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Peter Jackson Discusses 'The Lovely Bones'

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Saoirse Ronan and Peter Jackson on the set of 'The Lovely Bones'

Saoirse Ronan and Peter Jackson on the set of 'The Lovely Bones'

© DreamWorks Pictures
Updated February 15, 2014
Three-time Oscar winner Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) brings Alice Sebold's beloved novel The Lovely Bones to the big screen with Saoirse Ronan in the lead role as the innocent girl whose life is cut short by a sick neighbor (played by Stanley Tucci). Jackson's no stranger to adapting popular works of fiction, and he realized going in that there was no way Sebold's novel could transition to the big screen word-for-word and scene-for-scene. At the LA press conference for the DreamWorks film, Jackson explained how he went about bringing the story of Susie Salmon and her family (played by Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Rose McIver, and Christian Thomas Ashdale) to the screen.

The Lovely Bones Press Conference - Peter Jackson

What were the challenges of adapting this? What did you have to leave out?

Peter Jackson: "Any film that I’ve done, you shoot scenes that don’t end up in the final cut. In my mind, there’s no such thing as a perfect adaptation of a book. The master work is the book. Alice Sebold’s novel is The Lovely Bones. That is the work that has got everything in it, every character, every subplot, and that’s the way that you should experience the story in its most pure form. A film adaptation of any book, especially The Lovely Bones in this example, it’s only ever going to be a souvenir. It’s going to be an impression of aspects of the book."

"To me, to adapt a book is not a question of producing a carbon copy of the book. It’s impossible. To include everything, the film would be five or six hours long. It’s a personal impression that basically Philippa Boyens, Fran Walsh and myself, the three of us wrote the screenplay and we read the book. We responded to aspects of the book, especially emotional themes, the comforting value of the book and things it had to say about the afterlife and that aspect of it, which is very personal to anybody. That’s what we responded to and our adaptation is very much just elements of the book restructured following our interests and our takes. To me, no adaptation can ever be perfect. It’s impossible. You don’t make a movie for the fans of the book. You just can’t do that."

What were your reasons for choosing to eliminate the rape part of her murder from the book?

Peter Jackson: "There are a variety of reasons that I should just talk about. The film is about a teenager and her experiences of what happens. She’s murdered, she goes into an afterlife experience - her in-between - and we wanted to make a film that teenagers could watch. We have a daughter, Fran and I have a daughter who’s very similar to Susie’s age. We wanted Katie to be able to see this film. There’s a lot of positive aspects of this film, and it’s not something that I think I wanted to shield our daughter from. So it was important for us to not go into an R-rated territory at all. Also, I never regarded the movie as being a film about a murder. Yet if we shot any aspect of that particular sequence in any way, then it would stigmatize the film. Movies are such a powerful medium with the music and the effects and acting and performance, the editing and the lighting and camerawork, that to show a 14 year old girl being murdered in any way, even regards no matter how briefly, it would completely swing the balance of the movie and it would, frankly, make it a film that I wouldn’t want to watch. I mean, I would have no interest in seeing that depicted on film and I would not want to see the film."

"Every movie that I make is a film that I want to see. It’s very important. I make movies that I know I would enjoy seeing in the cinema, and that would not be one of them. So the movie that we did make, we wanted it to become something that was almost like a mystery, a crime mystery of what happens when you’re in this world of the subconscious, the world of the afterlife. And Susie has to deal with the mystery of what happened to her. There’s a positive aspect to it in the sense that she’s immortal and saying there is no such thing as death. All of those aspects and themes were what interested us, not the murder."

"And also, I just could not. I have no interest - and I’ve shot some pretty extreme things in my time with Bad Taste and Meet the Feebles and Brain Dead - there’s a certain style and a sense of humor that I believe you can do to get away with that, but to do anything that depicted violence towards especially a young person in a way that was serious, to me I would have no interest in filming it at all. It would be repulsive. So there was a variety of reasons, but we felt very determined from the beginning that the film should be PG-13 because it was important."

[Susan Sarandon adds: "She’s also the narrator and she dissociates at that point, so to show what happens, you’d lose that whole element of her confusion and her displacement."]

Peter Jackson: "Exactly. I mean, one of the things we did, which was different from the novel, but the way we restructured the screenplay is we have her fleeing from her murder, and we really liked that aspect of sort of the way that bit of the story was told in the sense that at the point that her spirit becomes disconnected from her body and she’s running. She’s running across that field, she’s running into the street, she’s running home, and Susie doesn’t know what’s happening to her. She’s literally confused and now she finds herself in the in-between, which is essentially the world of dream, of subconscious, of this confused state, and she has to start to put the pieces together like a mystery. So that really dictated very strongly that even for all of the other reasons, seeing any form of murder was not something that we wanted to do because of the way that we restructured the story. She herself is confused and has to put the pieces of the puzzle together as the story continues."

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