Jane Campion Talks About Her New Zealand-Set Mystery Miniseries, ‘Top of the Lake’

In a world full of Law and Orders and CSIs, the story of a pregnant twelve-year-old’s disappearance and the female detective obsessed with finding her isn’t a particularly shocking premise. What is surprising about Top of the Lake, a seven-part miniseries that premiered on Sundance Channel on Sunday evening, is the woman behind the project: Jane Campion, who is best known for films like The Piano, for which she received an Oscar for Best Screenplay and a nomination for Best Director. Campion, who co-wrote the series with longtime collaborator Gerald Lee, brings the mystical vibes of her native New Zealand to the West, and along for the ride are American actors Elizabeth Moss and Holly Hunter.

I spoke with Campion over the phone recently about her process as a director and how working in an unfamiliar medium allowed her room to explore a longer, full story.

What drew you to the medium of television to tell a story rather than a feature film?
It’s pretty simple: time and space. I think the current situation… I wanted to tell a story that would take about six hours, and I wanted the space to develop those characters and have longer scenes. The novel is probably my favorite form [of storytelling], and the idea of a six-hours series is as close to a novel as I can imagine. I also think there’s a lot of freedom right now in telling stories on television; we were commissioned by BBC 2, whose charter is to work with filmmakers and take risks and be adventurous. They kind of said to me, “Do it if you want and make it as long as you like!” So I told my writing partner [Gerald Lee], “We better do something wild!”

I know you’ve worked in television before at the beginning of your career. Did you worry, after dedicating your work to feature films, about returning to this format? Was it an easy transition?
I certainly felt more relaxed. I knew that what we were going to do, if we did our best, would be pretty good television, and I say that knowing that the bar is very high for TV these days. The most difficult thing for me, really, was the schedule. We had to do ninety minutes in about four and a half weeks, so it was very fast going. I’m used to taking twice as long. [Laughs] But my crew definitely helped me move along. We were just, like, running the whole time. I didn’t have time to chat with the crew; we worked together for several weeks and I have no idea what was going on in their lives!

Was it the same amount of time you’d usually spend on a two-hour film project, only with a seven-hour series?
What was interesting to me is that we were pretty divided and working on different parts. My co-director, Garth Davis, was there doing his episodes, which gave me some time off. Even though there was a fast schedule, we still had time to take breaks. What really puts me off doing television in general is the horrible schedules and the fact that you can’t produce anything interesting in that time because you’re trying not to fall over. I think that’s the problem with most TV—shooting is so fast, that’s the standard.

The strange thing with television is that there’s a very broad idea that a series creator wants to pursue, but a story can go all over the place in such a collaborative environment. Was having a second director working with you a challenge?
It was a bit scary! [Laughs]

To put your story in someone else’s hands like that?
Yes. But the thing with Garth is that he’s a very enthusiastic, great director. I learned a few lessons from him. I’d watch him and think, “Oh, that’s awesome!” He loved the material, and that made me feel great, and he also said in such plain terms, “I’ll do anything you want. Tell me how to divide the work up and I’ll do anything you tell me.” There was no ego. I did want to look after him, as well; he hadn’t done much drama. But I do think he’s one of the best commercial directors in Australia. He’s got a great personality and sensibility. He is also a fantastic photographer—we gave him a lot of landscape work because no one can do it better. To answer your question more directly, I was a bit nervous about how he might handle the more complicated tones of the piece. But we workshopped quite a bit and I was comfortable that he wouldn’t make it too broad and keep it very real.

The setting became its own character in a way. In American culture, there’s not much of an awareness for New Zealand beyond The Lord of the Rings, in which it’s more of a stand-in for a more fantastical world. Did you want to bring an awareness for New Zealand to a wider audience, to see it existing as the way you see it?
In a way, yes. I thought Peter Jackson did a great job with those films. I certainly love the wilderness and that area of the world—it’s sort of the end of the earth. I’m very affected by it, the atmosphere of being there. I think a lot of the crew even felt a culture shock when they got back to the rest of the world. I’ve been to Iceland, too, and there’s a similar feeling there. It’s quite a similar culture.

It reminded me a little bit of the Pacific Northwest, even with a bit of a Twin Peaks vibe to it. I thought it was an interesting place to set the series since it sets a tone even for the characters’ personalities, as well.
They’re people on the edge: people who like to run the world themselves. They’re outsiders. It’s also the mentality of grasping for a paradise. Everyone is very sensitive to the beauty of the place, no matter how raw or rough it is.

After working on a larger narrative like this, do you plan on doing more longer projects? Do you want to balance this sort of work with shorter, feature-length films?
I’m ready to get back to those shorts. [Laughs] In terms of directing, yes, it’s a lot of work. I don’t know how to do things at half-pace. Even a three-hour film is a lot of work, because once you’re done shooting you have to do all the post-production. But I was thinking that I would love to work with Gerald again. We had so much fun writing this, and I’d love to work on another project together, and maybe I wouldn’t direct it or would only direct one episode. I also enjoyed working with Gus, and I can see the opportunity of working with other directors quite happily. But for now I’m really thinking of taking a break. [Laughs]

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Stage and Screen Actor Lee Pace Talks Shop

Lee Pace had me at “Hello.” Or, rather, the film equivalent, which was 2006’s The Fall. Spectacularly strange and visually arresting, that movie made an instant devotee out of me. Though the tall, dark, and handsome actor had been in the biz for a few years prior to this weird and wonderful discovery, I’ve followed the 33-year-old’s trajectory ever since—and re-watched The Fall more than a few times.

Fast forward to 2012, which has been especially packed for Pace, featuring roles in Lincoln, Breaking Dawn: Part 2, and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Indeed, it’s safe to say that he’s had a good year, especially considering all three titles hit theaters (for all intents and purposes) simultaneously. This triple whammy of sorts simply must bode well on the success scale. 

From indie flicks like A Single Man and Ceremony, to blockbuster franchises, this guy’s got that special something that attracts casting directors and keeps crowds captivated. Beyond the big screen, New Yorkers can currently catch Pace as Italian composer Vincenzo Bellini in Terrence McNally’s Golden Age, a play directed by Walter Bobbie with performances through January 13 at Manhattan Theatre Club. Age audiences are granted a backstage pass to listen in and look on, taking in behind-the-scenes goings-on during opening night of Bellini’s last opera, I Puritani, at the ThéâtreItalien in Paris. Part comedy, part drama, the two-and-a-half-hour-long performance paints a living picture of what it might have been like to be there. 

The charming and approachable Pace was sweet enough to take time before taking the stage recently to talk about a few things. From his privileged yet hectic career to memorable moments, from his stance on New York to his “heartthrob” status, Pace provides a refreshingly sincere look at his life. 

So, you’ve had a super busy year…
It has been a busy year. I’m really feeling it now that the year’s coming to an end. These movies came out this past month and now we[’re] doing eight shows a week [for Golden Age]. It’s been a lot of work, so I’ll to be looking forward to a quiet new year. But, it’s been great. It’s good to be busy. There’s nothing I like more than being busy. Good characters to play and good people to work with. There’s been a lot of that this year, so I couldn’t be more grateful.

Is there any reprieve during the holiday?
Theater schedules through the holidays are relentless. I guess I figured we’d still be doing eight shows a week, but it’s tough. There’s so many shows. But, it’s good. It’s a privilege to be able to do the show for people. That people want to come is awesome.  

Given your recent roster, are there any standout moments of 2012?
Shooting scenes with Steven Spielberg in the Congress (sic) [for Lincoln], that was pretty incredible. Big scenes, lots of extras, a couple cameras moving. You really feel like, Wow, I’ll remember this. It kinda doesn’t get better than this. Then, I went to New Zealand to work on The Hobbit for a couple months. To be on those sets, which [were] equally incredible, and to collaborate on and play a character that is the product of so many people’s imaginations—Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens, Fran Walsh and the costume designers—[was] very, very special. 

Any funny stories that you recall?
Funny things happened, but I always forget them. I am such an idiot. 

[Laughs] Okay, any instances on stage where you feel compelled to burst out laughing?
We really like each other a lot. All of the guys [in Golden Age] shar[e] a dressing room. We have so much fun during the half hour, talking. Ethan Phillips is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met and he keeps us going all through the half hour, so there are times I’ll look at him on stage and remember a joke he told and I have a hard time not laughing. 

I can imagine. What’s it like portraying a real life character versus a fictional one?
Both Fernando Wood [of Lincoln] and [Bellini of] Golden Age are based on real men. You want to have a certain respect for who they were. You want to find a connection to the real person. Understand them from an actor’s point of view, which is different from a historian’s point of view and different from a writer’s point of view. 

For sure.
In Golden Age, it’s a character. It isn’t a biopic of Bellini. This is a work of art. Terrence McNally is using the character to tell a story. I see it as my job to connect the dots between Terrence and me and Bellini, who wrote this beautiful music. I tried to figure out what it was about him, who he was, the details. There’s so many things that go into making a character.

I bet. Your Bellini also displays distinct mannerisms, tending to twitch and putter a bunch…
[Laughs] Twitch and putter. I’ll remember that tonight when I’m twitching and puttering. [Laughs]

It’s not intended as an insult!
No, he is very twitchy and putter-y. Where I started with my research was listening to the music and really trying to understand that music and believe that that music was coming out of me, that I’d written it. Before I started, I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to create something like that, to write music as complicated as this music. Just trying to get myself into that headspace, being backstage listening to it, that’s where I really started working out the physicality and how I moved. It kind of grew from that, so that the nervous energy finds its way into keeping the beat with the opera. He’s not a neurotic man. He’s concerned about how this artistic effort is going to be received by a discerning audience of people that he respects. He wants to do something that will be meaningful to them. It’s all about the music. He takes this opera that he has created extremely seriously. 

As you do your own work…
On the good days! No, I do. When you work with people like Daniel Day-Lewis, Steven Spielberg, and Peter Jackson, you see how they take it seriously. It’s meaningful. They’re so talented. On set with Steven Spielberg, everyone felt how much that story meant to him, the story of the 16th president. Everyone on that set felt it and [was] inspired by it. And that’s how we all found ourselves on his page, because he’s inspiring. 

Wish I could have been there! So, theater versus film? Is there one you prefer?
They’re very, very different. I can’t say I prefer either one because I love both for different reasons. In film, you have very little time to get it right. And it’s not even about getting it right, because it’s important to let go of that way of thinking about it. You get what you get and move onto the next setup, onto the next scene. On stage, George C. Wolfe, who directed me in [the play] The Normal Heart, called it the actors’ revenge, because you have to step onstage every night and tell the story yourself. You just have to do it yourself. 

In a movie, you turn over your performance to the director and the editors to edit and to layer in sound and everything else that makes the performance emotional or funny or whatever. In theater, you have to land the jokes yourself. You have to understand what’s funny about it. You have to kind of feel the audience. What they’re about on any given night. With a movie, you don’t have that. You can’t do that. In The Hobbit, we can’t feel what the house is going to be like before we do it. 

Of course not. So, onto something still loftier, what’s been the greatest challenge of your career?
If I could name a challenge, it would be laughable compared to the challenges so many other people face. It’s the “funnest” job in the world. I guess the biggest challenge I could say these days is just taking it seriously. When you’re in your thirties, the parts get good for men. You get really interesting characters. That’s what I’ve noticed. Complicated men dealing with complicated things. Seeing that there’s so [much] more to investigate about the way people are, and communicat[ing] those things to an audience, that’s the challenge. You want [the] stories to be good and you want them to be truthful and that’s a challenge. 

Seeing as this is an NYC-centric outlet, where exactly are you based?
I’ve been living here while I do the play. But, I live outside the city now. I live up in the country. It was a new move. I’d lived [in New York City] for a long time, since I was 17. 

How do you like living off-island?
I like it a lot. I love New York City. I’ve spent my adult life in New York City. I have a really complicated relationship with New York City, as every New Yorker does. You can’t go through almost 15 years [here] and not have a complicated relationship with it. Part of that relationship is, I’m going to take a little break and live in the country. [Laughs]

I hear that. Lastly, any thoughts on being considered by some to be heartthrob, a sex symbol?
Oh god no. What does that mean? I have no comment about that. I don’t know what to say about that. It’s news to me. 

Ian McKellen On ‘The Hobbit,’ Stepping Back Into Those Robes, And “Gandalf The Gay”

It’s perhaps something of an indictment on the age in which we live that one of the finest stage actors of our time is best known to the general public for dressing up as a wizard and a magnetic mutant, but if such things bother Sir Ian McKellen, he’s not showing it as he seats himself across the table from a horde of journalists at a fancy uptown hotel. The great man is a suitably witty and engaging interviewee, fielding all manner of questions ("Can I put my career in two words? Well, no") with good grace and good humor.

This month finds McKellen reprising his role as Gandalf the Grey in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first of another Middle Earth-centric trilogy wherein director Peter Jackson contrives to extend a 310-page novel into a three-film epic. The story follows the fortunes of a rag-tag company—13 dwarves, a hobbit and McKellen’s elderly wizard—who are trying to recover a lost kingdom that’s been gazumped by a large, unfriendly dragon. (If you’re wondering, Jackson has leant heavily on material that author J.R.R. Tolkien added to the story in the appendices to The Lord of the Rings in his quest to expand The Hobbit from its literary incarnation.)

The film’s notable for featuring the best in suitably expensive cutting-edge visual effects, including its much-discussed 48-fps incarnation, which, depending on your point of view, either makes the film look groundbreaking or like the world’s most expensive home movie. It also finds McKellen sharing plenty of screen time with both dwarves and hobbit, all of whom were played by "normal" sized actors (including the 6’3" Richard Armitage), necessitating much cinematic trickery and the use of a new technique called slave motion capture, which apparently isn’t quite as much fun as it sounds.

McKellen cuts a suitably dashing figure in An Unexpected Journey, looming above his gaggle of pint-sized companions and brandishing both his sword and his weed pipe for all they’re worth. Read on to hear about single-set alienation, a lonely wizard on Twitter, and why a Lord of the Rings spin-off called Gandalf the Gay might just be a possibility.

How did you find returning to New Zealand?
It was just like going home, really. And also like going on a holiday, because New Zealand is such a beautiful place to live. The big difference was that this time we knew we were making a film for an audience who desperately wanted us to make it. That’s very unusual. Usually when you do a film you’re wondering if it’ll get released, and then will it get good reviews, and then will anyone come and see it. But we knew in this case that people couldn’t wait for it. So there was a slightly more relaxed atmosphere.

Did the new technology Peter was using mean that the filming differed at all this time around?
There’s a lot less green screen than you’d think. If you see Gandalf on top of a mountain, that means I was there. That’s not faked. What might happen is that when you get back to the studio, they realize they’ve missed a shot or a close-up, and you’d do that in front of a screen.

Can you tell me about the slave motion capture technique that was used to film you and the dwarves together?
There was an absolutely dreadful day, which was my first day back—I had a little rehearsal with the 13 dwarves and the hobbit in their set, which was a normal size set for them, but I had to look bigger, so I couldn’t be photographed in that set, because I would have been the same size as them. I had to go to my own little set, and that was built entirely of green so that it could be removed. I was filmed at the same time as all the dwarves, by separate cameras that did exactly the same thing at the same time. [This meant] Peter could put those two images together, take out the green and I look bigger than [the dwarves]. That’s how it works.

So you were on your own, basically?
Exactly. Me and a robot camera. I’ve only just met these dwarves and seen their faces for the first time, and so I know where to look in relation to where they actually are, they put these posts with photographs of the actors of them. Photographs of the actors, not of the dwarves. I’ve just met the dwarves, and I don’t know who the hell these people are. All I know is that whichever [post] is flashing is the one that’s speaking, and I can hear what he’s saying through an earpiece.

Yes. Wow. It meant there could be no spontaneity, because I can’t really tell what the person’s saying, or in what spirit they’re saying it, and I have to remember what we’ve just rehearsed. It’s very difficult. At the end of that day I got a bit weepy. I heard myself saying, ‘This isn’t why I became an actor!’ Unfortunately I had the microphone on, so the whole studio heard it [laughs]. That night I thought, well, if this is going to be it for the next 18 months, I’m not sure I’m up to it. I emailed Peter, and he emailed me back and said, ‘Don’t worry. We got the scene, and we’ll try to do it differently in the future.’ The next day I went in and my little tent where I get changed was decorated with bits of Rivendell scenery and little carpets and screens and lamps and fresh fruit and flowers. It was absolutely beautiful. That lasted until the flowers faded, and then it all went away and I was expected to get on with being a grown-up actor [laughs].

How much of the filming was done like that?
Peter’s the sort of person who, alert to the problem, will try to solve it. I didn’t have any further days like that—there were other ways in which we could do the scale difference. It does mean that if I was in a scene with, say, Martin Freeman, who had to be smaller than me… I was put closer to the camera, and he was further away. It’s a silly obvious trick. But it did mean that Martin couldn’t look me in the eyes, because that would make the [scale] relationship all wrong. He’d act to the top of my hat, and I’d have to act to his belt. It calls on all your technical know-how.

What’s up next for you?
I’m doing a sitcom called Vicious Old Queens with my old friend Derek Jacobi. In England? Yes, I don’t think it’s going to make it beyond England [laughs]. I was also joking the other day that we were going to make a sequel to The Hobbit called Gandalf the Gay, in which I would be very well cast. And we were tweeting yesterday! I’m not on Twitter, but we were tweeting, and suddenly a thing came up saying, "Ian McKellen is trending." So after these interviews are done, I’m going to go and trend again.

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Morning Links: Lil Wayne Might Be Engaged, Chris Brown Tweets At Haters

● Did Lil Wayne and Dhea get engaged on Valentine’s day? Wayne tweeted late last night that, "She said yes!," and we suspect he’s not referring to Christina Milian’s YMCMB signing. [MTO]

● It seems that Kim Kardashian and Reggie Bush are trying to rekindle their relationship. "They don’t know what will happen," a source tells People. "They’re taking it slow. They love each other so much and miss each other, but their relationship is so complicated." [People]

● Always gracious, Chris Brown took to Twitter to defend his controversial Grammy appearance. "HATE ALL U WANT BECUZ I GOT A GRAMMY," he wrote, adding that, "that’s the ultimate FUCK OFF!" And then he deleted it. [Radar]

● Miley Cyrus took Liam Hemsworth’s Cracker Barrel virginity. "I’d never heard of country-fried steak before. It’s great!" he says. [Us]

● Six Grammys in the bag, Adele tells Vogue that she plans on "fucking off for four or five years." "If I am constantly working, my relationships fail. So at least now I can have enough time to write a happy record and be in love and be happy," she says. [Vogue]

● Stephen Spielberg says he’s handing the reins over to Peter Jackson for Tintin 2. "We made a deal. I said, ‘I’ll direct the first one, you direct the second one,’" he explains. [TotalFilm]

50-50 Chance New Zealanders Will Give Peter Jackson the Middle Finger

Yesterday, all hell broke loose in Middle Earth when thousands of Kiwis took to the streets wearing elf ears and capes and waving Elvish banners. Hobbit aficionados and prideful New Zealanders took it rather personally, it turned out, when Peter Jackson announced he might take his next Rings installment overseas. The rally was meant to demonstrate national enthusiasm, stressing that New Zealand is where Middle Earth was born and should therefore stay. I have a feeling it also might have something to do with the $1.5 billion loss for the country should Warner Bros. take production elsewhere. (A recent report also implicates the US-NZ exchange rate.) Either way, we’ll see how effective their protestations are considering Facebook, of all things, removed the marchers Fan Page today. Is this getting out of control?

I think yes. Peter Jackson’s original plan for filming a two-party adaption of The Hobbit was compromised when union workers protested about working conditions. Fucking extras. Anyway, approximately 2,500 people gathered in the capital of Wellington—in addition to Auckland and Christchurch—to prove that they’re die-hard fans of the J.R.R Tolkien movie adaptations, and to convince Peter Jackson to do the right thing. We say blame the evil wizard Saruman.

Bangladeshi ‘King Kong’ Way Better Than Peter Jackson’s

Remember Peter Jackson’s King Kong? Remember how it sucked? Fresh off of the world-dominating Lord of the Rings trilogy, Jackson’s bona fides were such that he could have directed any risky, half-baked, long-shot pet project he wanted. So, of course, he made a thoroughly unnecessary, uninspired, big-budget remake of a picture that had already been remade once or twice before. Adrien Brody was terrible, Jack Black looked confused as to why he was even there, and Naomi Watts could not possibly have been paid enough for all the ridiculous capering she was made to do. There was just nothing inventive or interesting about Jackson’s Kong production. The new Bangladeshi version, however, is another story.

This trailer is damn near priceless. As filmdrunk points out, they don’t seem to be able to decide how big Kong should be from one scene to the next. But who cares? This version’s enriched by a slew of song-and-dance routines and varying degrees of (unintentional) comedy stippled liberally throughout. I give it three stars to Jackson’s two.

Peter Jackson to Direct ‘The Hobbit?’

Apparently bored with the set-backs and snafus caused by MGM’s endless turn on the auction block, director Guillermo Del Toro backed out of his gig directing the long-gestating, two-part adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, leaving many to wonder who might take his place. Given the unprecedented box office track record of the Lord of the Rings series, a planned budget of 150 million dollars, and LOTR director Peter Jackson on board to produce—an enterprise worthy of that shopworn canard, “too big to fail”—it’s easy to imagine there’s a long list of would-be Hobbit directors chomping at the clichéd bit. So who’s likely to get the deed to this directorial goldmine? In what I’m sure will be happy news for Frodo fans everywhere, it turns out Jackson himself might be stepping behind the camera.

The New York Times writes that Jackson hasn’t ruled out the possibility of getting his hobbit on once again. He’s got a lot of other commitments right now—among them two Tintin movies he’s producing for Steven Spielberg—but Jackson’s hinted that he’s not necessarily out of the running. “If that’s what I have to do to protect Warner Brothers’ investment, then obviously that’s one angle which I’ll explore,” he told The Dominion Post. Good news, methinks. By chance (and largely out of boredom) I watched the entire LOTR series last week. While I came away thinking of them as a lot of hokey landscape porn (the subtending message of the films is “Visit New Zealand!”), I nevertheless like the idea of a singular vision providing continuity across the many installments of the series. Jackson and his dare-I-call-it legacy will be a heavy burden for anyone else to have to shoulder anyway, so it seems like a natural choice for the (once quite tubby but now shockingly skinny) director. At this point he’s the goddamn ring-bearer.

The Case Against Peter Jackson

This month, as publications unveil their ‘Best of the Decade’ lists, we’re reminded of what was the singular greatest cinematic achievement of the last ten years: Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Not only did it win a combined total of 17 Academy Awards and gross almost three billion dollars worldwide, but it also marked the emergence of a new “event director” in Peter Jackson. An event director is a filmmaker who, because of past successes and fierce dedication to auteurship, is more powerful than the studio he makes movies for. And right now there are only three—Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, and Peter Jackson.

Conventional wisdom has it that these titans can do no wrong. Even when we doubt them, they come out on top (see James Cameron’s Avatar— or, see it again, after this weekend). But with the lukewarm reception of Jackson’s latest effort The Lovely Bones, and the underwhelming box-office performance of King Kong a few years back, does Jackson deserve to be mentioned in the same breath with the other two? The answer, as it turns out, is no.

Usually, when a director sets out to make a pet project or a personal film, it’s at odds with studio desires in terms of marketability, because it’s likely to appeal to a smaller audiences—think Martin Scorsese and the spars he endured with Harvey Weinstein while filming the long-in-gestation Gangs of New York. But when the event directors have pet projects, they not only enjoy boundless control, but also the full resources of the studio—again, think James Cameron and his $230 million, fifteen-years-in-the-making Avatar. Jackson’s pet project was King Kong. Ever since the 1933 original captivated him as a tiny Kiwi, he longed to remake it. After the success of The Lord of the Rings, Jackson was considered the latest director with a Midas Touch. Anything he made (or even attached himself to) would transform into box office gold. His version wasn’t just King Kong—it was Peter Jackson’s King Kong. The movie opened to a middling $50 million over its first weekend, a disappointment considering it had a budget upwards of $200 million. It eventually recouped its budget and then some, but only after a slow-crawl four month theatrical release.

Then there’s the case of The Lovely Bones. Jackson shocked his fans when he announced his next film would be a drama based on the chick-lit bestseller. But for him, it was perfect. He could revisit the dramatic heights of his early masterpiece Heavenly Creatures, and prove he doesn’t rely Andy Serkis in a motion-capture suit to make a significant film. With his writing partners Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, he adapted the film as if he was trying to give the folks over at Weta—the visual effects company he owns—some work. The scenes in the afterlife were almost entirely made up, not by Alice Sebold, the book’s writer, but by Jackson and his effects team—and it’s the film’s greatest flaw.

Most critics agree that it nearly destroys the film. Stephanie Zacharek of Salon writes that “With his garish, pointless and downright inept rendering of Alice Sebold’s 2002 novel, The Lovely Bones, Peter Jackson has hit a new low in the annals of movie adaptations.” The new-agey visuals have been compared to a seventies rock album cover. Ouch.

The Lovely Bones was supposed to be Jackson’s return to the podium, but as yesterday’s announcement of the Golden Golden nominations showed, he miscalculated. Event directors possess such ownership of their medium to the point that it’s impossible for them to make a bad film, or worse, a mediocre one. Peter Jackson made The Frighteners.

Jackson’s talents lie not in solely in directing (although he is an extremely talented director), but in producing. Until Fox pulled the plug, he was going to produce a film based on the video game sensation Halo, with Neil Blomkamp directing. Instead, they made District 9, one of the year’s biggest hits and best films. Jackson will also return to Middle Earth, but as a producer, when production on The Hobbit begins next year (Guillermo Del Toro directs). And he’ll be back another surefire hit, when the motion-capture adventure The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is released in 2011. That one will be directed by, you guessed it, Steven Spielberg.

Tweaking the Violence in Peter Jackson’s ‘The Lovely Bones’

When test audiences complained about the level of violence in his forthcoming film adaptation of The Lovely Bones, director Peter Jackson confesses he was “shocked and surprised.” What possible problem could they have had with a PG-13 rated movie? Ironically enough, the audiences didn’t think there was too much violence, but rather too little. An explanation (and spoilers!) after the jump.

In an interview with Iain Blair at Sci Fi Wire, Jackson explains that it all had to do with the death of the villain (a rapist/murderer) played by Stanley Tucci. “…What happened is that everyone who saw early screenings of the film ended up hating this guy with a passion—far more than I’d expected. They really hated him! And we got a lot of people telling us that they were disappointed with his death scene, as they wanted him to see him in agony and suffer a lot more. It sounds terrible, but they really wanted him to suffer and be punished for what he’d done, and they just weren’t satisfied. So we thought, what on earth can we do to fix this?”

Unable to do re-shoots, Jackson settled on a digital solution which didn’t compromise the film’s PG-13 status, but one can’t help but wonder what kind of a performance Tucci gives to cause such an unusual audience beef. This might be the first time ever that a mainstream, middlebrow movie has been accused of not shedding enough blood.