Title: The Lovely Bones
Year of Release: 2009
Date Viewed: March 16th, 2011
MPAA Rating: PG-13
After a short film and a new take on the King Kong legend, writer/director Peter Jackson is back to adapting acclaimed novels for the big screen. This time he takes on The Lovely Bones based on Alice Sebold's 2002 novel of the same name.
The tragic story of Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) is immediately laid out through narration straight from the character herself. At the age of fourteen, Susie was lured into a false sense of security and then murdered by child serial killer and next door neighbor George Harvey (Stanley Tucci). While the family grieves, her soul remains in a state of limbo. It's probably not purgatory because tales of that topic usually detail dark surroundings. More likely it's the long winding road leading up to heaven's gate. It's also hinted that the character's imagination is partly responsible for the appearance.
Only when their killer is brought to justice can Susie and the other victims ascend to the heavens and rest peacefully. Their physical bodies unavailing, the victims hopelessly watch over their families and can only pray for all the right pieces to fall into place. The most substantial pieces are connected to Susie's time spend on Earth before that fateful day. Her enthusiasm for photographing scenery appear like a divine intervention to her father Jack (Mark Wahlberg) who is now obsessed over identifying the murderer.
Even for a story that's all about spirituality, the events that lead to the solving of the mystery stretch too much. Jack's detective work is just a notch below Inspector Gadget standards. His first drawn conclusion is that the killer must have been someone close to them because Susie would never run off with a stranger. A fair suggestion but why rule out a first-time occurrence or a spontaneous kidnapping? Suspicions over George arise when Jack notices that he appears rather frequently in Susie's roll of old photographs that were developed after her death. As the wise yet antagonistic police detective points out, that doesn't prove anything even if the conclusion is correct. Even though Jack's lack of evidence is continually pointed out over the course of the second act, the movie insults intelligence by pretending that Susie's contact from beyond the grave is subtle when it is actually non-existent.
I got the impression that the ridiculous clues are only excuses to keep the story moving forward. As strange as this may sound, the movie is at its best when there is no story going on at all. Despite my many frustrations, what I'll remember most about this film are the beautiful depictions of the afterlife. Peter Jackson's reputation for being a visionist needs no further validation than the scenes of Susie embracing her peaceful surroundings of bright gardens, towering forests, reflecting lakes and plains that stretch further than the eye can see. These scenes hold more superbly crafted color patterns than an art festival. If this is what heaven's front yard looks like, I cannot even begin to imagine what the interior contains.
This is an odd case where the story gets in the way of a good movie. The living characters are not even close to being as interesting as the ghosts despite Susie's constant and obnoxious narration over every detail. Ironic that a movie that takes prides in its own art decides to spend so much time on exposition. Even more odd is the grandmother character introduced at the mid-way point to provide some unwelcome comic relief. Some character behaviors are so bizarre that they belong in a Zucker parody. Take for example a moment when Susie's sister learns the truth about George. In one of the movie's few exciting scenes, she narrowly escapes her own abduction and races back to the family. This gives her the perfect opportunity to expose the truth but she instead hesitates over a situation so inconsequential that I nearly started screaming at the television.
Susie has a lot to say about all these events but the character never seems to evolve in any fashion nor does she have any real effect over George's final fate. I felt lost in limbo myself while wondering what the point of all this was. The Lovely Bones can boast over having some of the most amazing visuals that the cinematic world has seen, but the substance falls short of what Peter Jackson's crew is capable of providing.