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The Lovely Bones is A Major Misfire from Peter Jackson

The Lovely Bones
Directed by Peter Jackson
Written by Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens from the novel by Alice Sebold
Dreamworks/Paramount, 2009

Peter Jackson made a great case that he was the director of the past decade with The Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong making close to $3.5 billion worldwide.  Along with that came some detractors, of course.  There are a great many people who find LOTR to be a monumental bore, hours upon hours of walking caught on film, and there were more than a few who hated King Kong and its unnecessary length.  Regardless, Jackson was as close to Spielberg in his prime as we got in the past decade, when M. Night Shyamalan fell off considerably and Spielberg himself couldn’t quite match the universal appeal of his record-breaking earlier movies.

Despite all the detractors, and I can see where everyone is coming from on that, I am shocked that The Lovely Bones is an awful movie.  I read this book a couple of years ago.  I didn’t really think it was Peter Jackson material, even from the guy who brought us Heavenly Creatures and The Frighteners.  Regardless, it didn’t seem like a guy such as Peter Jackson could screw this up.  The Lovely Bones is an unusual story, but a simple one, and all Jackson had to do was get out of the way and make something simple.  He did not, and the movie suffers horribly for it.  Also, in case you’re wondering, I am in no way militant about a movie being faithful to its source material.  I do not think you have to film every last detail.  Just keep the basic story and do what you will after that, so this is not a “movie is bad because it’s not like the book” review.

Susie Salmon (Atonement’s Saoirse Ronan) is a 14-year-old girl with a loving family: parents Jack (Mark Wahlberg) and Abigail (Rachel Weisz), younger sister Lindsey (Rose McIver) and younger brother Buckley (Christian Thomas Ashdale).  They live in a typical suburban house in the 70’s, on track for normalcy, until Susie runs into neighbor George Harvey (Stanley Tucci), who has built a special hiding place in a cornfield for kids that is actually a guise for his evil and lethal misdeeds.  Susie is dead, and no one knows what happened.

Susie is in purgatory, watching her family from another world as she watches them change, get older, potentially fall apart.  Jack obsessively wants to find the killer, contacting the detective (Michael Imperioli) on the case constantly, while Abigail wants to move on and try to forget.  Meanwhile, it appears George, as time goes by, gets more and more comfortable believing he got away with it.  Susie continues living in an in-between world, befriending another soul, Holly (Nikki SooHoo).

The book The Lovely Bones went along mostly as a drama of a family dealing with loss, growing up, and changing.  Jackson, probably realizing that this might be perceived as a little less fantastical than how the book reads, inflates the movie full of bad CGI montages when visiting Susie’s new world.  It reminded me of What Dreams May Come.  This kind of thing isn’t ultimately needed, and Jackson tries way too hard to keep these visual treats coming, blowing up the running time to an unwanted length.  Also, the reason why Jack ultimately becomes suspicious of George is along the lines of Spidey sense.  He sees a picture that Susie took which has nothing to do with anything and suddenly comes to the realization, “That’s the guy.”  Same thing with Lindsey and her incredible barking dog, leading to her own suspicions about Mr. Harvey.  It sounds like all you need to convict a guy in your head is the onset of creepiness.

Bad missteps abound in this.  There’s a point after a long grieving period where it is decided, “Well, we just need some comic relief, here.”  Enter Grandma Lynn (Susan Sarandon), smoking and drinking her way into the Salmon household with no idea what she’s doing and not caring one way or another.  Cue montage of hilarity.  In the meantime, the whole point of the book, the whole reason why the story stood out, gets lost.  All of the “growing up” and “coping with loss” that Susie witnesses is glossed over, summarized, and sent to the background in favor of visual effects and “to catch a predator.”

It is Peter Jackson’s mistrust of the source material and his barging in to fluff it up that makes this movie nearly unwatchable.  I am absolutely stunned.  It might be one of the worst or most disappointing films of last year.

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