‘The Lovely Bones’: Five Things You Didn’t Know

Peter Jackson's cameo, Saoirse Ronan's 'transcendent' audition tape and much more about the book-turned-movie.

When Alice Sebold’s bestseller “The Lovely Bones” hit bookshelves in 2002, readers thought they had died and gone to literary heaven, much like the novel’s main character: a recently deceased 14-year-old girl named Susie Salmon. Now, “Lord of the Rings” filmmaker Peter Jackson is unveiling a much-anticipated film version this weekend and hopes to give audiences a similarly transcendent experience.

But before you see the flick, be sure to read our list of the Top Five Things You Didn’t Know About “The Lovely Bones.” From deleted plotlines to hidden symbolism to canine cameos, we’ve got the scoop on details that will make your moviegoing experience even more heavenly.

A Hitchcockian Helmer
Some people might be surprised to learn that Jackson has a cameo in the movie; others would find it more surprising if the formerly rotund filmmaker weren’t eager to show off his svelte new form. Keep an eye on the scenes inside the mall, and you’ll catch Jackson posing as a shopper examining an old-fashion video camera. “It was weird; the film is set in 1973, and I was 12 years old at that particular time,” he explained of the significance of his cameo. “And when I was 12, I was making home movies with my camera and dreaming of becoming a filmmaker. We had this wonderful shopping mall that we put all these 1973 props around, and there was a photo store and they had a Super 8 camera that was exactly the same camera that I used when I was 12 years old! So it seemed like a natural cameo for me to be someone in the store looking at the Super 8 camera.” Much like the great Alfred Hitchcock, Jackson has inserted himself into several of his films — but even after all these years, he claims his on-camera skills are lacking. “I think I need acting lessons,” he laughed. “I don’t know why people chuckle [when they see my scenes]. I was serious and people laughed? That’s a shame.”

Shooting for a Role
After watching a flood of casting tapes from stars and unknowns alike, producer Carolynne Cunningham discovered a homemade mini-movie shot by Saoirse Ronan’s father. Filmed in Ireland, it depicted his daughter acting out a tough scene and ended with footage of the young “Atonement” actress innocently playing with her dog in the family’s garden. Jackson was so impressed with the tape that he used it to recruit other actors. “They sent me Saoirse’s audition tape,” remembered Susan Sarandon of how she came to join the project. “It was spectacular. Her dad had filmed her at home, and she was brilliant and transcendent.”

Going to Her Happy Place
As Susie narrates from the “In-Between,” sharp-eyed viewers will notice several appearances by the gazebo where she had made plans to meet her crush, Ray Singh, but never got to because of her murder. Representing her “safe place,” the gazebo appears as a shining beacon in a watery glade, a crumbling structure in a stormy wood and elsewhere. Most of the “In-Between” sequences were shot in a very real heaven-on-earth for Kiwi director Jackson: the South Island of New Zealand.

Who Let the Dogs Out?
One of the happiest scenes in “Bones” occurs when Susie and her new friend Holly celebrate with a wild rumpus within the “In-Between.” Twenty dogs tear through the heavenly sequence, frolicking with the girls. In actuality, those are real-life pugs Stanley and Fergus (owned by Jackson and wife/producer Fran Walsh), Honeybunny the golden retriever (who belongs to VFX supervisor Christian Rivers) and Claude the French bulldog, who belongs to director’s assistant Matthew Dravitzki.

An Unseen Romance
As readers of the book know, the Salmon family’s problems are compounded by an affair that mother Abigail (Rachel Weisz) has with Detective Finerman (Michael Imperioli). But don’t look for anything more than a quick, implying-something-friendly glance within the film. “[Our romance] didn’t make the final cut. We shot some of those scenes. There were a couple subplots that didn’t make the final cut of the movie, because of time,” explained Imperioli, who hopes the subplot will be restored for the DVD. “Maybe if it was a miniseries, we could have squeezed everything in.”

Check out everything we’ve got on “The Lovely Bones.”

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