One of the biggest cinematic disasters in recent years is, without a doubt, Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Lovely Bones. The word “disaster” gets hyperbolically thrown around too often, but that film earns the title. Jackson bit off far more than he could chew, which is only one of the few major problems with the ’09 release. The book isn’t exactly cinematic, so all of the film’s faithful-to-a-fault problems made sense. Jackson tried to cram a whole lot into a two-hour-and-so runtime, including some of the hokier-sounding aspects of the book. Through the blockbuster visionary’s eyes, Susie Salmon having fun in that bland CG heaven could not have been more tonally wrong.
If only a director knew that the book doesn’t lend itself to film too well…
Well, one director did know that: Lynne Ramsay. The indie darling was once attached to helm the film and turned in several drafts, even before the book was published. Once the book hit big, her greater and less faithful-sounding adaptation went out the window. It wasn’t an easy experience for Ramsay, and I almost felt bad for probably being the thousandth person to ask her about it.
However, I was less interested in the politics of the situation and more intrigued by how she was going to handle the sprawling structure. After I asked what her script was like and mentioned how the book isn’t very cinematic, the director – who I was talking to about her fantastic new film, We Need to Talk About Kevin – gave a quick breakdown of what her vision of the film was like.
“Well, I actually picked it up very early on, before it became the bestseller that it became. I like the first half better, and thought the second half was just Susie wandering about in heaven full of roses, ponies, and that stuff. I thought it was really cheesy. What I did rewrite – I thought it should be more like Hamlet, where it’s a ghost from Jack’s perspective, the dad. He imagines her because he’s just going crazy with grief. You meet Harvey, and Harvey wasn’t a dollhouse maker who lived next door, which seemed completely obvious to me. They just meet by chance, randomly, and Harvey acts uncomfortable because he killed this guy’s daughter. They meet on several occasions…It was just that Jack has gone mad, this Hamlet’s ghost kind of thing.”
Sounds a lot better than Susie dancing in front of green screens, right? Ramsay went on to explain why making this version was impossible:
“It became quite impossible. I met Alice Sebold, with three agents behind her going, ‘This is proper ownership.’ I was like, ‘What the fuck does that mean?’ They had a really evil producer on it who just screwed me. I was getting paranoid, and she screwed me, so she’s gonna have bad karma, I don’t.”
As we ended our conversation, Ramsay joked about the idea of making a second version, which is kind of a depressing joke. It’s a real shame we never got this much more promising-sounding version, instead of the schmaltzy, messy, bland, tensionless, and emotionally hollow version Jackson, who’s a director I still love, made.
At least the Scottish director is back, and with a great film as well. In fifteen years, people will remember We Need to Talk About Kevin, while I doubt more than five people will be thinking back on the butchered adaptation of The Lovely Bones, which Ramsay said she never saw.