoots, which we did, year after year. But he would have never been given the extra money to do those if the first one hadn’t been a huge success. The second and third ones would have been straight to video.”

Youch. OK, yes, safe to say do not expect to see Aragorn in the last one, as much as you’d like to see that happening. That said, Mortensen does couch his comments in the end saying the industry enables this kind of bigger and bigger approach to the point that it’s easy to lose sight of what makes the source material. And it’s hard to scale back.

“Peter, I was sure he would do another intimately scaled film like ‘Heavenly Creatures,’ maybe with this project about New Zealanders in the First World War he wanted to make. But then he did ‘King Kong.’ And then he did ‘The Lovely Bones’ — and I thought that would be his smaller movie. But the problem is, he did it on a $90 million budget. That should have been a $15 million movie," Mortensen said. "The special effects thing, the genie, was out of the bottle, and it has him. And he’s happy, I think…” [HT/Collider]

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21 Comments

  • Thanos X | August 9, 2014 6:54 PMReply

    People bashing The Hobbit as if the LOTR had barely any CGI. It had LOTS of CGI. If you look watch the behind the scenes features you will see how much it had, and how they had to build a new render farm for all the FX. How do you think they created all those creatures? Especially the 2nd and 3rd. And you know the one that won the oscar for best picture of the year? Yeah, that had the most CG of the whole trilogy as Viggo said.

    How do you think they could have done otherwise? It's just the way of fantasy movies: CGI is the only way of make a decent fantasy movie and if Viggo Mortensen despise so much high-budget movie with a lot of special effects he should never have agreed to play Aragorn in the first place.

    I’m not saying the Hobbit films don’t have more CGI, I’m just saying that people are making it seem as if he was all practical effects with hardly any CG in the LOTR films, and then went all CG for the Hobbit films. If you watch the behind the scenes for the first Hobbit film, you’ll see that he also used a tonne of practical effects and real life sets, and he also explains how they initially had live action goblins and were going to go with a live action pale orc, but the movements weren’t right with the live action goblins (they started shooting scenes with the actors in costumes), and the look/scale wouldn’t be right with the pale orc.
    So basically, there were reasons behind decisions to use more CG, but people just love to hate and jump to conclusions without having all the facts. Oh, and there were actors dressed up in orc costumes in the Hobbit too, they weren’t all CGI.

    "The special effects thing, the genie, was out of the bottle, and it has him. And he’s happy, I think…” < Well I think you're happy to make unknowing direct-to-video movies who flop and nobody cares about Viggo. You refused to play General Zod because you don't like high-budget special effects movie and you are going to spend your career making movies like Good, Hidalgo, Road, Dangerous Method, On The Road, Everybody has a plan, The Two Faces of January... all flops who nobody cares or know and everyone are going to remember you only for the role you so much dispaite.

  • Girl. | May 21, 2014 1:17 PMReply

    This is such bull. I have a crazy amount of respect to Viggo for being one of the most passionate actors in the trilogy. Viggo has a good amount of respect for Jackson but an even more respect for Tolkien and the essence of his original books. He's merely saying that thanks to the success from the intimacy of the first film, with the raw and personal close looks at culture and character development, they were able to make the second and third films.... not complete crap! Because how do you make an epic movie of huge battles with thousands of orcs and goblins without money? You don't! You make a silly movie with a bunch of guys playing dress up pretend hitting each other with 2 or three limited camera angles. THAT is why it was initially "sloppy". His upset comes from the fact that he doesn't like covering sloppy with fancy make up. He's just a down to earth old fashioned guy and that's okay. It's okay to have opinions in this world. I think this drama uproar is just people trying to make Viggo look like a complete jerk. He's not. He's extremely genuine (I myself have met him) and modest. I simply won't let people create this false opinion about his character.

  • Scotty | May 17, 2014 3:32 PMReply

    I agree 110% BRIZO Peter Jackson and the cast and crew have done a fantastic job. The CGI made Smaug come alive. !! I felt all the effects and the superb acting made you feel as if you were really there. Keep it up Peter.

  • Brizo | May 17, 2014 12:42 PMReply

    I like Viggo Mortensen as actor but in this case I think he's totally wrong. Out of all the LOTR I thought the 3rd one Return of the King was actually the best of the three, not the 1st one. It may have had a lot of CGI in it, but it was necessary to show Middle Earth's richness and the conflict between good and evil as well as it did. I think the box office speaks for itself.

    As for the Hobbit I think the Hobbit is even better. I think Peter Jackson understands character development, as well as creating magical CGI sequences. It was the great acting by Richard Armitage that drew me into the Dwarf's quest, and he continues to keep my interest, along with the great work by Martin Freeman, and Orlando Bloom. I loved the addition of Tauriel, so well played by Evangeline Lilly and the story line surrounding her character.

    There is a lot of CGI but totally necessary to make this picture the great success it obviously is worldwide. I don't think you'd see this kind of box office results if it wasn't good. The dragon Smaug was just fabulous.

    Perhaps Viggo is feeling a bit displaced when he begins knocking Peter Jackson and the films that made him a household name worldwide. Peter Jackson, took a very complex story and brought it to life in the way no one else could of. He made it relevant to the year 2014 and that is what movie making is all about.

  • MM | June 27, 2014 4:50 AM

    "As for the Hobbit I think the Hobbit is even better." - your credibility imploded with that line - I stopped reading thereafter.

  • Mark | May 16, 2014 3:38 PMReply

    'The Lovely Bones' was TERRIBLE. What hurts even more is that it robbed us of the Lynne Ramsay versions, which would have been beautiful and poetic. I kind of went off Jackson when I heard about how he pushed Ramsay out of the way to make it himself.

  • josh | May 16, 2014 8:56 AMReply

    The absolute best thing for Peter Jackson now would be to go back to his micro-budget roots (just as Viggo was saying). He seems incapable now of making anything that isn't bloated, overlong, and overstuffed with flat characters and far too much CGI. To revisit his old movies again, remember why he made them, and then try to create something as simple as Bad Taste or Heavenly Creatures, I think would do him (and by extension us) immeasurable benefit.

  • Jonathan Edney | May 16, 2014 8:01 AMReply

    Viggo is a great actor and one thing I take from this is that big-budget filmmaking isn't really his thing, hence why he found the chaotic nature of LOTR difficult and why he hasn't done anything like it since. However, the fact remains that a lot of the extra filming done for TT and ROTK wasn't just to add more action scenes but also to add more character scenes, as Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens love working with actors and want them to contribute to the character. One example of this is Viggo's suggestion of including the Coronation song in ROTK and I believe that the song Pippin/Billy Boyd sings in ROTK was also added in once they found out what a great voice he has (or so I remember from the extended DVDs anyway). These are character-driven moments that do reflect the source material and prove that the so-called 'ballooning' of CGI is grounded by such moments. There is also the case that TT and ROTK have a considerably grander scale with the Battles of Helm's Deep and Pelennor Fields so obviously more CGI was required for the mass armies. However, so much work and detail still goes into making the armour and even designing the CGI weapons/creatures/environments in LOTR and The Hobbit trilogy that it seems unfair to complain. Look at the amount of detail on Smaug and how he was created from reference to Benedict Cumberbatch's motion-capture performance and that is the same for other motion-capture characters, the main difference regarding the Orcs in the Hobbit is that their faces are CGI'd or motion captured to make them less human and an environment like Goblin Town obviously has to be extensively rendered in CGI and therefore so do its inhabitants. But sections of the set were built for real and Barry Humphries, while recording his mo-cap separately, also read his lines on the set. What was essentially a log flume/rapids ride was built so that close-ups for the barrel scene could be shot and the very first thing that was shot in the Hobbit trilogy was the Riddles in the Dark and Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis did the scene over and over again so that it was almost like theatre.

    Lee Pace (Thranduil in The Hobbit) commented that you shouldn't expect to just be told what your character is with Jackson, Walsh and Boyens but that you should bring things to the table. If you read the full Telegraph interview, then you'll notice that Viggo also thinks more time should have been spent on the secondary characters in LOTR rather than just on the heroes (so giving himself less screen time then?). Personally, I feel that the secondary characters were considerably more fleshed out in the films than the book (look for example at how little Eowyn does in the TT book) and that is one major benefit of the three-film approach with The Hobbit, giving all of the characters more time rather than rattling through each new part of Middle-Earth on a whistle-stop tour without getting to know the new characters we meet. Two major advantages that Peter Jackson has over George Lucas is that he can write better (with Fran and Philippa) and he can work with actors better. In the Hobbit films so far, we have had long close-ups of Martin Freeman going through a range of emotions while often barely changing his expression and Jackson knows not to waste actors like Richard Armitage, hence why the elements of Thorin that are present in the book are drawn out further and why the other dwarves, although mostly in the background, do have many small moments that show their character, character that they were encouraged to come up with along with a back story when they were cast. The dialogue driven scenes are better written and acted full stop, whether they are in front of a green screen or not and scenes such as Rivendell still make use of practical sets even if the background has to be CGI.

    The LOTR trilogy are my favourite films of all time and doing my dissertation on adaptation re those films last year woke me up to why decisions were made and as a result, when I watch the Hobbit films, I feel that I can understand why decisions were made there too and most of the time, it comes down to character and having a long-term impact in terms of how this trilogy will end. I am loving the Hobbit films and looking forward to the next one, where I believe that Peter Jackson and the New Zealand team will once again prove that they make superior fantasy films that DO prioritise character as much as CGI battles and worlds.

  • dryer | May 16, 2014 7:17 AMReply

    What's interesting is how much more sloppier Jackson & WETA have become in their application of CGI. There are numerous shots in The Hobbit but more notoriously in Smaug especially the final fight with Legoias where the process seemed rushed making the effects look rubbery and dated.

  • Kyle | May 16, 2014 7:05 AMReply

    I agree with everything he said. Very refreshing to hear it, too.

  • Louise | May 16, 2014 3:11 AMReply

    What he didn't mention that LOTR shot him to stardom and allowed him to indulge in the many indie films he has made since.Yes we get Viggo your a serious artiste he abhors all things Hollywood while still enjoying the benefits such is the way of american actors.
    You and your {yawn} tortured self wont be missed in New Zealand, and I haven't seen you in a movie since that made my toes curl and my breath inhale sharply at the sheer male testosterone that came off you in buckets on LOTR..... Shame

  • fishnets | May 16, 2014 7:30 PM

    Actually, Kiwis turned their backs on Hobbit: DOS just like Americans since the movie dropped from Hobbit AUJ in both countries. In fact, it dropped almost everywhere in the world except China where it enjoyed bigger opening weekend, but nose-dived afterwards nonetheless. I guess people on all continents are smarting up and sniff out the crap when they see it in trailers (Legolas, Tauriel, laughable romance, video game-ish action, etc). Yep, these movies suck ass.

  • alex | May 15, 2014 10:52 PMReply

    Thank you Viggo Mortensen. Here's hoping Peter Jackson realize his over-reliance on visual effects is toxic for his films. Also, stop making 3 hour long films.

  • Christen Kimbell | May 15, 2014 9:26 PMReply

    I hate to say it but I miss the old Pete. Heavenly Creatures is one of all time favorite films, and Fellowship is the best of the trilogy. Give me character stories any day, big or small.

  • J Miles | May 15, 2014 9:21 PMReply

    Sad to say that Peter Jackson became George Lucas, but he more or less did.

  • J Miles | May 15, 2014 9:21 PMReply

    Sad to say that Peter Jackson became George Lucas, but he more or less did.

  • DexterHaven | May 15, 2014 8:46 PMReply

    I totally agree with him. I found The Hobbit to be almost unwatchable until the last 20 minutes. Character development was totally sacrificed for special effects. Very disappointing.

  • MOO | May 15, 2014 8:15 PMReply

    While I wouldn't necessarily disagree with what he mentions about the Hobbit, saying the "special effects" (he means "visual effects") got out of control on TT and ROTK seems to ignore the nature of their stories. I'd like to know specifically what he thinks was so superfluous or that could have been done practically.
    Also the need for reshooting on the entire trilogy is exhaustively documented in the DVD special features. This is not news.

  • Chris | May 15, 2014 7:58 PMReply

    That's great but who the f*** is "Aragon?"

  • feek | May 15, 2014 7:54 PMReply

    This really isn't dissing by Viggo. Nor should it be labelled as so. It's really interesting to find out about these reshoots and the probable reality of the 2nd and 3rd Lord of the Rings. It's refreshing to hear this honesty from Viggo. He still clearly has a lot of respect for Jackson (deservedly so), and isn't putting him down at all in my opinion.

  • Xian | May 15, 2014 7:38 PMReply

    Well, someone had to really nail it and drive it home... glad he did. He's not the kinda guy that disses his directors or films usually, and Jackson really does seem to have lost touch with his practical past in favor of non-stop CGI-candy.

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