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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Did Peter Jackson just ruin ‘The Lovely Bones’ as a movie by giving in to test audience?

The Guardian is reporting that Peter Jackson has ramped up the violence in The Lovely Bones after test audiences demanded more blood:

Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson has revealed that he had to shoot new footage for The Lovely Bones after early test screening audiences complained that a death scene was not violent enough.

The film is based on Alice Sebold’s harrowing bestseller about how a murdered 14-year-old girl watches from heaven as her grieving family attempt to ensnare her killer.

Jackson told Reuters that he had returned to the editing room to “basically add more violence and suffering”. “[The audience] wanted far more violence,” he said. “They just weren’t satisfied.”

(The next paragraph in the Guardian piece includes a tidbit that could be considered a spoiler, so click through at your own risk.)

This bothers me a lot, for a lot of reasons. First, storytelling and moviemaking should not be conducted by consensus and certainly not by polling an audience to find out whether scene A or scene B is the one they want. (I know this happens all the time — it makes me angry all the time.) Two, this is not a story about violence, and while an audience may indeed have felt that the movie was not violent enough, well, that may have been the point. Was this audience failing to see the larger context of the film? Has Jackson failed to depict larger context?

We won’t know till we see the final film, but I can’t help but wonder: Did Peter Jackson just ruin The Lovely Bones as a movie by giving in to test audience?

What do you think?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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  • JoshDM

    What a terrible question of the day. I demand more snark.

  • OKLibrarian

    erf. I’ve been a little dubious about this story translating well to film in the first place, more so about Peter Jackson’s ability to do it justice beyond making it look pretty. (He does great films, I’m just unsure about *this* film)This report doesn’t raise my expectations, to say the least.

  • Hank Graham

    Well, I felt “Lord of the Rings” tripped at the finish line by him NOT listening to all the fans who felt (as I do) that he should have included the scouring of the Shire. Which, incidentally, I think would have fit in easily if he’d taken out about 30 minutes of battle scenes.

    This one’s impossible to judge until we see it, but as a practice, seeing how a film plays and then making adjustments strikes me as sensible, and some of the best filmmakers have done it.

    Most famously, Frank Capra did “test” screenings of all his major films specifically to see how things played, and he threw out an entire reel of “Lost Horizons” after a disastrous first screening convinced him it needed to be shorter. He wrote about it in his autobiography, as a technique that was indispensable, and one he insisted on from his second film at Columbia on.

  • Paul

    I would like to think Peter Jackson wouldn’t risk ruining the movie for a test audience, maybe he thinks they have a point or thinks it works just as good, perhaps he held back at first, thinking they wouldn’t like it the way they in fact demanded it. Im sure if it was against his good taste he wouldnt put it in there.

    Then again maybe the studio is forcing him to ensure marketability, and he’s trying to do as little that he has to do against his better judgment, but still has to add that, otherwise the studio’s investment is at risk. Either way i doubt its gonna ruin the movie, this is is the same guy who did “Frightners”, and i thought that movie was awesome, so maybe this will be in that vein, there was a lot of violence but some of it was in a dark comedy kinda way. Im still anticipating this for sure.

  • doa766

    the book is rather bloody so maybe he fixed it by putting more violence/blood in it

    also if he added stuff is because he shot it on the first place and then didn’t include in the cut

  • Paul

    I shudder to think how long “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy would have been if he put in everything fans missed.

    But you could see a test audience as a critique group, in a minor sort of way. Just about every story I’ve sold has been changed by suggestions made by a critique group or an editor.

  • Danielle

    For a moment I was puzzled because I had just read another article that had quoted Jackson as saying he cut out a lot to do with the murder in this story, and he was very comfortable showing this film to his own daughter. But reading the spoiler, it all makes sense. And I can kind of understand why the audience was a bit bloodthirsty now.

  • Accounting Ninja

    *possible spoilers!*

    I read the spoiler, and I guess I can see their point. While looking at Amazon customer reviews for this book, I saw that the lack of Killer Gets What He Deserves In The End to be a big sore point for some.
    Now, I haven’t read the book, and while I can sympathize with wanting the clean Hollywood ending where killer meets karmic death, family gets to finally say goodbye, and lessons are learned as everyone heads into the sunset, it SEEMS that the author was going for something more realistic here. There is no clean happy ending for everyone, and sometimes killers don’t get their perfect karmic deaths. The story seems to me to be more of a personal story about relationships than a Good vs Evil murder movie.

  • Mathias

    I would’ve hoped that PJ would’ve earned a bit more self-confidence as a filmmaker by now not to rely test audiences to tell him how to shoot scenes.

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