PETER JACKSON is one of the undisputed kings of cinema, but just weeks out from the release of his latest film, he was thinking about a queen. Queen Elizabeth II to be precise. Her Majesty selected The Lovely Bones to screen at the royal film performance this week – the one time a year the monarch officially visits the cinema.
It was the world premiere and Jackson was chuffed that the film, which he’s spent four years on, already received the royal seal of approval. The event at Odeon Leicester Square in London was sold out.
But an unexpected side effect of the Queen choosing The Lovely Bones meant it had restricted who could see the film before her.
As it turned out, a diary clash prevented the Queen from attending the royal performance.
The only people who had seen the final cut were Jackson, his closest associates and Paramount Pictures executives.
More often than not, a condition of interviewing a director, actor, or anyone else involved, just before a film is released is that you see the film beforehand.
Instead Jackson found himself in the peculiar situation of having to give interviews to a small number of foreign journalists, who have flown in to Wellington, and The Dominion Post, knowing full well that all we can know of his The Lovely Bones is from the trailer and the option of reading the Alice Sebold novel on which it’s based.
Jackson says he finally ‘‘signed off’’ The Lovely Bones just a few weeks ago. Audiences will find it different from any of his previous films. What’s likely to strike them first is the style.
‘‘The editing in it is a bit sharper than what I normally do, it’s a bit bolder. Stylistically I wanted to make something that was a little bit more 70s [in] feeling.’’
The Lovely Bones is set in 70s rural Pennsylvania and is the story of 14-year-old Susie Salmon, played by Irish actress Saoirse Ronan, who is raped and murdered. Susie continues to observe her family on Earth after her death. Sebold’s novel, published in 2002, has sold more than 10 million copies and was a big seller before Jackson’s involvement. Rings co-writer Philippa Boyens read the book in 2002 and introduced it to Jackson and his partner Fran Walsh. But at the time Boyens didn’t believe it could be turned into a film. Jackson and Walsh also enjoyed the novel, but were also unsure if it could work as a film.
Regardless, out of curiosity they found out British film-maker Lynne Ramsay had the film rights. About two years later British film company Film Four got in touch with Jackson and told him Ramsay’s project had fallen over – the rights were available, was he interested? Dead right. By that time Jackson, Walsh and Boyens had changed their minds and believed it could be a film.
There was several weeks filming in rural Pennsylvania in late 2007 – the first time Jackson had shot overseas – and most of the crew was assembled there. Jackson says he could have easily filmed it all in New Zealand, but chose Pennsylvania for Sebold. While the setting is fictitious, it’s based on where Sebold grew istown.
‘‘We sat with her in California and we got a map of Norristown and Alice actually drew on the map where the shopping mall is, where there’s a scene walking around the cemetery . . . She drew up this whole map of where the book was supposed to have taken place and we went there.’’
But he says filming overseas reinforced his belief that he’s happy based here in Wellywood. ‘‘In Pennsylvania a lot of the crew had just finished M Night [Shyamalan’s] movie The Happening and they had two other movies lined up.
‘‘People were on their cellphones on the set talking about their next job while they’re finishing off our one. It just struck me – it’s such a big industry over there. There’s a lot of people working on the movie who were very good at what they were doing and totally professional, but it was a job.
‘‘I felt I was being dropped in the middle of a real ‘film industry’ and it depersonalised it a little bit.
‘‘We are just so used to working around people who are genuinely excited to be working on a project. They like the fact we are making a movie because it is still a rare thing in New Zealand. I was surprised at how I missed that. I love working here with people who are jazzed about the film they’re working on. It’s infectious and it kind of rubs off. Over there, that had all but disappeared.’’
More of The Lovely Bones was created in post-production than even the visual effects-heavy The Lord of the Rings and King Kong. Jackson says this was because they had more time than expected to complete it. Backers Paramount originally wanted to release the film in March this year, but held off until next month to give The Lovely Bones a better chance of being nominated during movie awards season, including the Oscars.
Last November Paramount was shown what was then almost the finished film, which Jackson says the studio was happy with. A cut was also shown to test audiences in the United States, who complained that some scenes, including one where a man falls off a cliff, weren’t violent enough. Jackson then reshot the scene with more suffering.
Extra time also helped Jackson tackle what he considered one of the biggest challenges to The Lovely Bones – depicting Susie in ‘‘heaven’’, shot in Wellington. In the novel there’s little detail. He jokes that it was ‘‘a horrible situation’’.
‘‘You’ve got this job of showing people what life after death is like, which is a fairly major topic. Obviously it’s just a fictitious version for a movie, but you don’t want it to be laughed at and you don’t want it to be disappointing. You still have all these high expectations for it.
‘‘[It] is a bit of a thankless task really and something I only hope I only have to do it once. It’s making something that’s intangible. You want her [Susie’s] experiences after she dies to be intangible. In the novel it is and it’s terrific. You sort of get a handle on it, but it’s like a will o’ the wisp, as soon as you think you’ve got it, it blows out.’’
The Lovely Bones world premiere was in London on Wednesday (NZ time). The New Zealand premiere is in Wellington on December 14. The film is released on Boxing Day.