Peter Jackson on Lovely Bones’ Reviews and Oscar Hopes

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Hitting theaters next weekend is Peter Jackson's much-anticipated $100 million film adaptation of Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones. It stars Saoirse Ronan as Susie Salmon, a dead 14-year-old who plots to avenge her own murder from heaven. Once presumed to be among 2009's top Oscar contenders, Lovely Bones has struggled slightly in early reviews — not that Jackson seems fazed. We ran into the director last night at the film's New York premiere and asked him about the movie's early reception, Susan Sarandon's boozy grandma character, and his hopes for awards season.

You spent time writing and then shooting. Did living with this material ever get to you?
Not really. I mean, we regarded the story as being optimistic and positive. I mean, for us it gives comfort. It sort of provides confirmation for a question that everybody has about is there life after death. And so in terms of the movie, you know, it says that Susie can’t ever die, she has a spirit that continues on, as does all of our spirits. So we never looked on it as too grim or depressing.

When you took on this movie, you didn’t have any trepidation about the material?
Well, it is tough material if you choose to approach it from a tough direction, but we made a decision very early that we weren’t going to show the murder, we weren’t going to essentially show any violence on the screen, so we were going to tell the story of, really, very much of an adventure of a 14-year-old who finds herself in this very dreamlike subconscious state that’s neither living or dead. She’s in this sort of, what she calls, the "in-between state." So for us it had a lot of very interesting possibilities. We didn’t really want to dwell on the, um, the negative aspects of it, you know.

Did you write Susan Sarandon’s glamorous, boozy, pill-popping grandmother character as funny as she turned out? I did not read the book.
Her character is fairly well-defined in the book, and Susan was the only person that we ever had in mind for that character. We couldn’t imagine anybody doing it better than Susan. And fortunately she agreed to do it, because we didn’t really have a backup plan. So we were very lucky to get Susan.

Are you gearing up for an Oscar campaign? Lobbying?
Well, I’m not; the studio does those sorts of things. I’m hopeful that people will look very closely at Saoirse and Stanley’s performances in particular, you know. That’s who I think are really deserving of serious consideration.

The reviews so far have been mixed — some are glowing, some not so much. How do you feel about those?
Well, you know, I don’t really have much opinion about them. I mean, the film is a film that we’re very proud of, and it’s not a film that everyone likes, but I don’t know what that film is. You know, there’s no such thing as perfection; you can’t make a film that everybody in the world is going to like, so it just represents their view. The film is about a teenage girl — in some respects, we made it for teenagers.

Really?
Yeah. We have a daughter who’s 13 years old, and we wanted her to be able to see the movie. So we had a particular audience in mind when we were making it.