Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Lovely Bones

Running Time: Two hours and fifteen minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13

Susie Salmon should be falling in love. She should be hanging out with her friends, having dinner with her family, and keeping up with the 1973 pop culture and fashion like any other 14 year old girl of the time. Instead, her life is cut short by a monstrous neighbor, leaving Susie to watch the impact that her murder has on her friends, family and killer from her own unique afterlife.

The Lovely Bones is an adaptation of a 2002 best-selling novel of the same title, updated to film by the team behind the Lord of the Rings trilogy, King Kong, and (in 2011 and 2012) the Hobbit films. They are, of course, no strangers to adapting works of other mediums into movies. However, they've taken a bit of a misstep with this one. Using their creative license, Peter Jackson and the other writers have shifted the story's focus from a family's methods of coping with tragedy into one that never has a full realization of what it's about.

The title of the book, The Lovely Bones, refers to the growth of Susie's family and friends after they fall apart in mourning for the young girl. In the movie, they never make that recovery because they never lose themselves enough to create a need to recover. All sex, guilt, back-story, and the reasoning behind certain relationships are removed in order to make a PG-13 film with plenty of time for Jackson to play around with the special effect-laden heaven.

The magnificent acting of Saoirse Ronan as Susie Salmon and Stanley Tucci as George Harvey (her killer) hold the film together, though, and provide the emotional depth needed to keep the audience intrigued. Mark Wahlberg and Susan Sarandon also play interesting and contrasting roles as Susie's grieving father (bent on catching the killer, whom he believes to be Mr. Harvey) and her eccentric grandmother, who provides useful advice to the characters and comic relief from the depressing story to the audience.

While not bad per se, The Lovely Bones is only a shell of its source material. Crammed down from an eight year timeline to less than one, it is rushed and unfulfilling. Those unable to read the book may find this to be a tofu of sorts, providing at least a substitute for a better option. But for everybody else it will prove, once again, that the original is (almost*) always better.

*see Youth in Revolt review

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