Total Recall: Peter Jackson's Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey director.
No surprises here, folks -- other movies are coming out this week, but it's really all about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and when it came time to figure out who would be the focus of our list, there was only one choice. Yes, we're talking about Peter Jackson, the director whose highly anticipated return to Middle-earth is one of 2012's most eagerly awaited films -- and whose filmography is about so, so much more than hobbits and orcs. From gory comedies to vulgar puppets and beyond, Jackson has displayed one of the most artfully wandering spirits in Hollywood over the course of his career, and it's high time we took a look at the critical highlights. Get ready for Total Recall!
10. The Frighteners
Michael J. Fox's film career has had its ups and downs, but Peter Jackson's The Frighteners -- featuring Fox as an unscrupulous ghost wrangler who colludes with poltergeists to fool his unsuspecting clients into thinking they need his services -- was a critical high point after a disappointing 1990s run that included such duds as Greedy and Life with Mikey. Although audiences failed to respond at the box office (and a number of critics found it something of a disappointment after Jackson's arthouse triumph Heavenly Creatures), for most, it was a fun, albeit uneven, piece of popcorn pleasure -- or, as the Austin Chronicle's Joey O'Bryan called it, "A thoroughly preposterous movie that's as outrageously entertaining as it is relentlessly chaotic."
9. Bad Taste
Human fast food might be some of the grossest sustenance on Earth, but Peter Jackson's Bad Taste dares to imagine something even more disgusting -- alien fast food, derived from the human carcasses of unwilling victims. (Brings new meaning to "pink slime," doesn't it?) Gleefully embracing the promise of its title, Taste shows a side of Jackson that might surprise filmgoers only familiar with his work on the Lord of the Rings movies, but it's actually of a piece with his eclectic artistic journey -- and one that resonated with Dan Fienberg of Zap2It, who later lamented, "I miss Peter Jackson in his ultra low-budget horror mode. He always looked like he was having fun."
Having explored the darker side of extraterrestrial life with Bad Taste, Jackson decided to warp another object of childhood fascination -- puppets -- for his follow-up, 1989's Meet the Feebles. Dark and vulgar, Feebles was marketed with the tagline "From the creators of Bad Taste comes a film with no taste at all" -- and as far as a sizable number of critics were concerned, it lived down to its proudly lowbrow advance billing (Janet Maslin of the New York Times predicted that it was "Destined to stand as an unfortunate footnote to Mr. Jackson's career"). But for others, the ribald, felt-covered adventures of characters like Bletch the Walrus, Sid the Elephant, and Heidi the Hippo were undeniably entertaining; as Luke Y. Thompson admitted for the New Times, "Homicidal puppets with VD just get me every time."
7. King Kong
Remaking King Kong had been tried before -- and with less-than-stellar results -- in 1976, when producer Dino De Laurentiis dragooned an all-star cast into a misguided attempt at updating the classic original. But Dino didn't have Peter Jackson behind the camera, and that (along with nearly 30 years of advances in special effects technology) made all the difference for 2005's King Kong, which matched an awesome-looking Kong against a well-chosen cast that included Adrien Brody, Jack Black, and Naomi Watts as the simian-bewitching Ann Darrow. Even with a running time that clocked in over three hours, Jackson's Kong was king of the box office, drumming up more than $218 million in global receipts -- and impressing critics like Tom Long of the Detroit News, who enthused, "Monstrous. Monumental. Magnificent. Use any term you want, there's no denying the power, genius and spectacle of King Kong, which is certainly the biggest movie of the year and possibly the biggest movie ever made."
6. Dead Alive
Boasting one of the most memorably disturbing posters of the 1990s -- as well as a storyline ripe with the sort of disgusting possibilities Jackson embraced so whole-heartedly early in his career -- 1992's Dead Alive tells the delightfully gonzo tale of a lovestruck teen (Timothy Balme) whose budding romance with his lady love (Diana Penalver) hits a snag due to the fact that his mother (Elizabeth Moody) has been turned into a flesh-eating zombie by a bite from a Sumatran rat monkey on exhibit at the local zoo. It gets enthusiastically foul from there -- including the climactic appearance of a strategically wielded lawnmower -- but as far as most critics were concerned, the gore was all in exceedingly good fun; as Rob Humanick put it for Projection Booth, "Rarely has the urge to expectorate one's lunch been a feeling so sublime."