Tuesday, January 19, 2010

MidAisle Critic: A Return to Form- The Lovely Bones (2009)

The foundations of film and the foundations of novels are very different.

With that out of the way, The Lovely Bones (2009), is a jigsaw puzzle missing quite a few pieces. If not for a comparison with the novel, it would not be as important to state what works in this film and what doesn't.
The stirring novel revolving around the rape/murder of a young girl and her experiences in a world between heaven and earth whilst interacting with her grieving family and elusive killer. The Peter Jackson film seems a little bit watered down at times, and thus does not have quite the immense impact that Sebold's novel contains.

Many critics have complained about the overusage of cgi heaven sequences to add to the films "fantasy side", and while I agree with them, I would have to state that I believe the biggest issue revolves around what isn't in the film. (SPOILER:) Even the interactions between Michael Imperioli (who was gravely underused in my opinion, and the almost always fantastic Rachel Weisz, seemed underplayed. It becomes even more apparent after reading the book because within the film they never have the type of "relationship" that adds to the emotional breakdown of many of the characters. Even Mark Wahlberg's Jack seems to be missing some of the passion (later on in the film) that made the character so heart wrenching to read about in the novel. Its as if they are minor characters in a film where they are being showcased as the main cast.

With the complex nature of such a story one would assume that all elements would be accounted for, yet in Jackson's adaption- the loss of several key plot elements and the amping up of CGI spectacle actually drives the story away from many of its most memorable moments. However, the central plot of the novel revolves around Susie's death and the impact it has upon her family/killer and this stays relatively the same throughout the film version. The complex connection between killer and victim is actually the films strongest point, and manages to pull the film together as a single piece.

I can't say that the film was bad, because there were many elements that I thought were well done. I can say that the film isn't as good as the book, as many adaptions aren't these days. Many of the performances were quite notable including Stanley Tucci's creepy, sick, and downright scary Mr. Harvey; and Saorsie Ronan's Susie Salmon, that at least enables some of the elements of the novel (even if her narration lacked the vastness of her intuitive process). The film is enjoyable as a veritable "will the killer be caught" type of film, and Jackson attempts make a statement about the afterlife, even if it is never truly explained how the world really works. One particular scene that Jackson adds revolves around Susie reaching out from Heaven to her father in the forms of a flickering candle and a dead rose. These scenes actually do improve upon the descriptions given by Sebold by adding a subtle "otherworldly charm" that communicates more fluidly than any of the actual heaven sequences. In the opinion of this reviewer, I think that if more of the film was executed in the same way, we would have seen a much more faithful adaption. 

Overall, The Lovely Bones film is an interesting viewing experience that at least captures the main conflict in the novel, and does so because of the performances of Tucci and Ronan. I would recommend seeing the movie just to get a taste of all the complexities of the novel; but would ultimately recommend the novel (either before or after), to truly understand why this is such a gripping tale.