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– . – The Lovely Bones

The Lovely Bones

Director Peter Jackson and star Susan Sarandon explain what it took to bring Alice Sebold’s beloved novel to the screen.

The adaptation of a much loved book for the screen is a process fraught with pitfalls and potential problems. Few would be more aware of this than director Peter Jackson and his regular collaborators Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, who between them brought The Lord of the Rings trilogy to the screen to huge critical and commercial acclaim. Jackson followed this artistic triumph with a well-received version of his own favourite film King Kong, and then—with the infrastructure in place for tackling big, effects-based movies in his native New Zealand—began looking for his next project. That became the film of Alice Sebold’s novel The Lovely Bones.

This story, detailing the aftermath of a teenager’s brutal murder, is oddly uplifting as it is narrated by the victim, Susie Salmon, herself. First published in 2002, it was a critical success and went on to spend a year on the New York Times bestseller list. Susan Sarandon, cast in Jackson’s film version as Susie’s incorrigible grandmother, read it when it first came out.

“When it surfaced after 9/11 that was the book that a lot of firefighter families gravitated towards,” she recalls, “because it is somehow reassuring. I don’t know if it’s because at the beginning of it she says, ‘My name is Susie Salmon and I was murdered…’, but there’s something about that in the book, and I think in the film also, that makes you understand that somehow she’s okay before you go into all of this horrible stuff.”

Which may indicate that, in Sarandon’s view at least, Jackson and his colleagues succeeded in translating the written page into the moving image. Yet despite the experience—and tremendous success—of adapting Tolkien’s masterwork for the screen, Jackson confesses this felt the bigger challenge.

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