‘Bones’ panders to audience bloodlust

Posted by · 6:48 am · November 19th, 2009

Stanley Tucci in The Lovely BonesOkay, this story has been doing the round for a day or so, but I only got to it now. Let me say upfront that if you haven’t read Alice Sebold’s “The Lovely Bones,” and wish to remain innocent of any major plot developments in Peter Jackson’s upcoming film, stop reading now.

I mean it.


Still with me? Good. Those familiar with the novel will know that it ends with the heroine’s rapist-murderer (to be played in the film by Stanley Tucci) falling to his death into a ravine, after being freakishly hit on the head by a falling icicle.

I always thought it a rather crass, unintentionally amusing resolution, but was at least grateful that Sebold refrained from something more lurid.

Peter Jackson obviously had the same idea, shooting Tucci’s death scene as a quiet drop off the edge of a cliff, with no depiction of the bloody aftermath. That sounds like an elegant enough solution to me, but it was apparently not enough for the vengeful test audiences, who wanted to see him suffer.

Jackson’s obedient answer to this was to return to the editing room, in order to dream up as grisly an onscreen death for Tucci as the film’s PG-13 requirement would allow:

“We got a lot of people telling us that they were disappointed with this death scene, as they wanted him to see (the character) in agony and suffer a lot more,” he said. “They just weren’t satisfied.”

Jackson said he and his filmmakers were perplexed because they had already shot much of the movie. They had to go back to the editing room and use digital effects to add shots where (the character) bounces against the cliff on the way down.

“We had to create a whole suffering death scene just to give people the satisfaction they needed,” he said.

Am I the only person feeling depressed, and more than a little queasy, reading this? Are audiences today so stubbornly literal-minded that they need to see the graphic details of a death to feel the necessary release? Are these same people similarly uncertain over what happens at the end of “Thelma and Louise?”

Yeah, yeah, Tucci’s character is bad, which apparently makes it okay for audiences to cheer the sight of a human body being dashed to pieces on the rocks. But “The Lovely Bones” professes to have more humane, spiritual concerns than visceral “Inglourious Basterds”-style revenge fantasy, so why indulge this kind of thinking? Jackson should trust his own instincts more.

→ 33 Comments Tags: , , , , | Filed in: Daily

33 responses so far

  • 1 11-19-2009 at 7:10 am

    One Movie, Five Views said...

    I too think that showing it is a bit overboard. This isn’t meant to be a horror-thriller. The way it was dealt with in the book, would have played out perfectly in the movie. With no gore or anything. There for making the film more appealing to a wider audience.

    In the book does he even fall off a cliff, or does he just get hit by the icicle?

  • 2 11-19-2009 at 7:16 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    The icicle knocks him off-balance, and he falls into a ravine.

  • 3 11-19-2009 at 7:29 am

    Vito said...

    I should look at it again. I thought the icicle pierced his head, which was pretty brutal.

  • 4 11-19-2009 at 7:39 am

    Liz said...


    I thought the resolution was anticlimactic in the book at first, but after a while, I appreciated the low-key way it was done. This sounds ridiculously over the top and unnecessary.

    Does anyone know what Jackson is planning to do with “that scene” (you know which one I’m talking about)? Hopefully, he cut it completely. That’s where the book went off the rails for me.

  • 5 11-19-2009 at 7:49 am

    Jim T said...

    AMEN. If audiences were angry at the “soft” death, I’m angry at them and Jackson! Totally missing the point of the book. I also like the reference to Inglourious Basterds because although I liked the film, I hated the ending. I was like “Quentin, are you trying to make me feel almost horny excited? Not working!”

    I was trying to keep my hopes high for this film but things are getting worse and worse. Damn.

  • 6 11-19-2009 at 7:50 am

    Jim T said...

    Liz, I read that he didn’t include it.

  • 7 11-19-2009 at 7:55 am

    Chase K. said...

    This sound awful. Why change any work to please a snarling pack of blood-thirsty goons?

    What worries me even more is that apparently, this test audience was so concerned about the bad guy simply “getting his comeuppance,” that they seemingly misinterpreted the whole point of the story, which is NOT strictly a murder-revenge kick.

  • 8 11-19-2009 at 7:56 am

    Chase K. said...

    Hopefully, that’s an indictment on the audience, not the film.

  • 9 11-19-2009 at 8:43 am

    Hero said...

    Thanks for including the spoiler alert, Guy. Too bad Tom O’Neil didn’t show the same courtesy when he posted this at his site yesterday. Yes, I’m still pissed at him.

  • 10 11-19-2009 at 8:46 am

    Liz said...

    Ah, thanks Jim T. That’s good to hear, and compensates somewhat for the irritating news above.

  • 11 11-19-2009 at 8:47 am

    Luke Gorham said...

    It is the icicle that kills him, not the fall, in the novel. The ravine simply acts to mask his immediate discovery.

  • 12 11-19-2009 at 9:02 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Not a terribly important matter to debate, but the incident in the novel reads:

    “A moment later, the icicle fell. The heavy coldness of it threw him off balance just enough for him to stumble and pitch forward. It would be weeks before the snow in the ravine melted enough to uncover him.”

    So I suppose it could be read either way.

  • 13 11-19-2009 at 9:23 am

    Adam Smith said...

    First off, that really makes me worry about audiences today that they demanded more suffering.

    Second, in regards to the end of Inglourious Basterds, was I the only person who thought that you weren’t supposed to enjoy the gruesome end that the people in the theatre come to? I see this people completely trapped in this confined space as it burns and crumbles all around them, and I couldn’t help but wonder what each individual’s crime was–were they all Nazis, were they all responsible, who was and who wasn’t, and ultimately, how do we judge who deserves punishment and who doesn’t? As Hitler’s face is shot up until it’s unrecognizable as any human form, I wouldn’t even call it bittersweet–I felt hard pressed to feel that even a man so deplorable deserved a death that horrific. In that moment, they were not soldiers completing a mission, but men seeking a sick, twisted sort of vengeance (one they felt entitled to as Jews, getting retribution for all of their people that Hitler massacred). Throughout the film (with the exception of Hitler himself, who comes off like a Daffy Duck sort of caricature), Tarantino separates the line between soldiers in battle (Fassbender, for one, and, for the most part, the Germans) and men seeking a violent revenge (the Basterds). I think that anyone claiming that Tarantino wants the audience to squeal with delight at every scalping and every Nazi death is oversimplifying it (as are those unfortunate individuals who DO squeal with delight at every scalping and every Nazi death).

  • 14 11-19-2009 at 9:39 am

    Alex in Movieland said...

    The book was very weak to me, considering its potential. It went down the hill once Susie came back to Earth in the other girl’s body.

    I do hope Peter Jackson cleaned up some of the mess

  • 15 11-19-2009 at 10:15 am

    Chad Hartigan said...

    I wouldn’t totally blame audiences for this. The reason everybody wanted that bald military dude to have a particularly gruesome death in District 9 is because the film set him up for one in frame one. Jackson may have done the same.

  • 16 11-19-2009 at 11:20 am

    Jim T said...

    Chad, you are right but isn’t it the audience’s fault that they are easily manipulated?

  • 17 11-19-2009 at 11:43 am

    Jordan said...

    Do keep in mind, however, that the icicle death in the novel wasn’t so random at face value. Earlier in the book, it is noted that it is Susie’s clever idea. Her perfect murder weapon wasn’t a gun, but an icicle, “for the weapon melts away”.

    Symbolism that worked in the novel, and hopefully in the film.

  • 18 11-19-2009 at 11:56 am

    Simone said...

    Where do they get these “test screen” audiences, and why haven’t I ever been asked to partake in one? I surely would not have been opposed to the original death scene that Peter filmed. It does say a lot about society at the moment when people demanded a more horrible death of the killer.

  • 19 11-19-2009 at 12:56 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    I get invited to test screenings all the time in L.A. “Get Him to the Greek” played last night for example, but I’m not sure if it’s done very much or at all outside of NY and here.

  • 20 11-19-2009 at 1:00 pm

    Anonymous said...

    It’s not about audiences wanting “blood” it’s about audience’s wanting proper “comeuppance” for a character that has done something that deserves greater punishment than just an icicle falling on his head, however elegant that seemed in the book… it’s something that would be difficult to make “cinematic.” Why do you think child molesters and child killers get attacked in prisons? They are the lowest form, even amongst the lowest.

  • 21 11-19-2009 at 1:09 pm

    Sarah El said...

    That’s really disappointing. :(

  • 22 11-19-2009 at 1:28 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Anonymous: I’d find the knowledge of someone’s death sufficient “comeuppance” without being treated to the gory details. There’s the difference between us, I guess.

  • 23 11-19-2009 at 1:55 pm

    Anonymous said...

    I’m talking about dramatic mechanics 101, not gory details. An icicle death is probably about one of the “softest” ways a killer could go. It’s one of those “aw” moments in cinema where the audience could feel ripped off. They’ve gone on a journey to find and get revenge for the killing of an innocent, and the reward is that the killer gets off rather easy in comparison to the grisly way his victim met her fate. It’s also random.

  • 24 11-19-2009 at 1:57 pm

    Michael W. said...

    I don’t know. Let’s wait and see how it is. But generally I don’t like the idea of a test audience at all!!!

  • 25 11-19-2009 at 2:06 pm

    Jim T said...

    “They’ve gone on a journey to find and get revenge for the killing of an innocent, and the reward is that the killer gets off rather easy in comparison to the grisly way his victim met her fate.”

    They are going on the wrong journey. The book is about accepting things that are very difficult to accept. If Jackson has chosen to take as on another journey, I prefer to stay home.

  • 26 11-19-2009 at 2:08 pm

    Jim T said...

    Thank God, Carol Reed didn’t use test audiences for The Third Man. They would have probably ruined a great ending.

  • 27 11-19-2009 at 2:58 pm

    JR said...

    Jordan’s right – the icicle death has specific dramatic significance in the book (which I loved). In fact, I’d come to expect that the murderer was going to get away with it, disappearing into society. Instead, his freak random death – Susie’s perfect murder – put a wry smile on my face after many tears.

    Sadly, I’m not surprised by the reaction of the test audience. We Americans just don’t appreciate subtlety and I’ll bet many (most?) of those at the screening hadn’t read the book.

    Without having seen the script, I won’t judge Jackson. If he hasn’t previously mentioned Susie’s perfect murder, there’s no way the test audience could get the poetry of her killer’s end.

  • 28 11-19-2009 at 5:12 pm

    Markku said...

    Indulgence (of himself and of the audience) has always been Jackson’s vice.

    I do have to wonder, though: how does escaping punishment by the law and dying of a freak accident in your old age constitue a comeuppance? I felt that killer’s death was included just to inform the audience briefly on his ultimate fate, not so much to provide lurid satisfaction.

  • 29 11-19-2009 at 6:29 pm

    austin111 said...

    Uhhh…I dunno…..movies have pushed the violence envelope so hard that people have become coarsened and insensitive, I think. I can remember the first time I saw The Godfather and the scene where that guy gets strangled with the wire, his eyes bulging out, etc. That was pretty shocking to me. I half hid my eyes. Now a scene like that would be dismissed by the SAW generation as nothing. But the fact is that people want to see bad guys suffer more than their victims. It makes them somehow feel better, warped as it is. That’s why capital punishment has a certain popularity even though it’s actually counter productive as a crime stopper. It’s just revenge, pure and simple.

  • 30 11-20-2009 at 6:55 am

    Chase K. said...

    ” I think that anyone claiming that Tarantino wants the audience to squeal with delight at every scalping and every Nazi death is oversimplifying it”

    I saw “Basterds” twice in packed houses on opening weekend and both times, the audience reacted the way you’re describing here. Whether it was Tarantino’s intention or not, the sickly, blood-lust revenge fantasty aspect was being eaten up by audiences — without question.

    Why do you think the movie gets a huge round of applause everytime it plays to a packed audience? They sure as hell aren’t applauding Tarantino’s ranged spectrum of vengeance and it’s effect on different people.

    That’s the whole problem with “Inglourious Basterds” — it’s an extremely tightly-crafted thing is certain areas (tavern scene, Act. IV?) but shockingly amoral in others (Eli Roth batter-up scene). I responded to it the way that a morally-guided person stuck in 100 A.D. might respond to the Gladiator games at the Colisseum.

    I’m sort-of enjoying myself here, but should I be?

  • 31 11-20-2009 at 7:12 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Yeah, my experience of watching “Basterds” in a packed multiplex cinema was similar to Chase’s — certain audience members actually cheered when Roth swung his baseball bat into the guy’s head.

    Adam brings up some interesting points, but I’m not sure if they represent what a lot of viewers got out of the film.

  • 32 11-20-2009 at 3:19 pm

    Adam Smith said...

    @Chase and Guy:

    Now, I can say that my experience was certainly different from yours.

    I know IB is 3 months old, but I’ll just put a big SPOILER ALERT on here anyway


    While there were certainly reactions to the baseball bat scene and the carving of the swastika into Hans Landa’s forehead, it was more of the squirmy “Oooooh!” variety, not cheers or applause. There was certainly laughter in the appropriate places (I can’t speak for anyone else, but the exploitation-style introduction of Hugo Stiglitz is one of the funniest things I’ve seen all year), but much of the movie was spent in a very tense silence (you could hear a pin drop in the cafe scene between Shoshanna and Landa). While the film did get applause at the end, and I heard a few people after the screening talk about enjoying seeing some Nazi ass get kicked, I don’t get the impression that was the general experience. And even if it were, as a malleable work of art (open to interpretation), a variety of experiences are welcome and valid.

  • 33 11-21-2009 at 3:57 pm

    Jim T said...

    Having seen “The Cat Piano”, I think that Jackson didn’t want his villain to end in the same way as the piano maker. :p