Film Review: Lovely Bones

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I seem to be very much in the minority not having read the popular Lovely Bones novel by Alice Sebold, although I can certainly recall its distinctive aqua-coloured sleeve. This evening I was fortunate enough to attend a preview screening, which is a welcome return to the director’s chair for Peter Jackson. Too often I’ve been disappointed by big screen adaptations over the years with the likes of Jurassic Park to name but one. Even while not disappointed with such sublime offerings as Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas its pleasures were limited by my knowledge of the literary work.

Lovely Bones for those unaware follows a family who are devastated by the murder of their oldest daughter. We follow their anguish, eruptions and questioning as they seek answers and try to rebuild their lives. Amongst this is the girl, who in other films would have been consigned to history but not here, as she is somewhat trapped between her previous existence and heaven. Like any spirit she fears the unknown but still feels attached to family and her killer most of all. 

What we then seen unfold is what becomes a major problem with the movie itself as it becomes two separate entities. Firstly the ongoing struggle on planet Earth and secondly Susie Salmon looking down upon her family in a natural nirvana. Perhaps in the book these two realities feel more aligned and connected, an issue for many is the depiction of this other reality. Religious connotations have fuelled some criticism in American I’m lead to believe but how do we know what such a place would look like or even if it exists? No, for me the fundamental issue are the visuals in this setting as Jackson consistently plays it safe and produces a classical backdrop. These scenes brought back memories of Tarsem Singh’s The Cell but lacking the insight and flair of Tarsem. Peter Jackson is many things but for what I know he does not have a background in advertising or the ability to create such fantasy canvases without lifting from the source material.

However he can produce moments of real tension and drama, both of which form the real highlights of Lovely Bones. I wanted more of the Earth bound events as these really drive the film despite some plodding moments and overuse of storytelling devices. The main cast are exceptional with some standout performances from unexpected quarters that really help to bridge the gap between those realities.

I really enjoyed Lovely Bones but I would recommend it with some caveats as outlined already. It’s also a little too chubby at 135 minutes and would have benefited from some trimming yet it is an intriguing take on an all too familiar murder scenario.

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