Director handed knighthood for 'services to film'

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — The king of Middle Earth is being made a knight — for real.

Film writer and director Peter Jackson, whose widely acclaimed “Lord of the Rings” trilogy scooped up 17 Oscars, has been made a knight in the New Year Honors’ list of his native New Zealand.

He becomes Sir Peter Jackson for what the annual list honoring the country’s worthy citizens simply calls “services to film.”

New Zealand knights and dames, among the nation’s highest honors, are sanctioned by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, New Zealand’s head of state — stemming from the country’s past as a British colony.

The “Lord of the Rings” trio showcased New Zealand’s unique natural scenery as writer J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy land, filled with sword-swinging warriors, elves, wizards and hairy-footed hobbits. The project broke box-office records around the world, won Jackson international accolades, and prompted a spike in tourism to New Zealand.

“I didn’t think anything would surpass the 2004 Academy Awards, but I was wrong,” Jackson said in a statement, adding that receiving the honor was an “incredible moment.”

Jackson is currently is working on the two-movie prequel “The Hobbit,” also based on a Tolkien book, with Mexican director Guillermo del Toro. Filming is due to begin in New Zealand in early 2010, with the company announcing Wednesday it was seeking extras. Main actors have yet to be announced but some, like Britain’s Ian McKellen — the wizard Gandalf in the trilogy — are expected to reprise their roles.

Jackson told fans at Comic-Con in August that the films would rely not just on Tolkien’s single volume, but also on stories about its characters that appear in the three-volume “Rings” trilogy.

Jackson finished the screenplay for the first “Hobbit” film in August after spending several months in early 2009 writing full-time and said he was pleased at how quickly he was able to re-immerse himself in Tolkien’s world.

“It was just like writing Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf, all the old favorite characters,” Jackson told movie buffs. “We just clicked straight back into Middle Earth again.”

He earlier wrote, directed and produced “The Lovely Bones,” released to mixed reviews in December. He also produced and served as mentor on “District 9,” released in mid-August. Before that he remade the celluloid classic “King Kong.”

His Weta Workshop and Weta Digital production facilities in the New Zealand capital, Wellington, this year completed filming and special effects for James Cameron’s alien 3D extravaganza, “Avatar.”

In 2003, he opened Park Road Post Production with one of the world’s fastest super computers among its facilities, to establish New Zealand as a major film production center.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more