There’s a sweetness to Alice Sebold‘s 2002 mega-bestseller “The Lovely Bones” that belies the story of a young girl’s brutal rape and killing. That same sweetness, so magnificently captured on the page, is missing from Peter Jackson‘s film adaptation of Sebold’s book.
At the center of The Lovely Bones is Susie Salmon (Atonement‘s Saoirse Ronan), who will forever be 14, her age when a serial killer makes her his latest victim. Trapped between heaven and Earth, Susie witnesses how grief affects each of her loved ones differently, from a father (Mark Wahlberg) hell-bent on finding his daughter’s killer to a mother (Rachel Weisz) who grows more distant every day. Susie can do little more than chronicle a future she never had the chance to live, acting as a frustrated narrator with the power to comfort her family and identify her killer if she could only bridge the seemingly short distance between them.
Jackson has two worlds to create in The Lovely Bones: the limbo Susie inhabits and the increasingly changed world she left behind. As evidenced in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and King Kong, Jackson has no trouble creating rich, vibrant worlds filled with strange creatures and mind-boggling visuals. Yet while his hyperactive imagination worked so well in his prior projects, it’s one of the reasons The Lovely Bones fails. His technique hasn’t faltered — the end result is still stunning — but a tree transforming into a flock of birds or a giant ship-in-a-bottle crashing onto a beach feel like grand visuals for the sake of inserting grand visuals. When narrative takes a backseat to pretty pictures and neither plot nor the characters are advanced in any way, it’s the equivalent of using something shiny as a distraction, or what the TV show Glee would call “hairography.”
To read the rest of Tim’s review, hop on over to Metro Weekly, where his article is currently running.