Tuesday, 22 December 2009


Now Showing
Paramount Pictures

The major challenge presented to director Peter Jackson in choosing to adapt Alice Sebold's bestselling novel, The Lovely Bones, was always going to be in effectively balancing the Heaven-like world of the In-Between with that of the real world circa 1973.

The In-Between is where Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan), 14 years old and never been kissed, resides after she is murdered by a neighbour on her way home from school. Susie is kept in a state of flux as she has unfinished business on earth where her grieving family, including parents Abigail (Rachel Weisz) and Jack (Mark Wahlberg), struggle to come to terms with her absence.

Susie is our omnipotent narrator, not only watching over her family but her killer, Mr Harvey (Stanley Tucci), who continues living in the neighbourhood after the murder and soon sets his sights on Susie's younger sister, Lindsey (Rose McIver). Lyndsey, in turn, keeps a watchful eye on her odd neighbour whom she increasingly suspects of having something to do with her sister's death.

All of this sounds both heavy going and suspenseful, and it originally was in Sebold's book. But on screen, for whatever reason, there is no real sense of tragedy or grief (and only one real moment of suspense). Yes, the murder of a child is shocking, and too many movies of late have relied on this somewhat morbid device for easily accessing the audience's emotions. But I felt nothing watching Jackson's film which wasn't the case when I read the book. I particularly recall one scene where the father uses a board game to explain to Susie's little brother why she won't be coming home; it was truly heartbreaking.

That scene doesn't appear in the film and neither do some of the novel's other storylines. What does remain is the ending which, for me, was the book's great weakness. Jackson's weakness seems to be investing too much time in creating the In-Between – CGI-heavy, ever-changing backdrops reflective of Susie's consciousness – and not enough time investing his earthbound characters with beating hearts, however heavy with grief. So much so that when Susan Sarandon shows up, all false eyelashes and whisky breath as Grandma Lynn, her presence was no doubt intended to provide some light relief. But the lack of any real sadness to alleviate makes her performance just another of the film's incongruities.

Now, I'm not one of those people who scream bloody murder when a writer or director chooses to differ from the original source material when they adapt a book for the screen, cutting characters here and changing plot points there. But I think those who have not read Alice Sebold's novel may be able to engage The Lovely Bones much more easily than those of us who have. And for those who loved the original book, might I suggest you spend your Boxing Day reacquainting yourself with the original text.

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