Put a fantastic novel in the hands of an Academy Award winning director and what do you get? Maybe not another award-winning masterpiece, but at the very least a good movie. Well, don’t expect either from Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones. If anything, The Lovely Bones will be remembered as one of the most disappointing productions of the year.
On one fateful afternoon, Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) walks home from school and right into the clutches of her neighbor George Harvey (Stanley Tucci). What Susie first expects to be an innocent encounter winds up being a malicious ambush ultimately sending her to the afterlife. Rather than making a B-line to heaven, Susie’s attachment to activities on earth lands her in a realm in between mortal life and the pearly gates. From there, she looks down on her family and watches her passing tear them a part.
Her sister and brother, Lindsey and Buckley (Rose McIver and Christian Thomas Ashdale), are heartbroken, but, naturally, it’s her parents that suffer the most. While her mother Abigail (Rachel Weisz) shuts down and neglects her family, her father Jack (Mark Wahlberg) rages out of control in search of Susie’s killer. The only person keeping the Salmons from crumbling completely is the booze-loving, yet caring Grandma Lynn (Susan Sarandon).
The Lovely Bones is an incomplete story. The only people capable of finding any enjoyment in this film are those who’ve read the Alice Sebold novel the film is based on and that’s only if they’re not completely turned off by its poor adaptation. As for the moviegoers unfamiliar with the material, little to nothing will make much sense.
The film starts off promising. When Susie is alive, so is the story, but once Jackson relocates her to his imaginary world of trippy CGI landscapes, you become completely detached. Co-writers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Jackson appear to have just flipped through the book and extracted the scenes most suitable for the big screen treatment without any concern for the grand story that would result.
Not one character is developed enough to be convincing, even the ominous George Harvey. Tucci does a fantastic job at making you extremely uncomfortable and comes the closest to making a significant impact, but in the end, becomes swallowed up by his blatant branding as the villain. Grandma Lynn finds herself in a similar predicament. She has the potential to be a very endearing character, but becomes a caricature in Jackson’s attempt to have her fit a very specific role.
Both Weisz and McIver are victims of plain old shoddy characters. Lindsey doesn’t get nearly as much screen time as she deserves, but at least has one that provokes you to root for her. Abigail Salmon might as well have been removed completely for she makes absolutely no effect on the film and takes away from the more successful characters. When a child dies and her mother fails to make an emotional impact, you know something is seriously wrong. In the context of the film, her actions are completely unjustified and downright ridiculous.
The most poorly casted and painful to watch is Wahlberg. Jack Salmon is a role that calls for an actor with an extreme emotional range capable of portraying a man that loses the thing he loves most. Wahlberg has the emotional range of a stick. If his baby talk voice isn’t making you feel feeble it’s because he’s too busy throwing an unfounded temper tantrum to talk.
The worst part of this film’s failure is that these problems could have easily been avoided. Jackson has fantastic source material in the palm of his hand, but gets far too carried away and completely strips it of any meaning. Jackson’s heaven could have been passable if the audience wasn’t drowned in it. Far too much time is spent showing off cheesy computer tricks when the live action events call for so much more attention. Not only does the misallocation of consideration completely thin out the profound story unfolding on Earth, it makes Jackson’s heaven laughable. Nothing works in The Lovely Bones. It will be a grand disappointment for fans of the book and completely incomprehensible for the rest.