California Literary Review

Movie Review: The Lovely Bones

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January 16th, 2010 at 1:06 pm

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Movie Poster: The Lovely Bones
The Lovely Bones

Directed by Peter Jackson
Screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson
Based on the novel by Alice Sebold

Jack Salmon – Mark Wahlberg
Abigail Salmon – Rachel Weisz
Grandma Lynn – Susan Sarandon
George Harvey – Stanley Tucci
Len Fenerman – Michael Imperioli
Susie Salmon – Saoirse Ronan
Lindsey Salmon – Rose McIver
Buckley Salmon – Christian Ashdale
Ray Singh – Reece Ritchie

CLR Rating: ★★★☆☆

Movie Still: The Lovely Bones

Saoirse Ronan stars as Susie Salmon in The Lovely Bones
Copyright © Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

Peter Jackson’s Latest Suffers from Too Much Special Effects and Too Little Character Development

Peter Jackson’s newest release The Lovely Bones bears greater similarity to his smaller films (particularly the wonderful Heavenly Creatures) than to the sprawling, epic Lord of the Rings trilogy—but it’s unlike any film he has directed previously. Alice Sebold’s 2002 novel is a startling, sometimes brutal, and often touching tale of a girl whose life ends before she even has her first kiss. Unfortunately the movie, though beautifully filmed, is an incoherent mashup of the book’s most tender aspects.

The novel opens with a striking, abrupt proclamation: “My name is Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.” After her murder, Susie watches from the Inbetween, a kind of non-Christian purgatory, as her family struggles with her death. Jackson, whose visionary filmmaking has earned him massive acclaim in the past, creates a heaven of brilliant, surreal landscapes in which Susie and her fellow dead frolic. The best aspects of Sebold’s novel, though, are the poignant, sometimes illicit relationships that formed in the wake of Susie’s murder. The film focuses far too much on the fantastic Inbetween and not enough on earth. Susie’s mother Abigail (Rachel Weisz), father Jack (Mark Wahlberg), and sister Lindsey (Rose McIver) deal with her death in their own ways, as all grieving people do. However, either to shorten the film’s length or secure a PG-13 rating, Jackson skips or glosses over many of the aspects of the novel that made it so horrific and beautiful. The result, as with so many book-to-film adaptations, is a pretty, superficial muddle.

Make no mistake, Jackson is a great filmmaker (if you forget about King Kong), and his movies are nearly always visually impressive and soundly acted. The Lovely Bones is both. If Jackson’s Inbetween bears any resemblance to a possible afterlife, we should all rejoice. Fifteen-year old Saoirse Ronan (Atonement) has real star potential, and The Lovely Bones is proof she can carry a movie. She manages to play both snotty but sweet teenager and wise voyeur with grace and self-possession. Stanley Tucci, playing Susie’s murderer Mr. Harvey, is utterly terrifying. His affected voice and piercing eyes make him nearly unrecognizable—and Jackson’s talent behind the camera is most perceptible when he focuses on Mr. Harvey. When he lures Susie into the underground hatch where she’s murdered, extreme close-ups and a distortion lens build a horrific, creeping dread. Later in the film when Susie’s sister Lindsey breaks into Mr. Harvey’s house, the tension is nearly unbearable, the only sound in the theater the whir of the projector. Weisz and Wahlberg are effective parents, grieving both separately and together in their own ways. Susan Sarandon also does well as Susie’s alcoholic, slightly nutty Grandma Lynn, but she’s comic relief in the simplest sense, which is utterly incongruous with the rest of the film and seems unnecessary.

The novel is effective partly because of its brutality. Susie is a victim of the most horrible of crimes: she’s viciously raped, murdered, and dismembered, her body shoved into a safe and dumped into a sinkhole. Yet she accepts this evil and even develops a grudging pity for her murderer, a serial killer who preys on young women and girls. The book is about the triumph of good over evil, the fantastic idea of life after death, and the transformations caused by losing a loved one. The movie, on the other hand, seems to be about how cool special effects can be. Possibly to please the MPAA, Jackson glosses over Susie’s rape (though it can be assumed) and she’s murdered off camera. To truly appreciate the ways in which Susie grows up after her death (as odd as that sounds), those things are key, and it was a mistake to skip blithely over them. Further, Jackson meticulously sets up his characters’ personalities in the first few minutes of the film, and they remain static—which is problematic considering the subject matter. The very title of book and film refers to the transformations that happened after Susie’s death: “These were the lovely bones that had grown around my absence: the connections — sometimes tenuous, sometimes made at great cost, but often magnificent — that happened after I was gone.”

The film suffers from the same ills which often befall book adaptations, and the result is a series of events that never quite engage, a number of threads that don’t quite knit together. It presents characters that could’ve been much better developed if Jackson hadn’t poured so much energy into making the afterlife look unbelievably gorgeous. It is by no means a terrible movie; the camerawork is admirable, the effects pretty, and the acting laudable. Those who haven’t read the novel might enjoy the film, but even those who skipped the book will probably get a sense of failed potential. In trying to combine visual spectacle with an intimate, poignant tragedy, the film ends up being neither, instead residing in its own kind of purgatory.

The Lovely Bones Trailer

  • Susie

    The movie was a disappointment. I heard the book was really good. The movie had way too many loose ends and things that didn’t make sense. There were parts that seemed completely unnecessary to the plot.

  • Kathryn Eastburn

    I must agree with most of this review. However, as a parent who has lost a child, I found aspects of it profoundly moving. Regardless of what, if anything, we believe about afterlife, when a loved one leaves before his time, his family members are left wondering where he is. I found the experience of wandering in this secular purgatory with Susie oddly comforting. And her shell-shocked, grieving parents, left behind, were well played by Wahlberg and Weisz.

  • http://ticketstubz.blogspot.com Candice Frederick

    though jackson does have a lot of effects in the lovely bones, i must admit i was quite taken by the movie and story a s awhole. i haven’t read the book but from what i’ve heard about it the movie tells the original story in a ifferent way, not necessarily the wrong way but different.

  • shannon howard

    i havent seen the movie yet but i want to and idk if its good or not

  • http://calitreview.com Karen

    I just saw the movie which I anxiously awaited. I have not read the book, but am headed out to buy it. I could not agree more with this review than if I had written it myself. It tapes into the “failings” in a sense of this movie. In his attempt to over emphasize his vision of the afterlife”, an aspect of the movie while visually appealing, does not bear strongly on the “bones” of the movie, the viewer is neither watching a tense thriller, nor a heart-rendering film with a strong message to drive home. It is neither. I personally, would have preferred to see this as a drama that focused on the serial killer and the family, and less about Susie wandering in the “in between”. The audience got Peter Jackson’s message there in the first ten minutes. I would have preferred more vision to where the story was developing on earth. It could have been an Oscar worthy movie that way. He will probably get an award for cineamatography but I doubt that is why he became a director. If he had stuck to the book, this movie would have been rivoting.

  • Robin

    I am seeing the movie tomorrow… I have read the book, and I really liked it. I really did not think that I would, my daughter wanted it so I bought it for her, she f=got partially into it and said it was too sad and did not want to read anymore, so I took it with me on a trip. I could not put it down, but I have to agree with my daughter, it had some sad parts. When I read the book my daughter was the same age as Susie, so it was a tough read at times. I have been waiting for this ovie for well over a year! Can’t wait to see it tomorrow!

  • http://CaliforniaLiteraryReview William

    As a father of four girls,I can relate to the closeness that Wahlberg’s character had with his daughter,Susie.I can only imagine the pain this father had while losing his daughter.It was so realistic to me, being a father that would lose my child to such a pittylesss monster.The movie kept me in suspence,and i did hear the book is somewhat different,but I thought it was pretty well thought and directed.The special effects were cool too.Hopefully my younger daughter can see this and understand the evil out there in our society.

  • Taylor

    i love this book and im headed to see the movie today and i really hope alot of these reviews are not real i want it to be just as good as the book.

  • http://mattsmithonfilm.blogspot.com Matt

    Really? I loved KING KONG.

    I haven’t seen this yet, but plan to soon…

  • http://google.com chata

    i Lovee the Moviee =] so much is sad :( but i cant wait to read the booKk !

  • Susy

    i just saw it and though i do agree some parts of the movie were not needed for the plot i found the whole movie extremely moving
    i myself was assaulted and the look on the character’s susie face right before she was killed made me really know what she felt. i knew her fear and i knew the stupidity she felt when she realized she had let someone trick her, of course it want her fault but i felt it, i think this film was beautifully directed and showed the true emotions of a greving family.

  • tonya

    im just going to say this was the worst movie i have seen in years…. the movie startedoff good and jsut was draged out then sumtimes it seemed like it was going to get good again then it let you down.. im goona have to say hands down twiceto this movie wros i seen in years.

  • Kotoro Shinoto

    I didn’t find it moving in the least. It was beautiful, but all those scenes about heaven and the platitudes spouted by the dead girl actually got me worked up and angry rather than any kind of pleasant feeling.

  • Vanna S

    This movie was horrible in comparison to the book. SOOOO much stuff was missing or different. I always read the book before going to a movie based on a book and this was extremely disappointing it actually made me really mad I wanted to leave within 5 minutes of the movie starting….some books are just better off as books. Some movies just cant explain things like books can….such as the icicle. A friend of mine came with me to the movie who hadn’t read the book and she didn’t even notice the icicle which is a main part of the book the perfect murder weapon. All in all it was a good try but I really do love the book.

  • http://www.myspace.com/lectrosoul lectrosoul

    books are different than movies just like paintings are different than music.. all art forms but conveying a story in a completely different way, i thought this movie was fantastic and Saorise Ronan is amazing, i thought the mixture of reality with the surreal inbetween world worked really well, sure peter jackson could’ve aimed for a more mature audience but i think that’s missing the point of what he was trying to achive, An absolutly captivating movie from beginning to end.. The cast where perfect with Stanley Tucci in particular having a stellar performance..
    looking forward to see’ing more of Saorise Ronan, that girl is a class act :)
    Slan..

  • http://calitreview.com cortlyn

    i just saw the movie.and it was goood. but i thought that peter jackson should have told about her death and not necessarily showed it but should have told about it in some way. i heard the book was really good witch is why i cant wait to read it. as people always say the book is always better than the book.

  • http://calitreview.com cortlyn

    i meant movie not book the book is always better than the movie

  • Tiffany

    I have read the book and it is amazing. I have seen the first hour of the movie online, but didn’t get to finish it. It is different than the book but what I have seen of it, it was pretty good. No movie is going to be the same as the book. There will be parts skipped or re written. I’ve heard they left out the icicle as the way Mr.Harvey dies, which is a disappointment. That was key in the book. Someone…I think Susie maybe not had said an icicle was the perfect murder weapon and then it killed Mr. Harvey…to leave that out is stupid!!!!! I am ready to see the rest of it and see if it’s as good as the first part.

  • catt

    I actually loved this movie. it is the best movie I have ever seen and I watch lots of them. This is a movie that my children were able to watch with me as well because It did not show more that it needed to. The viewer understands what happens and that unfortunately the girl was raped. I just did not like the fact that the murdered was not punished. He just accidentally dies towards the end. I also feel that the girls bones should have been found because they just ended up in the sinkhole.

  • http://www.thepiratecity.org timica simmons

    I havent seen the movie but from what i heard they said the movie is totaly different from the book they said it was not pretty they said that when the man rapped her he was throwing her across the room and i was like in the book it said nothing like that

  • Monie G.

    I am so glad that I didn’t buy this movie. My niece brought it over. May I said that, is was the WORST movie I have ever seen. I couldn’t believe it. It took to long to get to the point of the movie. It just kept dragging and dragging on. Just when you thought that this guy was finally going to get caught…something happens.

  • Rebecca Smith

    This movie was awesome! I have the book, have not read it yet but will. I agree with most people that have commented in that movie’s are always different from the book. I watched it with my 13 year old Grand daughter; we both cried through most of it. She felt so sad, as did I , for Susie and her family. You really had to pay attention to know when scenes changed, but that wasn’t hard because it was so captivating.
    I was quite disappointed though when Susie’s parents never found out that it really was the neighbor and also that Grandmother kept the book given to her by Susie’s sister! Also, the sicko did get partially what he deserved but he could have been punished so much more severly in my opinion! Thumbs up on this one!!!

  • wantanesha

    this is really a good movie i love it much

  • Tracee Ramirez

    I’m actually very dissapointed in this film. After the dragging on (and on and on) of the movie, The Bad Guy didn’t even get caught by proper authorities, which I’m sure audiences everywhere were greatly wanting aswell as anticipating. Also, personally, I wanted to see the well deserving outrage of the family’s “about time”, meaning the discovery of the true happening and murder of their beloved daughter and sister. Then there’s that forceful pushing (I felt) of the kiss she didn’t recieve in life but recieves it with the guy after her death. I mean, what? All of a sudden the boyfriend can see her (susie) ghost? Although the “In-between” was graphed with pure fantasy and dream world-look, to the comparison of “the real world-look”, It took away the realism of the movie, in my opinion. I felt that gift should have been left to whatever weird ghost-glipse that that one girl had that followed intwined with the movie. I hated the ending. I didn’t feel that that was enough punishment for the murderer, especially for all those other girls he murdered, that was very unsatisfying as a viewer. I’m going to have to give this movie a two-thunbs down because of all the reasons specified.

  • skye

    I thought the movie was beautiful & horrific. However I liked it. This movie was mind blowing to me. In a good way. I think all the special effects were necessary. I love. when the grandma comes, she was perfect to me. I think the actors did an awesome job. This movie made me sympathize for my parents, now I call more because I cab understand how worried they get. As a whole this movie is a Must See. And I’m dying yo buy the book.

  • Brooke

    This was a great movie, it makes a person really think to as what the main purpose of the movie was. It shows how life is all about moments, and they can be gone at a moments time. It makes a person realize to not take loved ones for grandit. My interpritation to the meaning is that life goes on, even after a person dies. Its not always about hatrid towards the person that killed your loved one, but finding a way to make peace with the death by memories of that person. Susie talks throughout the movie about her memories. In the end alls Susie really wanted from the life she didnt get to live was a kiss from that boy. She could have helped the girl to find her body, but she was at peace with death and so was her family, justice will find a way of happening and one cannot let it consume their life or let it take away from their love towards their other family members. Great movie over all, keeps you thinking, great illustration.

  • Marie

    Tracee,

    Obviously you never read the book. All of the reasons you mentioned hating the movie were also in the book. The bad guy was never caught, except by Susie. The book wasn’t about catching the guy or finding out what happened, it was about moving on. The book also expains how the boy Susie loved can suddenly see her for a night. Maybe you should try reading the book before critiquing a movie based on it.The book was beautifully written, and was a disappointment, but definitely not for those reasons.

  • So Bad

    this movie was the worst. it covered LESS THEN HALF of the book leaving out quite a few characters. it takes the first 30 minutes of the movie to get to the point where susie dies, which in the book that is covered in the first chapter. Not to mention they end the movie halfway through the book; changing parts of the story and leaving a lot of it out. It just seems that the film makers got way involved wasting their time on the special effects and not a lot of time on character development. one word: disapointing.

  • Ramsam

    This review hits the nail on the head. Too many special fx and showy filming, not enough characters and pain. Not enough of the horror that rape and murder is, not enough of the marvel Susie was as she walked the halls of her house in the book.

    I enjoyed the book (the only book of Sebold’s worth reading, IMHO ) but was somewhat reluctant when I saw the movie trailer. After watching it I am glad it was a one dollar Redbox grab, instead of a ten dollar big screen ticket. Fine for a night with popcorn and friends, but does not live up to the haunting story that the novel is.

  • Quite Good

    Being a person that isn’t particularly comfortable with scary or creepy movies, I was reluctant to watch this movie. If it wasn’t for my mum’s desire to watch it with me, I wouldn’t have ever picked it up, let alone heard ABOUT it.

    I think this was an excellent movie, and although it was long, it kept me engrossed throughout the whole 2 hours. The only part I did not like was the ending and the way that the murder was killed off. But after some thought about it, I decided that it portrayed more of a realistic conclusion than the sort of “happy ending” closure in most movies today.

  • Yasmine

    The film wasn’t that bad. It has some really intense scenes but I wish Jackson would have included some parts and took some parts out because they felt out of place.

  • Ayesha

    One word for the movie: Beautiful!
    Such a privilege to be able to see a movie like Jackson’s in today’s Hollywood where most films turn out to be nothing less the than mindless, over budgeted, much hyped, ‘big name projections’.

  • Tony Fashow

    BOO BOO FOR YOUR EYES!!! Wtf? Garbage movie…REALLY GARBAGE!

  • MJG

    I’m not sure if it’s the worst movie I’ve ever seen, but it’s definately in the top 5. I got this at a Redbox, which means I only rented for about a buck, and I regret wasting the money, but not as much as wasting my time. I’ll probably read the book since the reviews say it’s a lot better.

  • Jessica

    This is probably the worst movie I have ever seen. I have heard such good reviews on the book and decided to watch this movie. Every time the movie seemed to pick up pace, it died down so quickly. I cannot even imagine myself recommending this movie to my worst enemy.

  • Michael

    What a sad waste of a movie. A movie of colorful special effects and little or no police work on trying to find a murdered girl.
    Bouncing between “heaven” and one of the worst crimes maybe or maybe not based on reality.
    One cop that doesn’t care, a family falling apart and a Cinderella time for a sad girl before her trip to heaven.
    Not worth the time watching.
    As the pros said, no character development and all special effects……….

  • Cheryl

    I liked the movie, it was an interesting view on a murder that we’ve not ever seen before. I found myself engrossed at wondering how he would be caught. It was done in good taste and I would recommend this to anyone wanting to see a different kind of movie.

  • Phyllis

    I first saw the movie and was then compelled to read the book. I liked both, which is unusual, especially for me.

    Both the book and the movie left me with a feeling of peace, I’m not sure why. But the book also left me in tears, thinking about my grandfather and if he had a heaven. I don’t know if my grandfather believed in heaven, but I thought it would be nice for him if he did.

    This is a book and movie about loss and recovery from that loss. It’s about moving on. It’s about love. So many of the reviewers who ranted on this movie failed to see this.

    Stanley Tucci was incredible. His performance was chilling and spot-on. Completely creepy and believable.

    As for me, I am currently working on a memoir that takes place the summer I was 14, which struck me like a brick after I finished watching the movie. Then, after I read the book (in one evening) I was again focused on the Me of 14 and how Susie is Everygirl at 14. There is something amazing about that.

  • Phyllis

    May I add one thing? A number of people on this comment thread have complained that the bad guy wasn’t caught in the end.

    The truth is, he died…he fell off an embankment (in the movie it looked as though he probably died from the fall) and was left to die alone in the snow.

    Does every movie have to the traditional circular Hollywood narrative?

    And in the book, it was good to know Holiday was with Susie, and that she expected to see Grandma Lynn at some point. So, in this respect, there is a bit of circle completion after all. I think this is enough. What a lovely story, told by a lovely girl.

  • Harpo

    Phyllis, the problem as a viewer was not so much the manner of his death, it was that he died accidentally many many years later after murdering many more girls because of Susie’s self-centered decision not to help catch him, not to mention the grandmother’s inexplicable keeping of the book.

  • Cristina

    I’ve seen the movie 3 times. Peter did a good job – I was able to stay tuned to the movie and tolerate what happened to Susie mostly because he did not really show what happened to her, although it’s obvious what happened. I wish more also had been about what happened on earth following the murder. But it gave some comfort to see that Susie was actually ok afterwards. I have had experiences being assaulted – maybe that’s what’s drawn me to this movie…either way, Peter is a genius when making films. I plan on getting the book.

  • Paul Garofalo

    I have been looking forward to seeing this film all year and bought it today and sat and watched it with my wife. We both sat in complete silence for the whole duration and when it finished i felt quite emotional and moved by the film. i thought it was a great film, very well told and directed, just can’t understand all the bad reviews. i havn’t read the book so may do just to tie up some loose ends that i didn’t quite get. 9 out of 10, one of my favorite films for some time.

  • Sheree Louise

    I think the lovely bones was utterly amazing. I believe it depends on the person to which degree you understand parts of the film. There were no parts I didn’t understand. I think the maker of the film is awesomely talented. To capture all different kinds of emotions that make us who we are and to make us feel something from it is something the gifted can do. The film makers use of pain, loss, sorrow, fear .. He uses all elements of human emotions twisting them into events to create a beautiful story. I could go on and on and on but to conclude I must say that the lovely bones is the best film I have ever seen.

  • Mr.Harvey…. :O

    I really liked this film! Peter Jackson again, does a great job, including many symbols into the movie!!

    Some might say it is boring, b/c they dun understand it & kinda complex That’s why you have to read the book first, in order to get it and fit the emotional part to it.

    Both movie and book were very touching and moving.

    I just wished Mark Wahlberg appeared more at the end! I like him very much!

    Very brutul to see such sad things happen though!!! I really wanted justice LOl

  • Cece

    This movie was amazing and sad but is it based on a true story?

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