Upon reading Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones when it was first published, I recall fantasizing about writing the film adaptation. Like so many contemporary books, the prose mimicked the cinematic in terms of narrative and imagery. In all likelihood, the screenplay had already been scripted by the time I read the hardback. Seven years later, we have the film’s debut to look forward to over the holiday season and trailers such as the one below to fuel our speculation:
While I’ve appreciated Peter Jackson’s previous work (Lord of the Rings Trilogy included), the trailer for this latest effort does little for me. Maybe it’s the thematic similarity, but I keep thinking about the painful family outing back in 1998 to see the saccharine, CGI-laden What Dreams May Come. Maybe it’s my Catholic upbringing, but the idea of an afterlife in which all your fantasies can be realized seems rather hokey and convenient for the movie makers who aspire to generate them…fantasies, that is.
Nevertheless, I am heartened by the fact that The Lovely Bones revists some previously explored territory for Jackson: the crime mystery meets girlhood coming-of-age story. Jackson co-wrote and directed Heavenly Creatures, a film based on the actual crimes of two young girls in 1950s New Zealand. While hugely problematic for its stereotypical treatment of lesbianism and criminality, the film is notable for the following reasons:
1) Acting – Young actresses at the time, Melanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet (in her first film) gave amazing performances as the primary characters whose strong friendship produces both a luminous fantasy world and a dark obsession.
2) Visual effects – The film uses a variety of special effects to animate the world created by the girls. Some of this appears in the trailer here:
In my opinion, the effects in Heavenly Creatures appear far superior as opposed to the hyper-digitized The Lovely Bones trailer; I’m a little new old-fashioned that way.
3) Mood – The film shifts smoothly between some incredibly disturbing material to more lighthearted, even comical, moments. As a result, the film portrays its protagonists complexly, resisting the impulse to simply demonize the girls for their horrendous acts.
The Lovely Bones certainly has the potential to replicate these same qualities. Mostly, I’m hoping that the film retains the book’s liberal take on teenage sexuality. If Heavenly Creatures, with its scenes of overt lesbian experimentation, is any indication, The Lovely Bones should tackle the subject head-on. With that, I’ll close with a fan-edited video of Heavenly Creatures with Katy Perry on the soundtrack. I’m not a fan of Perry or “I Kissed a Girl,” but I’m always interested to see fan appropriations of a text, and this just seems to appropriate to pass up: