The Lovely Bones – Movie Review
Acclaimed director Peter Jackson (King Kong, Dead Alive) had work on his film adaptation of Alice Sebold’s novel The Lovely Bones suspended for two years because the braintrust at Wingnut Films couldn’t come to an agreement on what Heaven looked like. After sitting through this two-hour misfire I believe I can provide invaluable to Hollywood as someone with a first-hand account of what Hell is. While I was disappointed this film didn’t get a 3D iMax release or a decent merchandising tie-in with Burger King, I now know such missed franchising opportunities weren’t due to the grim subject matter, but rather because the film flat-out sucks.
I never felt more like an adult than watching the credits roll and letting the words “the book was better” roll off my tongue. While I typically am not a fan of juxtaposing two mediums with different aims against each other to form an opinion, nor do I care in the slightest about a film adaptation’s faithfulness to its source subject, the reasons why the book works is exactly what Jackson gets wrong. Sebold’s novel told the story of Susie Salmon, a fourteen-year-old girl who was raped and murdered by a middle-aged neighbor. The reason it was celebrated is because Sebold does an incredible job recounting the chain-of-events from the perspective of a young teenage girl without sounding exploitive or aiming for shock value. While 15-year-old Saoirse Ronan does play a convincing 14-year-old and otherwise turns in a good performance, Jackson places her narration in the film in such a way that instead of giving us the perspective of a young teenage girl in Heaven, gives us the perspective of a young teenage girl reading The Lovely Bones.
It’s really a shame this film doesn’t work. Like actress Kirstie Alley, the film has a lot to offer in terms of talent, potential and ability. However, like actress Kirstie Alley, the film is frustrating, bloated and really needs to work some things out despite my inexplicable attraction to it. What Jackson does right is capture the 1970s PERFECTLY. The film looks wonderfully grainy and both the set and costume design forfeit the nostalgia most period pieces ooze for frightening accuracy. Every actor who was never a member of the Funky Bunch does a great job*, especially Susan Sarandon whose performance has resulted in praise of the highest caliber.** Yet, when all these strengths come together, the film becomes a disharmonious wreck.
Peter Jackson really needs to be put on an allowance again. In what could have been a powerful scene featuring the girl’s father (Mark Walberg, Boogie Nights, Sega CD – Make My Video: Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch) overtaken with emotion smashing the ships-in-bottles he’s spent a lifetime building, Jackson intercuts this with his daughter in Heaven seeing giants ships in bottles crashing over the jagged rocks on a sea shore. Do we really need to be in awe of CGI while digesting the worst pain a father could ever imagine***? Technology doesn’t just ruin the look of the film, the score by Brian Eno is among the worst I’ve ever heard. With the clang of an industrial synth sounding everytime the killer is seen I half expected to discover the rapist revealed as Trent Reznor.
The real death knell of the film is its faithfulness to the book. While it goes to painful lengths to include every major event, we are given none of the exposition. Having watched the film with a homegirl of mine who had never read the book, the killer’s ending had no significance to her and just seemed like an unsatisfying random event. What a perfect euphemism for this movie.
We give The Lovely Bones a 2 Out of 5
Until next time…let’s agree to agree!
*Of course I’m referring to the theatrical release that deleted the cameo from Hector ‘The Bootie Inspector.’
**She’s aged incredibly. While most women her age tend to smell like mothballs, I’d imagine she smells like a Hallmark Greeting Card store.
***Of course not, although I would have forgiven Jackson had he gone all out and had dinosaurs fighting on rocketships to emphasize the pain.