Hobbitual worship for Jackson films

Sir Peter Jackson: PR wizard (TV3)

MEDIA WATCH

Give or take the occasional tempest in a teacup, though, the coverage accorded to life in Jacksonville has been a beautiful thing to behold

If Tuesday’s reverential interview on Morning Report was anything to go by, the case of Wingnut Films against Radio New Zealand reporter Cushla Norman appears to have been completely laid to rest – just in time for this week’s “world premiere” of the first installment of The Hobbit films in Wellington.

Ms Norman had originally been told by a publicist that she had filed too many negative stories in the past and her accreditation had therefore been revoked to Wednesday’s launch of the first of the latest round of Sir Peter Jackson-directed fantasy movies. As a consolation, presumably, RNZ was offered the opportunity to send another reporter in her stead.

To its great credit, RNZ both declined the kind offer and publicised its reason for doing so: that it would not be dictated to. This led to yet another publicist from the company taking to the airwaves to reveal that Sir Peter Jackson had in fact been “mortified” by the unpleasantness. Ms Norman would be only too welcome to attend the film, listeners were assured.

So far, so typical. Spats such as these are a dime a dozen in the entertainment biz. But of all the tanties involving promoters and journalists sparring over a local event, this particular highhanded response deserved a space of its own.

Here we have, after all, one of the most journalistically admired entertainment projects ever to operate in New Zealand – an operation so lauded that one local newspaper even changed its name for a brief period to celebrate its last major work with The Lord of the Rings trilogy of films – truculently suggesting that even this degree of editorial adulation is insufficient for its corporate ego.

Of course there’s nothing objectionable in any business doing what it believes is best to safeguard the brand. In relatively short time, Sir Peter has taken his work from that of the spare-time one-man operation, forged during the time he worked as a plate-maker at the old Wellington Newspapers group back in the 1980s, to overseeing what is today one of the country’s largest private sector payrolls, catapulting Wellington to global cinematic prominence and no doubt economically benefiting the country at large.

That degree of success doesn’t happen without one keeping a keen eye on the quality of one’s media coverage. Give or take the occasional tempest in a teacup, though, the coverage accorded to life in Jacksonville has been a beautiful thing to behold, with the benefits to the country and every last one of its inhabitants incessantly babbled about.

Much has also been made of the artistic merits of his various films, not only The Lord of the Rings trilogy but also the clutch of splatter films that preceded them and the moviemaker’s stab at redoing the classic King Kong.

Never mind that the secrets of the true masters are seldom revealed easily, or that, usually, much thought and exposure to a film, television series or piece of recorded music is required before a reasonable critical consensus can be formed.

In the case of almost anything bearing the PJ legend, it’s five stars all down the line and instantly, and woe betide any poor sap who expresses critical impatience at the spectacle of the waifs of darkness battling the freaks of light for hours and hours and hours on end or dares to suggest that he might, say, prefer to be somewhere else watching a Larry David show.

Indeed, about the only joyous editorial decision that hasn’t been taken to date in respect of the Jackson Church has been to devote an entire show of Campbell Live to a tremulous interview with the award-winning director – in which the award-winning director and living saint gets carried into the studio on a bejeweled throne surrounded by dwarves decked out in loincloths slowly waving the branches of cabbage trees.

Dead souls
Speaking of Radio New Zealand, what is it with the broadcaster’s recent run of news stories blaming prison suicides on private enterprise?  

No doubt, as Finance Minister Bill English put it a while back, this country’s relatively high incarceration rates represent some kind of moral failure – most likely a manifestation of New Zealand’s age-old punitive culture, especially in relation to younger offenders. I wrote a book about this last year.  

But that’s a different subject and another argument to the economic arrangements by which prisons are run and whether this may or may not spur an inmate to kill himself.

Overseas, in countries such as Australia, the UK and the US, government policy has long embraced the private-public partnership model now favoured by the current government of New Zealand. In the UK, in particular, all new prisons are designed, built, financed and operated by private firms, with the government exposing existing correctional institutions to some outside competition.

True, our previous Labour-led government here went with an entirely state-run model. But even supporters of that approach admitted this was a sheerly ideological position –and there were plenty of scandals during this time to prove it. 

At no time then or now has any research whatsoever been done into the question of suicides, which until relatively recently have been all but impossible to report, let alone gather data on and analyse.

From a news point of view, then, wouldn’t it make better sense to interview the victims of serious violent crime rather than engaging in such pointless abstract exercises?

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