One might think that Peter Jackson is returning to the darker, artier cinema of Heavenly Creatures because of the similar (though inverted) subject matter, but The Lovely Bones fails in comparison to his fantastic 1994 film. The Lovely Bones is such a let down (after the less than sterling King Kong) that I wish he’d get a move on and make his next film. It’s such a long wait between features that these last two weren’t quite worth the wait.
Based on the novel by Alice Sebold, The Lovely Bones concerns the murder of young Susie Salmon. I’m not giving anything away here – we are told this is what will happen from the very outset. This of course means that a fantastic sense of foreboding hovers over the early scenes, although I was already wishing that it were over and done with so that the interesting stuff could begin. Unfortunately, the ‘stuff’ that follows is a bit of a let down. We see the fallout and how it affects the family, from father Jack (Mark Walhberg) to mother Abigail (Rachel Weisz), to grandma Lynn (Susan Sarandon) and younger sister Lindsey (Rose McIver), but the melodrama never really goes anyway. Even weaker are the inclusion of two of her school peers – romantic interest Ray (Reece Ritchie) and resident goth Ruth (Carolyn Dando) who drift in and out of the narrative with little significance.
Meanwhile, Susie is exploring a mystical purgatory filled with digital effects. It’s quite pretty and it’s fun to see how the relevant real world objects (a recorder, a rotunda) are inserted into the environment, but it doesn’t come close to the fantasy sequences in Heavenly Creatures and, all in all, seems like a waste of the $100 million budget.
The problem is the lack of focus. Is it that type of ghost story where the recently deceased has to learn to let go, or is it about the destruction left in the wake of such a shocking death? The Lovely Bones can’t seem to decide. The purgatory scenes very quickly become tiresome and the earthly drama simply isn’t complex enough to be satisfying.
I haven’t read the book but from the information I’ve pieced together from the net, Jackson and regular fellow screenwriters Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens have taken out great chunks of the story. This would normally make sense (hey, they did a superb job with Tolkien’s epic) but it feels like they’ve cut out too much here. If you add in the fact that Alice Sebold’s past experience (as outlined in ‘Lucky’) clearly colours the type of fiction she writes and how it makes me feel uncomfortable in the same way that anime’s fascination with the atomic bomb does, then you’ll understand why I was more than a little disappointed with The Lovely Bones.
There are great performances all round, and Stanley Tucci puts in an unrecognisable and incredible turn as the killer. Special mention should be made of McIver, whose ability to portray Lindsey from a 13 year old to her late teens is extraordinary. The cinematography and indeed the direction are spot on also, which makes the experience all the more frustrating (don’t even get me started on Brian Eno’s fantastic score). It’s just such a pity that the film feels so empty.Rating: