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The Screening Room

'The Lovely Bones' is a 'positive' film, says Peter Jackson

By Grace Wong for CNN
Peter Jackson creates a dreamlike world between heaven and earth in his new film, "The Lovely Bones."
Peter Jackson creates a dreamlike world between heaven and earth in his new film, "The Lovely Bones."
  • Peter Jackson leans toward the view that life after death exists
  • "Lord of the Rings" director creates version of afterlife in new film, "The Lovely Bones"
  • Jackson says he wanted the movie based on Alice Sebold's novel to feel positive
  • Filmmaker says first script of two-part "Hobbit" adaptation completed

London, England (CNN) -- What does it take to frighten fantasy and horror meister Peter Jackson? A ghost.

He's still talking about a ghost sighting he had in a New Zealand apartment 20 years ago, it was so terrifying.

But that isn't how the filmmaker, best known for the epic "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, wants people to experience his new film, "The Lovely Bones."

He's hoping "The Lovely Bones," the film adaptation of Alice Sebold's 2002 bestseller about a murdered 14-year-old girl, will leave people feeling uplifted rather than haunted.

The movie is told from the perspective of Susie Salmon, played by "Atonement's" Saoirse Ronan, who watches her family cope with her brutal death after she is killed.

"Ultimately we wanted to have the film feel sort of positive. That was very important to us," Jackson said at a recent press conference.

Ultimately we wanted to have the film feel sort of positive
--Peter Jackson

In bringing Sebold's meditative novel to the big screen, Jackson depicts a world between heaven and earth.

He said: "I think there is some kind of energy that's a spirit or a soul or whatever you want to call it that survives after we die.

"What it's like, I have no idea. I mean there's a version of it in the movie but I can't swear that that was accurate."

Jackson -- who was profoundly affected by Sebold's novel -- was looking for a smaller, drama-based project after making the "Rings" trilogy and "King Kong."

With long-time collaborators, Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh, Jackson had established a "reasonably well oiled and comfortable" process for making big-budget, special effects movies, and he was keen to take on a new challenge.

Jackson, 48, is no stranger to depicting the undead.

He made a name for himself early on with zombie movie "Dead Alive, " and during the course of a career that has spanned more than two decades, he brought a variety of ghoulish characters to the big screen in the "Rings" films.

But this time, he engages with death and the afterlife in a way that is uplifting rather than terrifying or grotesque.

Susie's in-between world is a magical, constantly shifting place. It is a dreamscape is filled with stunning imagery, from ocher-hued cornfields to snow-capped mountains, and enormous ships in bottles -- a reference to a hobby shared with her father when she was alive.

Jackson said: "We just tried very hard to make it this very shifting landscape that was almost emotionally based, so whatever Susie's emotions were at that particular time were dictating the look of the in-between and how it was changing and shifting."

Jackson successfully brought J.R.R. Tolkien's books to the big screen -- the "Rings" trilogy has earned nearly $3 billion at the box office worldwide and won 17 Oscars.

Jackson, who is writing the screenplays for the two-part "Hobbit" which Guillermo del Toro will direct, said the first script for that project has been completed.

But adapting Sebold's novel had its challenges. For starters, he said: "Adapting is always reduction really."

The process is not a science, and "The Lovely Bones" was particularly tricky because it was not structured like a movie and had to be reorganized to work on screen.

One of the major decisions Jackson made was to omit depictions of the harrowing act that is at the heart of the story. The director said he chose to do so because the movie, is not about crime but the events that happen afterwards.

"We didn't really want the film to be defined as a murder film. We also didn't want the film to be disturbing in that way," said Jackson, who said he felt comfortable showing the movie to his 12-year-old daughter.