Peter Jackson's HEAVENLY CREATURES
A movie review by Dennis D. McDonald
Once more DVD technology comes through by making available an older film no longer in general theatrical release, this time Peter Jackson’s 1994 HEAVENLY CREATURES. What I find admirable about this intelligent and engrossing film is the balance Jackson achieves with the elements of madness and love that form the foundation of the film. He could have played up the “homosexual” aspects of the girls’ relationship in a pandering way by emphasizing sexuality.
But he doesn’t. And somehow he presents their magical fantasy world not in realistic terms - it is anything but. Instead he shows it as a natural extension of the “reality” that they build around themselves as they move toward the murder at the end of the film. This movie could have veered off in many bad directions and turned into a Hollywoodish bloodfest or sexual obsession film. But it doesn’t. And the fact that it doesn’t is a testament to the wisdom and maturity of the creative forces behind the film.
I had a similar reaction to re-watching scenes from Jackson’s THE TWO TOWERS dealing with preparations for the Battle of Helms Deep. Many war films focus on pre-battle jitters and veer into mawkish sentimentality or drumbeat patriotism. TWO TOWERS somehow manages to combine sentimentality, bravery, self-doubt, fear, and humor in a way that generates a real emotional response while building up to a realistic and horrific battle among humans, elves, dwarves, and non-human orcs. Pretty good for a fantasy film!
I think it’s clear that Jackson is a masterful director. But another factor that is common between these two films is the involvement of his wife Fran (Frances) Walsh as a screen play writer. (One of the interesting aspects of the special features of the FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING special edition DVD was that it actually devoted a significant amount of time to the literary sources of the story as well to the development of a screenplay that captures the essence of the Tolkien work.)
What this suggests to me is that an important element of Jackson’s success is his close relationship with and understanding of the screenplay process. HEAVENLY CREATURES’ dramatic quality is, I believe, evidence of this. It’s too bad that the HEAVENLY CREATURES DVD does not have a commentary track, though; hearing about the creative process behind it would be a real treat.
Review copyright (c) 2003 by Dennis D. McDonald