Jackson deal with Holland significant step forward in Dam Busters project

Peter Jackson’s recent announcement that he is pressing on with his project to remake The Dam Busters film has been widely welcomed. “It’s just a great story. It’s always been a great story,” he told the Daily Telegraph on Thursday. “But it’s an even greater story now than it was in 1955 because back then there was still so much of the story that was under The Official Secrets Act.

“They couldn’t show the bomb spinning because the fact that they applied backspin to the bomb to make it jump on the water was still a state secret. The film had a slightly romanticised view of what happened. It’s reasonably accurate but the real story is so much more interesting. It’s a story of politics, of ingenuity and peril, and it’s also a story about trying to make a weapon to destroy these dams and that cost an awful lot of money.”

However, the most solid evidence that the production will go ahead comes in the next paragraph of the Telegraph’s story with the announcement that Jackson has bought the film rights to James Holland’s 2012 book, Dam Busters: The Race to Smash the Dams 1943. Holland will also be credited as an historical adviser.

This is a big step forward. Until now Jackson has owned the rights just for the remake of the 1955 film, The Dam Busters, directed by Michael Anderson. The script for this was written by RC Sherriff, based on Paul Brickhill’s 1951 book of the same name (and also acknowledging Guy Gibson’s Enemy Coast Ahead). Brickhill’s book was revised for a second edition in 1971, and it is this version which is still in print. This is presumably the volume for which Jackson also owns the rights.

However, a lot of material has been declassified since this book was published, with the first tranche of UK government records being released in 1973, thirty years after the raid. Much more has followed, and historians have been working through these in the years that have followed. The definitive account based on these sources remains the various revised editions of John Sweetman’s book The Dambusters Raid, first published in 1982 as The Dams Raid: Epic or Myth.

James Holland’s 2012 account built on the official sources and also quarried material from various letters, a collection of recordings in the Imperial War Museum and his own interviews. This enabled him to write a much more reliable account of the raid than that of Brickhill. In turn, use of this text should allow Jackson and his scriptwriters to draft a screenplay which may be more historically accurate than Sherriff’s version, which he finished in 1952.

The difficulty will be in condensing the whole story into a single movie lasting, presumably, something under three hours. It is not really fair on the Anderson/Sherriff film to describe it as presenting a “slightly romanticised” account – it is all the more powerful for not bringing in unnecessary heroics or extraneous love stories. Whether Peter Jackson can manage to deliver something as good by today’s standards will be a big test. But a film-maker of his talents is presumably relishing the challenge.

Jackson backtracks: Dambusters may still take flight

Empire, December 2018, p.95

A few months ago, Peter Jackson let it be known that his projected remake of the 1955 film The Dam Busters had been effectively cancelled. It now seems that he may have changed his mind. Jackson has been in the UK for the last few weeks doing publicity both for his First World War colourisation project, They Shall Not Grow Old, and the forthcoming fantasy film Mortal Engines.

As part of this work he has done a podcast and an interview with Empire magazine and – surprise, surprise – in the latter, he is quoted as saying that he is “determined” to get the Dambusters project underway “in the next two years”. The piece in Empire magazine is by Ian Nathan, the same journalist who wrote the recent book Anything You Can Imagine about Jackson and his work on the two Tolkien-based film series. In this book, Nathan says twice that he was told by Jackson that the funding for Dambusters had fallen through.

It may now be the case that Jackson regrets being so definite, and will make another effort to find the funding necessary for the Dambusters project. The recent success of two other Second World War films, Dunkirk and Darkest Hour, might strengthen his hand. However seasoned observers of this ongoing saga will probably think that he is being wildly optimistic in saying that he hopes to get it under way in just two years. We can but hope.

Jackson’s Dambusters film effectively cancelled

Buried deep in the recently-published book Anything You can Imagine, Ian Nathan’s new doorstep-sized biography of Peter Jackson and his Tolkien-inspired film trilogies, are two tiny mentions of the projected remake of The Dambusters. The first remark occurs in a description of the director as a ‘military aviation buff’ who possesses a fine collection of antique aircraft and who ‘came close to remaking The Dambusters.’ A footnote explains that in 2008 the remake was to be directed by Christian Rivers from a script by Stephen Fry but that the ‘financing would eventually fall through’. The second mention is some 300 pages later, where Jackson is described as at one point starting to ‘develop a new version of  The Dambusters… but it failed to secure funding.’

And that’s it. It is now more than a decade since Jackson acquired the rights to remake Michael Anderson’s 1955 film. At first, he invested significant funds – commissioning a script from Stephen Fry, getting full size models of Lancaster aircraft built in China, and buying several possible props and other artifacts. These included the original wooden bomb sight used by Plt Off John Fort on the Dams Raid. I can now reveal that Jackson was the anonymous bidder who paid more than £40,000 for this when it was sold at auction in January 2015. A member of his staff attended the auction in person, taking instructions over the phone while the sale was going on.

At various times over the last ten years, Jackson has said that the Dambusters project was still going ahead. The last of these statements was issued as recently as the summer of 2016. However these positive thoughts contrast with what would seem to have been recognised as reality inside his camp well before this time.

Nathan’s book is based on many interviews with Jackson and his entourage, and his remarks would not have been published in this form without Jackson’s knowledge, even if not his specific authorisation. What is significant is Nathan’s use of the past tense on both occasions, and we can therefore assume that the Dambusters remake has, to all intents and purposes, now been cancelled.

So this is how it ends. The remake project, which started in 2005 with a big bang and loud fanfares when David Frost bought the film rights from the Brickhill family, ends with the whimper of a couple of sentences in a book about a fantasy film series. A sad day but, to misquote another film set in wartime: ‘we’ll always have Michael Anderson’s original film.’ Maybe that’s how it should be.

[Hat tip to commenter RdS who drew my attention to Ian Nathan’s book.]

Jackson’s new WW1 film means further delay for Dambusters remake

Peter Jackson was in London this week promoting his new cinema project, using all his studio’s technical skills to bring new life to jerky film footage shot during the First World War. The Imperial War Museum apparently holds many hours of this material: it is being enhanced by Jackson and his team, and combined with audio interviews recorded in later years to make a full length feature film.

Everyone would agree that this is a very worthy venture, and that it will also showcase the cinematic techniques for which the Jackson team is justifiably famous. However, anyone with an interest in a certain other project which is supposed to be in his studio’s pipeline will feel more than a little deflated that this would now appear to be his priority. We are, of course, talking about the remake of the 1955 film The Dam Busters, which has now been on the cards for almost 15 (yes 15!) years.

This thought occurred to Zoah Hedges-Stocks, a journalist on the Daily Telegraph, who has noted the box office success achieved by a couple of recent Second World War-themed films:

“With both Dunkirk and Darkest Hour nominated for Oscars and making millions at the box office, cinema-goers appear to have rediscovered the power of a good Second World War movie,” her article begins. “But another big-budget, awards-worthy tale of wartime bravery was supposed to have been released before them both – Peter Jackson’s remake of the 1955 classic The Dam Busters.”

Hedges-Stocks goes on to explore the twists and turns taken by the remake in a 3,ooo word article which is an excellent summary of the sad story. It contains copious quotations from your always-humble correspondent, but that is not the only reason why it should be commended. As well as pointing out the continued public appetite for Second World War stories, she has placed the original film in its historical context.

Predictably, Jackson’s studio did not reply to the Telegraph’s email queries. One day, perhaps, they will tell us all what the hell is going on.

[NB: You may have to register with the Telegraph to read Hedges-Stocks’s article in full. However, you get one free Premium article a week, so bookmark this one for the future, if you’ve already used up your quota. It will be worth it, honest!]

Filming the Dam Busters

Pic: Jan Kmiecik

Michael Anderson’s 1955 film The Dam Busters is being shown again on ITV4 this afternoon – the second screening on this channel in the last six days!

Experience shows that this will result in a number of first time visitors reading this blog, so if this is you, welcome aboard. This is the one-stop shop for all Dambuster-related news and information, coming to you regularly for almost ten years. I try to publish several items every month so please check back regularly. You can ensure you see every post by clicking the “Follow blog by email” button in the right hand column.

If you are searching today for information on when Peter Jackson’s much delayed remake of the 1955 film will appear, the news is simply that there is no news. Jackson bought the rights to remake the film back in 2006. Since then he has announced that a director has been appointed and a script commissioned and that a number of life size model Lancasters have been built. But since that time, he has been very busy making three Hobbit films and is now working on a number of other projects, including another series of fantasy films, these based on the Mortal Engines books. It is notable that the Dambusters remake no longer appears in Jackson’s IMDB listing.

The reshowing of the 1955 film does however give me a good excuse to show this picture again, kindly sent to me by Jan Kmiecik, whose father was Flt Sgt Joe Kmiecik, a Second World war veteran who took part in the filming of The Dam Busters in 1954.

The picture shows the three Lancasters used in the film flying together probably for the last time. This was taken at a Battle of Britain Day tribute at Silloth in Cumbria, probably in 1955. Note that only two of the aircraft have been modified to the “Dambuster” configuration, with a dummy “bouncing bomb” and no mid upper turret. The central Lancaster must be NX782, which was left as standard and used in an early sequence in the film where Gibson is completing his final flight as CO of 106 Squadron.

Note also how low the three Lancasters are flying, and how close they are to the members of the public wandering across the runway. Modern air displays have much stricter health and safety rules!

Dambusters remake shoved to back of the queue, again

slice_mortal_engines_peter_jackson_01Pic: collider.com

The good news: once again, Peter Jackson has indicated that his remake of the classic 1955 film, The Dam Busters, is still an ongoing project. The bad news: it has been shunted to the back of the production queue by what sounds like another interminable series of fantasy fiction films.

WingNut Films [will] be producing a feature film based on Philip Reeve’s book Mortal Engines, to be directed by Christian Rivers. The script has been written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and myself.
Some of you may recall that Christian was going to direct the Dambusters a few years back. Since then he’s kept himself busy, making short films, and directing Second Units on The Hobbit and Pete’s Dragon.
Our involvement in Mortal Engines actually pre-dates Dambusters (which is still happening) – Christian actually worked on Mortal Engines previs [sic] way back in 2009. It’s very exciting to finally get it underway!

This is obviously great news for the writer of Mortal Engines, Philip Reeves. There are four books in this series, and adapting and filming them will keep much of the New Zealand movie industry busy for years to come. But it does mean that the chance of the Dambusters remake hitting the screens anytime in this decade becomes more and more remote.
Jackson obviously included the four words in parentheses above in his statement (‘which is still happening’) to forestall the questions he would inevitably be asked by Dambuster enthusiasts. But if it is ‘still happening’, would he like to give us an update? A comment below would be appreciated.
[Hat tip: Graeme Stevenson]
UPDATE: More about this from the Waikato Times in New Zealand.

Models on the move

IMG_10371_zpsmmekupri loresPic: © Sean1552

An alert aviation buff called Sean in Wellington, New Zealand, spotted some interesting activity back in October near his workplace. Writing on the Wings over New Zealand forum, he reported: “The rumors that five Lancaster’s were / are stored next to where I work have now proven to be true, as over the last few days I have seen three truckloads of Lancaster parts being put back into storage. These included wings, and engines and other big parts. The trucks were uncovered, so they were not trying to hide anything. Have no idea where they came from but I am guessing Masterton, as that was where there were seen last. Not sure if this means they are going back into storage as there is no further need for them (no film), or they may have finished some filming…. hopefully someone here might know. I know Peter Jackson stores a lot of his stuff here as we are always seeing his WW1 tanks and buses etc being moved in or out usually in the weeks up to ANZAC day.”
A few days later, Sean saw another shipment in transit, and took a series of photographs, one of which is shown above. The fact that one segment of fuselage displayed the code letters AJ-G is of course confirmation that the models were made for the Dambusters film remake. However, as Sean points out, there has been no clue from the notoriously secretive Wingut Films as to when the remake will go ahead.
Sources do continue to suggest that Peter Jackson remains personally committed to the project. This was confirmed in the interview given by Jackson in Oxford in the summer, which appears to have been reported only in the hitherto obscure medium of the website of Exeter College, whose ex-students include JRR Tolkien.

Asked what projects he might want to pursue next, Jackson stated he was in “no rush” to recommence filming. Nor indeed, to return to Hollywood.
“At the moment . . . a lot of the films there are not the sort of films I particularly enjoy. So what Fran and I are probably going to do is make some smaller movies, make some New Zealand movies.
“I’ve got The Dam Busters too: I’ve been working on a script with Stephen Fry over the last few years on and off. But whatever we do over the next few years, it will be quite a lot smaller.”

So there we have it. A small Christmas bonus for Dambusters fanatics.
If you want another treat, then scroll backwards in the Wings Over New Zealand posting mentioned above, and find some great pictures from the New Zealand premiere of the 1955 film:

Dambuster NZ