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Jan 12, 2010

Film Review: The Lovely Bones (2009)

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.

Rating: 6.5/10

  • http://getafilm.blogspot.com/ Daniel

    Excellent review, and with some good thoughts about the book that I obviously missed since I haven't read it. As you know I thought the film was disturbing enough on its own, though I can understand how you think the worst parts of the assault should have been shown. For that matter, I wonder if Alice Sebold thinks that Jackson has removed the horror from an experience she unfortunately had to endure.

    Of course by doing so the film would certainly earn an R rating and lose more money at the box office. I wonder if they might have worked with a smaller-scale director, they might not have needed the same return on their money and probably could have made a more emotional film.

  • http://film-book.com/ Film-Book

    I don't think the worst parts should have been shown but not was alluded to. That what I found odd. Jackson could have nudged and winked at something without ever showing it on screen.

    I think Sebold is glad that this subject is getting some attention, not the act, but what the act does to people, both to the victim and to their families.

    Including that act would not have made the film better because the film starts to loose steam around the middle of the second act. The film would then be just a more violent version of the same lackluster adaptation.

  • http://www.spicymoviedogs.com SpicyMovieDogs.com

    Having not read the book, I had nothing to compare it to BUT as a blind watch I could tell that it was hacked and chopped to hell. I should not feel this way! Normally – take the first DUNE, a director will butcher a story, make it his own and the readers will bitch while the new viewers will promise it rocks. The first Dune has some hardcore fans who have never heard of Frank Herbert, and this was due to the movie. The readers of Frank Herbert's book series thinkt he movie is an abortion. Lovely Bones had scenes where I was wondering “what the hell happened?” I asked this a lot, it got irritating. I love how the blade on the sink and the bath scene is supposed to clue us in on the rape/slaughter that happened… sorry Peter you think too highly of your audience, we aren't that abstract in our thoughts. Unless he felt we read the book too?

    I'm a huge Peter Jackson guy, but this didn't seem right at all and like yourself, everyone who has read the book are quite irritated with his direction.

  • http://film-book.com/ Film-Book

    The rape was not hinted at in any way from my point of view. If Jackson could not handle the rough subject matter, he should have chosen something else to adapt. He did a great disservice to the book with his film. People might think the book is all over the place like the film is.

    Great analogy with Dune btw. I am surprised I did not think of that for my review. Also, Dune is a fantastic book.

  • http://KMPBlog.com Arie Rich/KMP Blog

    Wonderful review. I got the movie, before I even knew about the book. I was on the edge of my seat with the movie, but after reading your review (after watching the movie), I want to read the book. I felt like there were some questions left unanswered, etc…

  • http://film-book.com/ Film-Book

    You were? Wow. I'm glad my review spurred you to read the book though.