The Lovely Bones is another in a long line of book adaptations that falls short, both in structure and in the realization of the source material. It does not start out that way though. At the beginning of the film, we are introduced to the main characters and are given a few key moments from the book, the best being when “Salmon, like the fish. First name Susie”’s little brother Buckley Salmon (Christian Thomas Ashdale) swallows a twig and Susie, fourteen, races him to the hospital in her father (Mark Wahlberg)’s red Mustang (think the pod race from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace), almost doing more damage than good. It is the few scenes of this quality that make The Lovely Bones worth seeing, especially if you have read the source material, but outside of them, the film is average.
The film is no where near as brutal as the book but the same can be said of many film adaptations that contain violence, The Red Dragon and American Psycho being two of them. This adds to the watered-down, cleaned up nature of The Lovely Bones, diminishes what its author went through, and the book’s message. By sanitizing the contents of the book for casual consumption in its film adaptation, the material and its impact were almost completely destroyed. Peter Jackson is a gifted director but is by erasing the “main incident” from The Lovely Bones, he is not as brave as I had hoped. Instead of a serial, sexual kill, the viewer is presented with a serial kill. The viewer never wonders what Susie (Saoirse Ronan) is thinking during it, after it or in heaven about it or how she deals with that assault there. These dynamics were gutted from the film.
Even in Synder’s Watchmen, he bravely showed disagreeable content because of its intrinsic nature to the story. In Jackson’s defense, Susie’s parents and the other characters in the book never knew the full extent of what Susie went through in the corn field before she was killed so in that respect, it didn’t have to be represented on screen. In the converse argument, the reader of the book always knew and it would have been the same with the viewer of the film.
Instances of bad dialog e.g. the coping talk: “Your wife is not coping” Then to his wife, “We don’t feel that you’re coping honey” also plagued The Lovely Bones. Virtual nails on a invisible chalkboard.
Almost everything in The Lovely Bones is condensed (familiar territory for a film adaptation of a book) too much; with key moments from the book left out or altered. One brilliant addition to the proceedings however was Lynn (Susan Sarandon)’s cleaning scenes after she moves in. They are great to watch, perfectly toned, almost an island onto themselves in the film, though they also fill the viewer with regret because Sarandon is so underused before and after them in the film.
One actor who isn’t underutilized in The Lovely Bones is Stanley Tucci. He actually brings George Harvey to life, far more so than he was in the book, and creates a character. How he carries himself, the way he talks with his cheeks Godfathered out, even the blue contact lenses, work in his favor as Jackson’s camera often centers on them during close ups. Every scene he is in he is the centerpiece and the one the viewer watches closely.
The secondary characters in this film adaptation, Ray Singh (Reece Ritchie) and Ruth Conners (Carolyn Dando), are played by actors too old for their teenage roles and Abigail Salmon (Rachel Weisz)’s storyline is basically a highlight reel of events from the book with little-to-no buttressing once-so-ever.
The ending montage (Really, a montage?) is more book chapters and storylines quickly shown with no background or build up.
Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones is a disappointing adaptation of what most would argue is a good book. This is very strange since Jackson showed that he could film great amounts of material (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring) within the confines of a single film. Why he could not pull off the same magic here with a “smaller” work is a question many will ask when they finish viewing this film.