CAPSULE: Peter Jackson visually overpowers what should have been a small personal story. A murdered fourteen-year-old girl is in a limbo between heaven and earth from which she tries to bring her grieving family peace and at the same time get the murderer found out. The overpowering glories of the afterlife are really a distraction from the real story that is taking place in our world. More effort was needed in telling the earthbound story that seems superficial even in a 135-minute movie. Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10
Fourteen-year-old Susie Salmon (played by Saoirse Ronan of ATONEMENT) is murdered by neighbor George Harvey (the great Stanley Tucci). Susie does not go directly to heaven but to a sort of limbo-world called the In-between. She is not entirely in heaven, and she is not entirely in the real world. Instead she can see her family and try to protect them. She also tries to reveal who her murderer is so that her family can find some closure. Susie's parents, played by Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz, are absolutely crushed by the tragedy. Wahlberg seems to work overtime in being the bereaved parent and Weisz seems not to have nearly enough to do. Susan Sarandon is along as the bad-girl grandmother who tried to be as bad an influence as possible on Susie.
Traditionally a story like THE LOVELY BONES would have been treated as a small personal film with just a few visual images to show the metaphysical taking form in our world. Just subtly hinting at the world beyond worked for films like Jerry Zucker's GHOST and THE UNINVITED. That might have worked for this film, but Peter Jackson was the wrong director to do that. Jackson is known for his flamboyant visual style. He created huge spectacular vistas for THE LORD OF THE RINGS and for KING KONG. There was a place in this film that it must have been irresistible for Jackson to put in visuals. After Susie is murdered in this film she goes to "The In- between." And apparently for Jackson the enticement was just too great to spend a lot of money and make The In-between about as glorious a place as his imagination could muster up. It is full of New Zealand splendor and special effects skies and landscape that changes shape. The problem is that is not where the important part of the story takes place. Most of the story takes pace in our world. The splendor of the In-between is not the point of the story. It is really a distraction. Jackson spends too much time trying to convince us it is a wonderful place for much too bizarre a definition of wonderful. It is out of place, like wearing a diamond tiara with shorts and a t-shirt.
THE LOVELY BONES is reminiscent of WHAT DREAMS MAY COME, which did not have nearly so good a story, but which gives us much more creative images of heaven and hell. The In-between seems to have lots of wide-open space, but for some reason Jackson keeps returning us to images of confined space. We see a penguin in a snow globe, we see ships in bottles, and the most claustrophobic space of all is a small bunker built by the Tucci character as a place where he can kill. That bunker may be a detail from the book, but it makes very little logic. It is awfully well built and nicely furnished. It is hard to believe he could get all the materials to built and furnish this underground room with nobody noticing. He would have had to do all this work in the middle of a very flat and open field where he could be seen from a fair distance away. The idea that he could do all this construction and not leave in it any clue for the police stretches the imagination almost as much as the concept of the In-between does.
It is hard to know what Jackson was intending to do with this film. Instead of telling the earth-story he seems to have wanted to give us some indelible images of heaven--or a place very much like heaven. He misjudged the images and made them seem banal. I rate THE LOVELY BONES a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10. Jackson can create the images of Middle Earth in beautiful detail, but he seems to be unable to show a piece of paper carried by the wind that does not look like it is being pulled by a string.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0380510/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1189344-lovely_bones/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2010 Mark R. Leeper