Is there a filmmaker in history who’s made four bigger back-to-back movies than Peter Jackson?
Fellowship, Two Towers, King, Kong
… that’s a total of 30 words in the full titles, 745 minutes in running time (883 if we’re talking the extended cuts), $1.3bn at the box office and more spectacle, CG extras and horizon-stretching battles than a T-Rex could shake an Oliphant at.
So how’s this for a change of pace: an intimate family drama set in a small American town (one street, primarily) and faultlessly recreating the early ‘70s. It’s a lost world but there’s not a dinosaur in sight – though a beast does live across the street and Jackson gets to flex the fantasy once more by visualising a land so vast and fertile it makes Middle-earth look like a disused parking lot. Welcome to heaven.
Confused? Then you haven’t read Alice Sebold’s 2002 bestseller The Lovely Bones , to which Jackson and partners Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens cleave faithfully but not, wisely, reverentially. It tells the imaginative, heartfelt tale of Susie Salmon (“like the fish”), a 14-year-old who is raped and killed by Mr Harvey, her inconspicuous neighbour. Only she’s not ready to die, instead loitering around the gateway to the afterlife and peering back over her shoulder as the murder investigation unfurls below.
Sensitively cast - Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz as Susie’s parents, Susan Sarandon as vulgar Grandma, a bewigged, bespectacled Stanley Tucci as Harvey and Atonement ’s Saoirse Ronan as poor, hurting Susie – Lovely Bones is a touching, at times distressing film. It deals with loss, grief, rage, familial breakdown and love, most of all love. But it’s also energetic and entertaining, the camera already moving whenever Jackson cuts into a scene and the horror/thriller elements given just enough fizz to recall the director’s early genre forays (minus the splatter) but not so comic book as to undercut the drama.
Likewise the emotion, Lovely Bones teetering along the thin, thin line that separates genuinely affecting from schmaltzy. How can it not, with colours popping from heavenly vistas (cornfields, lakes, mountains and more, the picture postcard views forever morphing to reflect Susie’s emotional state) and Wahlberg’s wide, earnest eyes rimmed with tears. Some will label it What Dreams May Come 2 , and even those plugged in might experience a short circuit splutter come the 12-hankie denouement. But many more - the book’s fans, certainly - will exit exalted.
Next up for Jackson are Tintin and The Hobbit . Well if Lovely Bones was a chance for cinema’s supreme showman to get his breath back, one thing’s for certain: the air sure tastes sweet.
A sister film to Heavenly Creatures, brimming with not just tears but imagination, thrills and verve. It’s heart-on-sleeve, sure, but it also has a whiff of awards potential. The Academy loves a good cry...