THE NEXT PETER JACKSON?

The third Thor film, Thor: Ragnarok hit the screens of the world to great reviews.

“We know each other. He’s a friend from work!”

This Hollywood blockbuster has a star studded cast including Chris Hemsworth, Cate Blanchett, Anthony Hopkins and Karl Urban with a budget to match. At the helm of this epic movie is Taika Waititi, a down-to-earth Kiwi boy who has only been on the film scene for a decade – a short time to be given the responsibility of such a big project.

Taika is up to the challenge. Check the trailer to see the humour he has put into this blockbuster.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ue80QwXMRHg

Taika Waititi

In 2005, Taika Waititi’s 11 minute film Two Cars, One Night was nominated for an Academy Award, not bad for a young guy who decided to give film making a go after previously entering a 48 hour film competition. I was invited to a special screening of this film and was told by a representative from the New Zealand Film Commission, that its director was destined for great things. Taika made the headlines at the award ceremony in Hollywood by pretending to be asleep. This makes some sense when we realize he had previously made a name for himself as a comedian. As half of the comedy duo, the Humourbeasts, he won the Billy T James Award in 1999. This is the highest comedy award in the country and proved Taita had the talent to entertain the public.

COUNTRY LAD

Taika Waititi grew up in a tiny settlement in the isolated east coast of New Zealand’s North Island. As a teenager, he moved to Wellington and attended a stock standard suburban school. He then became a drama student at Wellington’s Victoria University. While there, he was one of the comedians in a group called ‘So You’re a Man’. The 5 comics in the group performed around New Zealand and Australian comedy venues and \[‘gained a following of enthusiastic fans. I assume this was when Taika developed his taste for performing and writing. It no doubt gave him the encouragement to pursue a career in entertainment.

FILM CAREER

After the success of Two Cars, One Night, Taika decided he liked films and in 2007, he released his first feature film, Eagle Vs Shark. This oddball comedy premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and went onto a limited release in American cinemas. It had a mixed reception but it gave Taika valuable experience with full length movie making. He was able to hone his writing and directing skills and his next feature Boy was released in 2010, again at Sundance. This effort had a much better reception and became the highest grossing locally made film to date. It wasn’t only New Zealand audiences who loved Boy, it won Best International Feature Film at the AFI Festival. It also won Best Feature Film at the Berlin and Sydney Film Festivals and was voted the Most Popular Feature Film at the Melbourne International Film Festival that year. Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus had this to say: “Boy possesses the offbeat charm associated with New Zealand film but is also fully capable of drawing the viewer in emotionally.”

With two feature films under his belt, Taika teamed up with Jemaine Clement, his partner in the Humourbeasts, to create the comedy What We Do in the Shadows. Again, it had a Sundance screening, and a limited American release. Right now, a sequel is planned. Rotten Tomatoes gushed: “Smarter, fresher, and funnier than a modern vampire movie has any right to be.’What We Do in the Shadows’ is bloody good fun.” The Tomatometer registered 96%.

I must point out here that Peter Jackson’s first successful film Bad Taste was of the same genre and contained the similar quirky humour Taita used in his vampire film.Check out the trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3uBc1Dk0hwI

Last year, Taiti’s fourth feature film, Hunt for the Wilderpeople premiered at Sundance to great reviews and also opened to New Zealand’s biggest box office weekend for a local film and went onto become the highest grossing New Zealand film with an impressive $12 million earned at the box office. This quintessential New Zealand story, with its stereotypical Kiwi characters, also found favour with British audiences. The prestigious British film magazine, Empire, voted Hunt for the Wilderpeople the number one film for 2016.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus said: “The charmingly offbeat ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ unites a solid cast, a talented filmmaker, and a poignant, funny, deeply affecting message”. The Tomatometer registered 97%!

Get an idea why this film was so popular:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=43D7XRHE1ac

TELEVISION

Taika has also had success with television. Between 2007 and 2009, he wrote and directed episodes of the hugely popular Flight of the Conchords. This HBO series was nominated for 4 Emmy Awards in 2008.  The same year, the Writers Guild of America nominated  Flight of the Conchords  for 3 comedy awards. In 2011, Taika directed the first series of ABC-TV’s Super City, and in 2012, he directed 5 episodes of the American MTV series, The Inbetweeners.

HOLLYWOOD WORK

With so much success, it came as no surprise when Taika was offered the job of directing a Hollywood epic. He enjoyed putting his unique touch on Thor: Ragnarok  and those involved in the production loved working with him. In fact, Chris Hemsworth has said he wants Taika to direct him in all his future films! It was Taika who discovered Chris is actually a great comic and this explains why they clicked so well during the making of Thor: Ragnarok . It is great this young director has become so popular with audiences around the world, especially in America where their less sophisticated humour lacks the quirkiness found in Kiwi humour.

NEXT PROJECT

Taika has recently announced his next project. Bubbles is the story of Michael Jackson’s pet monkey of the same name. It will be his first animated film and he will co-direct it with Mark Gustafson. “I want to focus on telling a story that blends fact and fantasy, about an animal trying to make sense of the world. I think animation is the only way to approach a story like this.” He told a Hollywood reporter. Netflix has paid $20 million for the project. I’m sure it will be another international success for the lad from the New Zealand backblocks. Many in the industry are already saying he is the next Peter Jackson. His success to date certainly points to this being a reality.

If you want to watch Taika’s first successful film, Two Cars, One Night here is a link to the complete 11 minute production:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gyz6p97McS8

Ceidrik Heward

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