Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones isn't a perfect novel, and even it had been, that wouldn't stop Hollywood from trying its hand at bringing the ambitious and sprawling suburban tragedy to life. It's the story of a young girl, Susie Salmon (played well by Saoirse Ronan), murdered as a teenager and left to linger in a realm beyond her mourning family and the local culprit; the tale spans generations and keenly observes how grief can fundamentally change lives and what growth can come from a loss.
But this is Peter Jackson's, not Alice Sebold's Lovely Bones, and, as one might expect from the man who terrifically adapted the fantastical likes of The Lord of the Rings for mass consumption, his priorities dwell more with bringing Susie's so-called 'in-betweenâ?� to vivid life rather than grounding the lives of those left behind.
The visual effects rendered by Jackson's pals over at Weta Digital are top of the line. Susie dwells on a restless landscape, prone to changing like so many screen savers and adorned by some very literal souvenirs from the young girl's time on Earth. (If Susie used to build miniature ships in glass bottles with Dad, you can bet that they'll come crashing up on a nearby shore.) When she's forced to confront the similar ends that victims like her met, it makes for chilling, seamless scenery. However, when she's dancing around in a hyper-disco dream, it's distracting to the point of making the viewer wonder if there really are green screens waiting for everyone in heaven.
But Susie's not in heaven just yet ' not until she gets some justice back home. Her killer (Stanley Tucci, masked beneath make-up and a relentless array of not-quite-right mannerisms), maintains his low profile, casting an eye on Susie's sister (Rose McIver) and catching the attention of her father (Mark Wahlberg, driven and earnest to a fault). Mom (Rachel Weisz) doesn't stay in the picture long, leaving Susie's grandmother (Susan Sarandon, boozing it up as the lone comic relief) to keep the Salmon home in order. Aside from Tucci and Wahlberg, the characters are given the scantest of agendas (or none, in Weisz's case), hence Tucci's and Wahlberg's performances are left to sway the picture from solemn drama to murder mystery with what little force they can muster.
Jackson's crime isn't that there's so much style dominating the proceedings, but that there's so little substance left in the translation. Parts are sad in the way that any story of a murdered child is a sad one, and an admittedly effective home invasion sequence is taut in the squeaky-floorboards sense. Susie offers the same explanation for the title that she did on the page: that all these events and all those relationships have grown out of her death. But by the end of Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones, there's remarkably little meat left on them.
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