The Lovely Bones

Peter Jackson talks about the responsibility of bringing another of the world's best-selling books to the big screen

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After bringing the ghoulish evil of Mordor to life, Peter Jackson adopts a more subtle tone in his acclaimed adaptation of Alice Sebold’s best-selling book, The Lovely Bones. Fourteen-year-old Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) is brutally murdered one evening after school. Narrating from her perspective in some sort of afterlife, the film centres around the detrimental effects Susie’s murder has on her family. Her mother (Rachel Weiss) attempts to escape the horror by going to pick apples in California, while her father (played with doting, boyish warmth by Mark Wahlberg) refuses to give up the chase to catch Susie’s killer, obsessing over every detail to the restrained annoyance of the police.

Aside from the film’s inevitable inability to live up to the book, and the all too cartoony afterlife sequences which should hold the warning: “If the final sequence of The Return Of The King made you queasy, look away now.” The Lovely Bones does hold its own as a gripping film that forces a fist into your chest to give your heart a good wrenching. Comic relief from all the trauma comes in the form of Susie’s alcoholic grandmother, brilliantly played by Susan Sarandon. And iIf Javier Bardem won last year’s scariest sadist in No Country For Old Men, this year’s the honour must certainly go to Oscar nominee Stanley Tucci, as Susie’s murderer George Harvey. His ability to flip between kindly neighbour and psychopathic weirdo within the wince of an eye is constantly unnerving. Dazed Digital got stuck in a lift with legendary director Peter Jackson and got his take on the trials of adapting a book, seeing ghosts and living in the twilight zone.

Adapting The Lovely Bones was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. It’s an incredible book that affects you emotionally when you read it. The book is not structured like a film, so it was a challenge to figure out how to reorganise the events so they were more film friendly, which unfortunately you do need to do.

It’s one of those wonderful stories that defies genre; you can’t label it as one thing or another. That makes for a difficult film, because people like films to be packaged as ‘this is a horror’, ‘this is thriller’ and this movie doesn’t quite allow itself to be labelled in that way. You try to preserve what it was that’s so powerful about the book, because it’s so easy to see it slip away in the course of making a film.

I didn’t want it defined as a murder film. It was always important that the film be about love; about Suzie’s adventure and about the way people have to relate to the fact she’s dead and re-adjust their lives. For me, it wasn’t a film about a murder, it was a film about the events that happened after the murder.

The tension that’s on screen isn’t really on the set. That’s the way I prefer to work. I don’t want to shoot an intense scene and have the set full of anxiety, that doesn’t help, so we tried to keep it light and professional. It’s great if the scene is powerful but it took us about a day and a half or two days to shoot, so it becomes a very mechanical process really.

It was important for Stanley to be able to look in the mirror and not see Stanley Tucci but see Mr Harvey, it gave him a sense of comfort. So he has the comb over, the moustache, the contacts, the false teeth and the pale skin, it all helped. I know that it was very tough for Stanley filming that scene. He did have some quiet time to himself. To be having to act that character in any sort of very truthful way, he’s got to live the moment, his eyes have to show what that character is thinking.

I don’t believe in religion particularly. I don’t believe in organised religion, but I believe people ought to be free to believe in whatever they want, I think that’s a fundamental human right. I think there’s probably some spirit or soul that survives after we die. What it’s like, I have no idea. There’s a version of it in the movie, but I can’t swear it’s 100 per cent accurate.

What you see in the movie is really what’s called The Inbetween. It’s a twilight zone Susie finds herself in. Everything in the afterlife in the movie is in The Inbetween world.

We based the concept on subconscious imagery, so it’s almost like Susie’s dream state is influenced by the pop culture of the time. I wanted to try to make it as intangible as possible. We just tried very hard to make it this shifting landscape that’s based on whatever Susie’s emotions were at the time. We tried to keep it very fragile and dreamlike.

I  saw a ghost once. It was a genuine experience. It was in New Zealand in an apartment that Fran had 20 years ago. I woke up one morning and there was a figure in the room, a lady about 50 years old. She had a screaming face, very accusatory, it was terrifying actually. She was at the end of the bed and she glided across the room and disappeared into the wall. When I told Fran about it, the first thing she said was, was it the woman with the screaming face? Fran had seen the same woman in the same room about two years before.

Originally, we were going to do more of a Scorsese soundtrack, songs from 72, 73. We had selected two or three of Brian Eno’s songs and as part of the process of getting use of the songs we contacted him to explain why we wanted them. I think he was curious about the project and asked whether would we consider him for the soundtrack.

Brian didn’t want to score the movie in a traditional way. The way we’re used to scoring the movie is when you’ve got something approaching the final cut, then your composer comes in and scores the movie according to every beat of the movie, but Brian wanted to do much more of a loose emotional score. He wanted to see imagery to inspire thoughts and he gave us permission to chop his score around to fit the pictures. Brian supplies a really interesting musical palette.

I love Hitchcock’s quote: “Some movies are slices of life, mine are slices of cake.” I like escapism, the reason I go to the movies is to escape, the reason I make movies is escapism.

The Lovely Bones is out February 19
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