LOS ANGELES -- A shaggy-haired, wooly-bearded Kiwi filmmaker is at the end of his epic journey.
Peter Jackson has spent more than seven years developing, shooting and finishing his hugely successful trilogy of J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings."
As the final installment, "The Return of the King," arrives in theaters around the world, the New Zealand director sat barefoot on a sofa in the middle of a grassy field used for the Los Angeles premiere to discuss the end, the future and "The Hobbit" with The Associated Press.
AP: Is this a happy ending in real life? The movies are finally finished, but now it's time to say goodbye.
Jackson: We've now done what we've set out to do, which is make the trilogy of films. But it's strange. It's bittersweet. We didn't want to end the friendships. Just as the movie is shutting the book, we're feeling like it's the end of the line. That's actually quite tough. It's a moment we all dread. We never wanted to arrive at this moment.
AP: "Return of the King" is about 3 hours, 20 minutes long. Yet you cut a lot ...
Jackson: We cut about an hour and 5 minutes. The books are so filled with detail and character, but we came to realize that even what we shot would be too long for what these theatrical cuts could sustain.
AP: How do you decide what goes?
Jackson: The process of trimming a film down is brutal. You always end up cutting scenes that you absolutely love, cutting scenes that a few weeks earlier you said to yourself 'I'm never going to cut that!' But ultimately, every scene has to justify its existence. Generally speaking, the shorter the film is the better, especially when you're hovering around that three-hour mark.
AP: Why do the extended edition DVDs, which add as much as 40 minutes back into the previous movies?
Jackson: For the fans who want to see more detail and are not so concerned with the momentum. ... We're basically putting scenes back in which we know on some level are destroying the momentum of the story, making it slow right down, which is why we took them out in the first place. But DVD seems to be a medium that allows you to do a certain amount of that. You have it in your living room, you can pause it, you can make a cup of tea, you can watch it over two nights. It's a much more forgiving environment to watch film in.
AP: A lot of people prefer the longer movies ...
Jackson: I read reviews that say, 'Oh, the DVD version is much better than the theatrical version,' and I think, 'Ugh, you can't win.' The unknown factor is, what would happen if our DVD extended cut of 'The Two Towers,' which is three hours and 40 minutes, had been released as the theatrical version last year? (Laughs.) Everybody would then say, 'It's miles too long.'
AP: There's a lot of curiosity now about whether anyone will film Tolkien's prequel, 'The Hobbit.' Are you interested in directing that someday?
Jackson: I'd be happy to. It would be strange for somebody else to do it. And I also think to do justice to 'The Hobbit' it would be great to bring some of the same actors back. (Like Ian McKellen for the wizard Gandalf and Andy Serkis for the ghoulish Gollum.) I think it would be cool thing to have the continuity of the design and the look and feel of the world and use whatever actors we're able to repeat in the story.
AP: Any movement on that project?
Jackson: New Line hasn't talked to me about it yet. I can only assume they're motivated to do it now, but the rights are kind of complicated.
AP: Your next film is 'King Kong.' When will you start on that?
Jackson: A certain amount of work has begun already. We've had our design team doing 'Kong' stuff for about three or four months now, doing a lot of conceptual art and sculptures, doing design work on Kong himself. And as the digital people at Weta (Jackson's special-effects company) have been finishing up on 'Return of the King,' we've been putting them onto 'Kong.' It has been underway for a while, and we're going to be doing a lot of script work, which we'll start in the new year.
AP: No break for you?
Jackson: (Shrugs.) I'll have Christmas and the new year for a break.