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Overall Rating

Awesome: 5.56%
Worth A Look: 2.78%
Just Average: 5.56%
Pretty Crappy61.11%
Sucks: 25%

4 reviews, 12 user ratings

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Lovely Bones, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Slamming the Salmon"
1 stars

At one point during “The Lovely Bones,” Peter Jackson’s long-awaited and long-delayed adaptation of Alice Sebold’s 2002 bestseller, a grieving father emerges from a photo shop clutching a batch of recently developed pictures taken by his 14-year-old daughter just before she was raped and murdered by one of her neighbors. Although all of our attention should be focused on him and the torment he is experiencing, eagle-eyed viewers may find themselves distracted by the sight of Jackson himself making a cameo appearance as another store customer testing out a movie camera. In a way, this bit serves as a perfect symbol for the central problem with the film--in bringing the book to the screen, Jackson was clearly less interested in trying to translate Sebold’s prose into cinematic terms as he was in transforming it into a Peter Jackson film filled with broad storytelling flourishes and elaborate visual effects that always seem to be at odds with the story he is trying to tell. The result is an astonishingly tone-deaf work that is one of the most utterly misguided literary adaptations to hit the big screen in recent memory.

Like the book, the film opens with the voice of Susie Salmon (Saorise Ronan) making the calm but chilling declaration “I was fourteen years old when I was murdered on December 6, 1973” and spends the first part of its story recounting the details of her ordinary life leading up to that unfathomable event. We see her at home with her parents Jack (Mark Wahlberg) and Abigail (Rachel Weisz), younger siblings Lindsey (Rose McIver) and Buckley (Christian Thomas Ashdale) and blowsy Grandma Lynn (Susan Sarandon. We see her at school and the local mall hanging out with friends, nursing a secret crush on hunky new student Ray Singh (Reece Ritchie) and wondering about local weird girl Ruth (Carolyn Dando). We see her obsessively chronicling the world around her with the camera she was given as a birthday present and protesting when she blows through all the film she was given in a flash and her parents will only pay for developing one roll a month. Finally, and most heartbreakingly, we see her as she experiences one of the high points of her young life--her dream boy asks her out on a date--and is so distracted by the joy she is feeling that she allows herself to be lured by ostensibly friendly neighbor Mr. Harvey (Stanley Tucci) into an underground lair of his devising that he claims to have designed to serve as a neighborhood hangout but which is really meant to serve as a trap from which she never emerges.

Although Susie’s body disappears, her spirit ascends to her own personal form of heaven, surrounded by the spirits of other murdered girls (though they all seem surprisingly chipper despite the circumstances) and from there observes how those she left behind attempt to cope with the tragedy of her disappearance while occasionally trying to contact them from the great beyond in order to reassure them and point them in the direction of her killer. Jack is consumed with grief and guilt over not being able to protect his first-born child and when he feels that the cops in charge of the case aren’t doing enough, he becomes convinced that someone in the neighborhood is responsible and begins his own obsessive investigation that threatens to destroy him and the rest of his family. Between the loss of her child and the increasing mania of her husband, Abigail can no longer take the pressure and she abruptly splits for California to work as a fruit picker leaving Grandma to pick up the slack and attempt to keep things from completely collapsing. Although disconsolate for a long time, Ray eventually gets through the grieving process with the help of Ruth and they eventually fall in love. Mr. Harvey, on the other hand, goes through his days as placidly as can be but eventually begins to heed the call of the homicidal urges within him and begins to focus his gaze on Lindsey. For her part, Lindsey begins to suspect that something about Mr. Harvey is not quite right and she begins to investigate him herself to find a connection between him and Susie’s disappearance.

When it was announced that Jackson was going to bring “The Lovely Bones” to the screen, some observers raised their eyebrows at the idea of the man behind such epic-sized fantasies as the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “King Kong” attempting to bring Sebold’s meditation on guilt and grief as seen through the eyes of a teenage girl to the screen. Of course, those with longer memories will recall that Jackson’s first mainstream breakthrough came with “Heavenly Creatures,” a beautifully realized drama populated with fully developed characters and a hypnotic visual style that enhanced the story without overwhelming it. If that Peter Jackson had been the one to direct “The Lovely Bones,” it might have really been something to behold. Unfortunately, that Jackson is nowhere to be found here and this, more than anything else, is what is behind the film’s complete failure. Like so many other filmmakers before him, he has become so obsessed with the technological process of cinematic storytelling that he has essentially allowed those elements to dominate the proceedings. In the case of “Lord of the Rings” and “King Kong,” this wasn’t much of a problem because those were broad and archetypal tales that were sturdy enough to support such an approach--it is exceedingly difficult to go too far when you are telling tales involving walking trees or giant apes, after all.

“The Lovely Bones,” on the other hand, is a far more delicate construction that derived most of its power not from the story it was telling, which was essentially a mash-up of “Mystic River” and “What Dreams May Come,” but from the voice that Sebold used to tell it. The problem is that Jackson and co-screenwriters Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens have not figured out a way to translate that voice into cinematic terms and have instead decided to focus most of their energies on depicting the surroundings of Susie’s afterlife in the most lavishly detailed manner possible ranging from ethereal gazebos to enormous model boats in bottles smashing against the waves to symbolize her father’s anger and helplessness. These bits are, not surprisingly, technically impressive and accomplished but there are so many of them and they go on for so long that they wind up dominating the proceedings. Perhaps Jackson felt that a hefty dose of eye candy would help make the story a little more palatable to audiences who might not otherwise want to sit through something so fundamentally sad but the results are so incredibly gauche that most viewers will sit there wondering how a director as talented as Jackson could fail to realize just how wrong-headed his approach turned out to be in the end.

And since the effects sequences are show-stoppers in the worst sense of the word--everything drags to a halt once they kick in--they further damage the film by allowing viewers the time to allow all the plot holes, inconsistencies and just-plain-awful scenes to sink in. The early scenes are in such a rush to establish all the characters and their various relationships with Susie that none of them really take hold and as a result, none of the emotions that her loss inspires in them really ring true--when her mother up and leaves home, for example, it just makes her character seem flighty and unlikable instead of desperate. The details of Jack’s personal investigation, which take up a good chunk of the film’s second half, is equally implausible because we are asked to believe that he has gone to elaborate lengths to track down every possible lead from virtually everyone in the neighborhood and yet somehow never bothered to check out the weird, twitchy guy who lives practically across the street from him until receiving a signal from beyond the grave. The low point comes during the sequence in which Grandma Lynn arrives and tries to help keep her family going against all odds--in a head-scratcher for the ages, Jackson decided to depict this in a wacky montage featuring Susan Sarandon rassling with a vacuum cleaner and overloading a washing machine with suds to the accompaniment of some perky tune. This is the kind of thing that would have rung false in a wacky family comedy like “Old Dogs” but to put such a thing in the middle of an ostensibly serious story is such a bad idea that any chance the film might have had of turning itself around are effectively dashed for good at that moment.

The other direct result of Jackson’s devotion to his visual pyrotechnics is that he has stranded a cast of good actors with roles that, for the most part, are so indifferently sketched out as to be virtually unplayable. Wahlberg, who stepped into the role at the last second when the previously cast Ryan Gosling left the project under mysterious circumstances, is not believable for a second as the grieving father--he comes across more like the “SNL” parody version of him in many scenes. Rachel Weisz is a little more convincing as the mother but her part has been so obviously cut to pieces in the editing room that she just winds up drifting in and out of the proceedings without any evident rhyme or reason. Susan Sarandon has the showiest role of the bunch and while she does bring a few much-needed laughs to the proceedings, her scenes coexists uneasily with the others. As the killer responsible for everyone else’s misery, Stanley Tucci does make a sincere effort but overdoes the creepiness just enough to make all the other characters seem stupid for not recognizing right off that he is more than a bit off.

The one truly impressive aspect of “The Lovely Bones” is the performance from Saorise Ronan (whom you may recall as the troublemaker at the center of “Atonement”) as Susie. Even though most of her scenes find her trapped in the middle of Jackson’s visual orgies, she is the only one of the bunch to make her character seem like a plausible person and if there are any discernible traces of humanity to be found in the film, it is almost entirely through her Herculean efforts. Aside from her performance, there is virtually nothing here that works. It is poorly adapted, badly miscast and Jackson had far more profound and intriguing notions about the afterlife and what it might contain in “The Frighteners” than he does here. I know the book has a lot of fans and that many of them have been eagerly awaiting this film version--my guess is that after watching it, the majority of them will find themselves eagerly awaiting the remake.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=18249&reviewer=389
originally posted: 01/15/10 00:00:00
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User Comments

11/27/10 othree The surreal scenes are wonderful, not a bad serial killer movie either. 5 stars
11/04/10 millersxing Lazybones Jackson doesn't spend time building characters anymore. 1 stars
10/20/10 Robert Smith There is viewing value in Tucci's performance in particular, but unsatisfying overall. 2 stars
7/28/10 the dork knight Presented as a storybook fairy tale. Very peculiar, and not at all satisfying. 2 stars
7/13/10 JM Synth Starts well, ends poorly. Afterlife presented is naff. Overall though worth watching 3 stars
5/08/10 reptilesni Conclusions are forshadowed but never delivered. Unsatisfying, frustrating, empty ending. 2 stars
1/21/10 Ming I like this film.. It has great visual effect of what after life is like 3 stars
1/17/10 Erik D. The Lovely Bones = The Waste of Time 1 stars
1/15/10 inCo A major disaster by a great director and cast, except for Wahlberg, who always stinks. 1 stars
1/07/10 Craig Strahorn Really disagree with this review. Thought it was engrossing. 4 stars
1/06/10 Man Out 6 Bucks Boldly explores the quantum dreamscape afterlife, entanglements to 3D past, & ascention. 5 stars
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  11-Dec-2009 (PG-13)
  DVD: 20-Apr-2010


  DVD: 20-Apr-2010

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