Peter Jackson became a superstar with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but he built a devoted cult following thanks to his first four movies: Bad Taste, Meet the Feebles, Braindead (aka Dead Alive), and Heavenly Creatures. However, none of these movies have ever been released on Blu-ray or HD, and it makes sense when you consider the low-budget cost of Bad Taste, Meet the Feebles, and Braindead (Heavenly Creatures is more of an indie arthouse film and it’s always looked pretty good by comparison despite only carrying a $5 million budget). But now that Jackson has finished restoring World War I documentary footage for his new film They Shall Not Grow Old, he’s turning his attention to his back catalogue.
Speaking to THR, Jackson reveals that he plans to take these old 16mm movies and give them the full restoration treatment. “I’ve decided to go back and do this to my old films — the first four I made, which I own but never rereleased,” Jackson tells THR. “I’ve done some tests on Braindead [his third film, from 1992, also known as Dead Alive and now widely regarded as a classic of the zombie genre], where we took the 16mm negative and put it through our World War I restoration pipeline — and shit, it looks fantastic!”
Jackson plans to not only upgrade the visuals, but also provide new audio mixes. “The mixes on those films were pretty much all stereo in those days, so we’re going to get the old soundtracks out and do a 5.1 mix,” he says. Furthermore, Jackson says that he plans to give his planned box set a wealth of special features:
“I’ve always had video diaries being shot,” he explains. “So I’ve got about an hour or two of us shooting Bad Taste, seven or eight hours of us shooting The Feebles, 50 to 60 hours of us filming Braindead, and at least 70 hours of us doing Heavenly Creatures.”
“And it’s not just people talking to camera,” he adds. “It’s actually a guy on the set filming us making the film. So there’s some pretty interesting stuff there and none of it has ever been out.”
Jackson and his team plan to comb through the footage, restore it as necessary and assemble a documentary to go with the box set.
On the one hand, this sounds like a great way to get people to dive into Jackson’s early catalogue of movies, and it’s a smart move that other directors should make. Rather than try to bury their past, directors should accept that they need to find new ways to get their old work to audiences. My only concern in the case of Jackson is part of the appeal of those movies was their lo-rent nature. If you clean them up, how does that affect the twisted, gory nature of movies like Braindead and Bad Taste? Does it deprive them of an aesthetic that may have been a result of a low budget but ultimately enriches the feature? We’ll find out whenever this box set is released.