Tuesday, January 5, 2010


I've never read Alice Sebold's best-selling novel The Lovely Bones, but I'm pretty certain that she can't be overly pleased with how Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson adapted it.  And believe me, it had all the makings of an Oscar winner with a cast that includes Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci and the film's young star, Saoirse Ronan. We might remember from her brilliant performance in Atonement in 2007.

The Lovely Bones takes places in the '70s and centers around 14 year-old Susie Salmon (Ronan) who is murdered by neighbourhood predator George Harvey (Tucci).  She tells the tragic story of her death from the afterlife, where she can still see her family torn apart by their grief and her father Jack's (Wahlberg) determination to solve the mystery of her murder.  Susie has a difficult time coming to terms with her own death and she is unable to fully enter heaven because of this.  Meanwhile, liberal Grandma Lynn (Sarandon) steps in the picture helping restore some order in the grief-stricken Salmon household, adding some oddly-placed moments of comic relief.  With the passing of time and a lack of additional evidence, the police department allocates fewer resources in finding Susie's murderer.  Both Jack and sister Clarissa (Amanda Michalka) are certain however, that the murderer is in fact Harvey but it all means little.

This is a very beautiful film to watch with some very cutting edge CGI animation, but admittedly, it takes away from what should overall be a dark, heavy mood.  My biggest problem with this story however, is that there seems to be a great amount of attention placed on building suspense and tension when in the end, a resolution is met by karma, not true justice; this is a big let-down.  Also, some overly-romanticized dialogue in Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Jackson's screenplay make for some awkward moments, as we are forced to believe that this 14 year-old girl had experienced the makings of unequivocal love with her senior crush Ray Singh (Reece Ritchie).  And despite some Oscar buzz for Tucci's haunting performance here, I've seen him do much better work in films like Julie & Julia and The Devil Wears Prada.  The same can be said about Ronan, one of the leading actresses of her generation, but simply this won't be remembered as her best work.  Or at least I hope not anyway.

Paramount Pictures' The Lovely Bones is in theatres January 15, 2010 and perhaps is better watched without expectations.  Grade: C


  1. i was concerned with watching this, since the story dealt with a child murder. but it sounds, from your analysis, that the picture doesn't deal with that theme very well, anyway.

    so, i guess i won't see it. for the record, i'm no fan of peter jackson, anyway. i thought what he did with king kong was just dreadful, as one example.

  2. hi ken! the film should've stayed dark. there is no pretty way around a gruesome subject matter as this. all the cgi graphics were distracting and in all honesty made light of what the film really should've been. disappointing.

  3. Actually, i have to say (having read the book)-it sounds like a pretty faithful adaptation that way. I'm sure they may have edited some parts out, but the mood of the book actually wasn't that dark either. It wasn't a picnic, exactly, given the subject matter, but it was a lot more...for lack of a better word, sunnier than you'd expect.

    For the CGI-most of the passages where they used it were sparsely described in the book, and it felt a little more *real* that way (better than than depicting her in a vacuum), but i didn't quite feel it took away from anything.
    as for the ending-well, not to be spoilerific, but it's a direct adaptation of the book as well.

    anyway, big fan, normally, but before you express displeasure with the adaptation-you might actually want to read the source material, as this was actually pretty spot on.

  4. Thanks Andrew. I just wish I had the time to read every adaptation I review. As a film, I don't think the film stood on its own. I'm sure the many fans of the book will enjoy it based on what you've told me:)

  5. i thoroughly enjoyed the book when it was first released. the first time i read it, i couldn't put it down. it was an amazing book to re-read in order to help cope with death that came years later in my personal life.

    in regard to the film, however, had i read the book or not, i really don't think the film stands on its own. a lot of films adapted from fictional works and such are able to hit that sweet spot where it really would not have mattered if the audience had read the original work or not. although the film was true in many ways to the novel, it also left out several crucial details i.e. the details that would have maybe better explained the attraction between ray and susie, clarissa's development from girl to young woman to adult, susie's mother's internal struggles and regrets, etc.

    the film was too soft in its portrayal of death and the ramifications it had on the characters. the book, to me, did well to explore how each individual character dealt with grief in their own way following susie's death and the voids they were at some point forced to fill. the novel was all about the progression of each character, but the film fast-forwarded this progression for most of the characters to the point that there was no satisfying conclusion for any of them. the movie muddled up these crucial explorations and reduced their feelings and actions to very simple ones while focusing too heavily on susie's progression. there was a great dance between all the characters in the novel, but i didn't get this feeling with the film. it might just be that by trying to stay as true as possible to the film, it might have been taken too literally. sebold's writing, while maybe appearing simple in form and style, is able to express much more than what the film was able to.

    i also think that mark wahlberg was miscast as the father - i think viggo mortensen or someone along that line would have been a better fit. but that's just me.

  6. Amazing insights, Soul Architekt. Wow! I agree wholeheartedly. I just didn't take the film seriously at all. I think with adaptations we often get the feeling of fast-forwarding and this was the case here. Critics are calling this now, Jackson's worst film.

  7. @Soul Architekt: thanks for the comments on the book: i didn't see the movie, and hadn't intended to read the book, but your comments make me want to give the book a try!

  8. well, the husband dragged me out to see this. i think you were more than generous to give this movie a C grade. i think it may be the worst movie i've ever seen. just dreadful.

    but i will try the book, just the same.