Overview: Peter Jackson’s adaptation is visually stunning; however, many of its characters seem to be lacking something.
I read Alice Sebold’s novel The Lovely Bones a few years ago, and although it isn’t one of my favourites, I found it beautifully written and hauntingly disturbing. So when I was sitting in a cinema screen last summer and heard a voice speak the words ‘My name is Salmon, like the fish. First name Susie’, I knew straight away where they were from. And when I then found out that Peter Jackson, who I am a huge fan of, was directing and co-writing an adaptation I was ready to pass out with anticipation. So after many months of waiting I have finally seen it, and although many parts of the film were impressive, I’m afraid it didn’t live up to expectation.
The Lovely Bones is a story about Susie Salmon, a 14 year old girl who is murdered in 1973. The story is told by her from heaven as she watches over her family and the man who murdered her. As time passes Susie battles her need for justice with her desire for her family to heal. Saorise Ronan (Atonement) plays Susie whilst Mark Wahlberg (The Departed, The Happening) and Rachel Weitz (About a Boy, The Constant Gardener) take on the roles of her parents. Susan Sarandon (Thelma and Louise, Stepmom) plays the part of Susie’s eccentric Grandmother and Stanley Tucci (ER, Julie & Julia) shines in the role of murderer George Harvey.
Peter Jackson must have had to make some difficult choices when he decided to turn this novel into a movie, because the book was so far reaching that he simply couldn’t have covered it all, unless we wanted a Lord of the Rings style trilogy. Of course, in doing this we only get to see the story as Jackson wants us to see it, and perhaps not what we want to see, but that is the nature of adaptations. However, I was pleased with most of the choices he made, such as in portraying Susie’s heaven. Here Jackson’s masterful use of CGI comes into play, and once again he excels with stunning landscapes and imaginative features. He also made a considerable effort to show Susie’s links with her family and her murderer back on Earth and often had her present within a scene instead of looking down upon it.
One of the big choices that Jackson made was to not include a scene showing Susie’s murder and rape. According to an interview with MoviesOnline.ca Jackson said that as this is a film about a teenage girl being murdered he, and co-writers Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens, wanted teenagers to be able to watch it and therefore they decided not to include this scene. He also comments that he felt it would be ‘repulsive’ to have shot any of this sequence. Personally, I was glad that Jackson decided not to include this scene in the film. In the society we live in I am sure that most of the audience will have already come to the right conclusion and for those who haven’t it is heavily implied later on in the movie. Plus, the scene preceding the murder is brilliantly done with wonderful performances from Soarise Ronan and Stanley Tucci that build the tension and despair until I could hardly bare to watch. The film is set up so that you already know that Susie is going to die and who is going to kill her, but you are still pointlessly urging her to run, and it makes for uncomfortable and terribly sad viewing.
However, despite these positives, when it came to Susie’s family back on Earth there seemed to be something missing. The characters felt flat and two dimensional and you could almost pin point the places in which scenes and storylines had been cut and it was a real disappointment. Jackson had moved away from Sebold’s non-linear narrative and used a more chronological time frame, which meant missing out many of Susie’s memories. This could have been to make the story easier to follow and to cut down on the length, but it seemed a real shame to miss out many moments from the book that made the Salmons feel like a real family. And, as the scenes set on Earth are just as important as those set in heaven with Susie, this lack of substance really changed the feel of the film.
The performances from the actors in The Lovely Bones were good (although Rachel Weisz was a bit disappointing) but for me Saorise Ronan and Stanley Tucci really broke away from the pack. Having already noticed Ronan in Joe Wright’s Atonement, and her Oscar nomination for Supporting Actress, I expected good things, and she delivered on all fronts. And Tucci looked like a changed man, with a blond wig, false teeth and freakishly pale eyes, which all added to a frightening atmosphere that followed him throughout the film. Therefore, for these two alone it is worth seeing The Lovely Bones, with Jackson’s CGI as a bonus. It is just a shame that although he makes great strides in representing the book, he doesn’t quite do it justice.