Directed by Peter Jackson
Expectations: Moderate. The last time I saw this a few years ago I told myself that I’d seen it enough times.
Having risen to mythic status in genre cinema, Peter Jackson next turned his focus towards something a bit different: the true story of a New Zealand murder in the 1950s. Heavenly Creatures isn’t completely separate from his early genre efforts, though, as the film’s female protagonists have healthy, vivid imaginations which Jackson explores and brings to life. This makes Heavenly Creatures both an indie drama and a film that could have only come from the FX-minded Jackson. It definitely separates Heavenly Creatures from the pack, and it made Hollywood take notice. Just a few years earlier he was going gonzo with lawnmowers and an endless supply of fake blood, yet for his next film he receives an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay? Nobody saw that coming. For just about everyone but the gorehounds, Heavenly Creatures is the film that put Peter Jackson on the map, and is perhaps the most important film of his career.
In her first role, Kate Winslet plays Juliet, an English girl who’s just come to New Zealand with her parents. They regularly move around the world, so she is rich, cultured and a bit spoiled. She quickly makes friends with Pauline (Melanie Lynskey, also in her first role), a depressed loner and native New Zealander who lives a simpler life with her parents. Their family has boarders staying at their home to help pay the bills, but her parents are nice people who do what they can to care for Pauline. The girls bond over their shared love of things like opera star Mario Lanza, art, writing and their sickly childhoods. Pauline lived a fairly solitary life prior to meeting Juliet, and she revels in the joy of finding someone who shares so many common interests.
In order to portray the girls’ mental state, and the level to which they believed and embraced their imaginations, Peter Jackson does everything he can to bring their fantasies alive on-screen. Much of this is achieved through practical means, but this is also the first film of Jackson’s to feature computer FX. As to be expected for an early ’90s film, these moments of early CG are the ones that look a little dated, but they are few and still work rather well for what they intend to convey. They successfully create illusions that would be relatively impossible with practical FX, so their use adds an extra level of imaginative fantasy to the girls’ special world. My favorite moment, though, is achieved through an incredible scale model of a sand castle. The camera captures a medium shot of the girls building the castle and dreaming up a story to go with it. As they talk the camera moves in towards the castle gate, and then slowly inside it. The door swings opens and now we’re inside, moving up the circular staircases to the bedroom, where the girls are visible through the windows of the room, still spinning their yarn.
Heavenly Creatures is an excellent film, albeit one that I think I’ve watched as many times as I need to — this was around my 4th or 5th time. I found it a bit long this time around, something I’ve thought more and more every time I’ve re-watched it. I still think it’s just as good as when I first watched it, I just feel like it loses something when you’re already aware of its intricacies. Definitely recommended if you haven’t seen it, though, it’s a very unique movie.