Which Peter Jackson will show up for ‘Lovely Bones?’

Posted by · 1:25 pm · November 2nd, 2009

The Lovely BonesAs we begin to count down the days to the official unveiling of “The Lovely Bones” in London later this month (yes, I’m as stunned as you are to realize it’s November already), the film still stands as the biggest wild-card of the season’s prestige offerings.

The trailer for “Invictus” confirmed it’s (for better or worse) the model of film we had in mind, and we have some idea what to expect from “Nine” … but even a lavish trailer didn’t answer half the questionmarks lingering over Jackson’s adaptation of Alice Sebold’s decidedly tricky source novel (discussed here).

What emerges dominant in the story’s strange genre fusion of fantasy, serial killer thriller and domestic drama? How has Saoirse Ronan’s lead role been beefed up from Susie Salmon’s passive presence in the novel? How will Jackson’s effects-heavy imagery mesh with the novel’s more delicate dramatics? And will the novel’s millions of fans be appeased or alienated by his wilder stylistic impulses? It seems to me the film stands little chance of a middling reception — it’ll hit or miss big.

A recent NYT discussion of Jackson, and his potential suitability for this project, raises similar questions. Terrence Rafferty speculates that the ghost-story elements of  the novel fit with the more macabre tone of Jackson’s earlier indie work (up to and including his 1994 breakthrough “Heavenly Creatures”), but wonders how that’ll square with the expectations of both the novel’s fans and acolytes of Jackson’s epic recent work:

Because Mr. Jackson is arguably the pre-eminent maker of fantasy and horror films currently drawing breath, his fans tend to expect a certain amount of spectacular, over-the-top creepiness. The many readers of Ms. Sebold’s novel, however, might have very different expectations: her tale of the premature ghost Susie Salmon (played in the movie by Saoirse Ronan of “Atonement”) isn’t really a horror story, but a kind of dreamy meditation on the fragile boundary between life and death. The book is soothing and rather solemn — two words that rarely have been applied to Peter Jackson.

On the evidence of a few minutes of footage provided by the studio and an exceptionally handsome trailer, Mr. Jackson appears to have made the attempt to be faithful to Ms. Sebold’s wistful, lyrical tone, but there are indications, too, that he hasn’t entirely abandoned his hyperbolic horror style: the looming close-ups, the ominous shadows, the fast, vertiginous tracking shots.

What follows is interesting review of Jackson’s early career, essential reading for those whose acquaintance with the filmmaker began with “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy (which are brushed off in a single sentence). If “The Lovely Bones” gets it right, I sense plenty more comparisons with his less recent work will be forthcoming.

That said, a pointed reminder of the film’s digitally-aided visual floridity (dedicedly a latter-day Jackson hallmark) came in yesterday’s LA Times, in which Jackson’s co-writer Philippa Boyens explains that the film’s afterlife sequences aim to emulate “language of dreams,” and breaks down some of the more elaborate imagery we can expect — including a running visual motif of blossoming flowers. More here.

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19 responses so far

  • 1 11-02-2009 at 1:40 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    nice to read a piece on the lovely bones, we can all agree jackson has never had a bad movie or a flop for that matter, so its hard for me to believe this will be a big miss, which according to you means it will be a big hit, and id love to see that happen, Im just wondering how big it could really go

    kris do you have any idea how whalberg is being campaigned? lead or supporting because this mlovie could explode with many acting nominations unseen

  • 2 11-02-2009 at 1:42 pm

    Brian said...

    As excited as I am for this, I confess to being even more excited for Stephen Fry’s lie that Jackson’s next film was to be about time traveling zombie nazi’s intent on killing Christ.

  • 3 11-02-2009 at 1:43 pm

    Jester said...

    I find it amazing how respected and in awe everyone is over Peter Jackson these days. Doesn’t anyone remember what he did right before he went to Middle Earth? The Frighteners, just about one of the worst films ever made. A film so forgettable that thankfully for Jackson people don’t even remember it when discussing his filmography.

  • 4 11-02-2009 at 1:47 pm

    Roarkkk said...

    I posted this in another topic…but if Tom O’Neil’s supposed “source” is reliable at all….and Ronan is indeed “in virtually every scene of The Lovely Bones” and “steals the picture from everyone”….then it sounds like her static observer role in the novel has been upped quite a bit. But who knows.

    I know Jackson has brought up how he didnt have the time he would have liked to properly edit King Kong. So he better have gotten this film exactly right because he’s had like almost an extra year to figure it out. Anyway, i’m REALLY excited for this.

  • 5 11-02-2009 at 2:02 pm

    Maxim said...

    I’ll give you “true” fantasy on the strength of LOTR but how is Jackson a pre-eminent maker of horror? Due to what, Frighteners? Or Bad Taste?

    In any case, I’m sure that Jackson knows what he’s doing here. Whether or not it’s exactly what fans of the book are expecting is beside the point. I wouldn’t be suprised if the movie will objectively stand well on its own even if it doesn’t manage to please the majority of the fans. And King Kong was awesome.

  • 6 11-02-2009 at 2:03 pm

    Jim T said...

    I’m tired of talking about this film (not so much obviously). I can’t wait to see it but unfortunately I’ll have to wait a lot. I hate Oscar related marketing games. Just give us the movie now!! I might have asked before but will there be any reactions by critics after the “royal” premiere or there will not be critics attending? I have no idea what kind of people go there. I mean, I don’t care to hear a celebrity saying “It was the best film ever”. They almost always say that. I want a serious opinion. Then I’ll just have to wait two more months to see it myself. :(

  • 7 11-02-2009 at 2:35 pm

    Matthew said...

    Amelia went down in a heap of flames. We’ll see if these upcoming and anointed awards frontrunners can avoid the same fate.

  • 8 11-02-2009 at 2:41 pm

    Brian said...

    I love The Frighteners and I really LOVE the documentary on it.

  • 9 11-02-2009 at 4:09 pm

    Alfie said...

    The making of frighteners is awesome. The film is great too. I have yet to dislike anything he has done and I can’t wait for bones.

    Nice piece by the way.

  • 10 11-02-2009 at 5:26 pm

    Bryan said...

    Jackson and Boyens weren’t afraid to tinker with Tolkien (the ending of The Two Towers is a fair bit different than the book) for the sake of character (think Faramir, think Arwen). So I’ve complete faith in him knowing what to do with Suzie and how to handle that bumpy ending.

  • 11 11-02-2009 at 5:31 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Yeah, the more he tinkers with that ending, the better.

    Apologies to its numerous fans, but that book is tosh.

  • 12 11-02-2009 at 8:59 pm

    Brian said...

    He tinkers a lot. Thankfully.

  • 13 11-03-2009 at 12:15 am

    Dan said...

    He tinkered with editing ROTK enormously. In fact, I think the lack of tinkering was the biggest flaw in King Kong (don’t get me wrong about KK—I love it—but it was too long).

  • 14 11-03-2009 at 6:12 am

    John H. Foote said...

    Jester — your point being??? Seriously dude how many other directors have made bad films before hitting it big, or even made them after hitting it big?? Here’s a few: Spielberg (“1941”, “Hook”), Friedkin (“Sorcerer”), Bogdonavich (“At Long Last Love”), Cimino (“The Sicilian”), Coppola (“One from the Heart”), Oliver Stone (“Alexander”), and so many more — so what Jackson made a stinker, they all do…and hopefully they learn from it…
    What he did with “LOTR” was astounding and I loved “King Kong” was brilliant, among the years very best films — I think he’ll do just fine with “The Lovely Bones”…it is the film I am most excited about this year.

  • 15 11-03-2009 at 3:21 pm

    Tyler said...

    Why are The Frighteners and Bad Taste stinkers anyway? They are great for what they are: over-the-top horror comedies with some wildly creative technical work and absurd humor.

  • 16 11-03-2009 at 6:02 pm

    Johnny Doubles said...

    What Peter Jackson will show up?!?! Was I asleep or missing something? Has he made a bad film anytime recently? If so, this is news to me.

  • 17 11-03-2009 at 6:04 pm

    Johnny Doubles said...

    Foote, ‘One From the Heart’ was a commercial failure, but far from a bad film. I would have picked ‘Jack’ as Coppola’s embarrasment.
    And in regards to Stone, you could’ve gone with a number of choices.

  • 18 11-05-2009 at 1:22 am

    Dan said...

    Jester–I don’t think it’s fair to call The Frighteners an outright bad film. It’s not great, and it didn’t make too much money, but it’s not a clunker by any means.

    And I agree with Johnny Doubles…the title of this post makes it seem like there’s a GOOD and a BAD Peter Jackson. WTF? It’s not like we are talking about Oliver Stone here (or even Clint Eastwood or Spielberg). I don’t want to get into hyperbolics, but with the light disappointment of The Frighteners aside, the man has never made a bad film, and some of them are really, really good.

  • 19 11-05-2009 at 1:48 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    The title of the post doesn’t refer to a GOOD and a BAD Peter Jackson. (Though I do personally think he’s made a bad film or two.) It refers to the fact that there’s a marked difference between certain phases of his work. I think reading the article makes that quite clear.

    Relax, people.