SAN DIEGO — On Thursday, Mr. "Lord of the Rings" himself, Peter Jackson, invited MTV News to a private event at Comic-Con. It was the latest in a series of cool happenings that also included an early screening of the upcoming Jackson-produced sci-fi flick "District 9," and attendees are already buzzing that the movie will change the face of genre filmmaking.
"It cost $30 million," Jackson said to audible gasps in a function room at a Comic-Con hotel. Not that you could tell by watching the movie, which boasts intense effects that make "Transformers" look like "My Dinner With Andre." "In raising the money, I had to sign off on everything, final cut, etc. ... but it was Neill's film."
Neill, for those who don't already know, is Neill Blomkamp, the young South African filmmaker whose eye-popping flick looks like it cost at least five times its budget. "You can YouTube Neill and see some of his short movies. ... He moved down to New Zealand to begin work on 'Halo,' we worked on it for three or four months, and then the movie died. ... We felt really bad. We had found an exciting young filmmaker ... and we felt incredibly guilty."
Blomkamp notably produced a series of "Halo" short films to drum up interest in the now-aborted project. There's a handheld, rough-looking aesthetic that dates back to his earlier effort "Alive in Joburg," which serves as the narrative inspiration for "District 9."
After Jackson's movie based on the immensely popular video game fell apart, he and his producing partners came up with a plan B. "We thought, 'Why don't we take control of the situation and create something original with Neill?' "
"District 9" is certainly original, depicting a world where aliens walk among us — or they would if they hadn't been placed in ghetto containment camps. "We financed the development of it for the first six months independently. ... We wrote a screenplay that was more of a treatment than a screenplay. We needed actors who could improv."
That necessity led them to Sharlto Copley, an old friend of Blomkamp's who had never acted in a film before but whose hilarious, heartbreaking performance is the spine of the movie.
"It was an independent movie, shot independently, distributed by Sony," Jackson said. "We were able to have total freedom. We had this tiny little film in a year when 'Transformers 2' and 'G.I. Joe' were coming out. ... So we figured we can be grungy, because they can't."
In addition to talking about "District 9," Jackson was game to fill journalists in on his eagerly anticipated flicks "The Hobbit," "Tintin," "Dambusters," "The Lovely Bones" and more. Stay tuned to MTV for more details from Jackson on those projects, straight from Comic-Con '09!
MTV News is on the scene with live coverage of the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con all weekend long. Visit MTVNews.com, Splash Page, the MTV Movies Blog and Hollywood Crush for videos, interviews and the latest news on "New Moon," "Iron Man 2" and everything in between.
Check out everything we've got on "District 9."
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