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Peter Jackson's Movie Magic
on April 21, 2010
I know this movie got pretty mixed reviews and I expect that the Amazon reviews will reflect that. I've never read the book, in fact I'd never heard of the book before Peter Jackson started talking about adapting it to a movie. I didn't have any previous attachment to the source material that some viewers had, although I intend to catch up with them. I can only judge The Lovely Bones as a film, and as a film it is disturbing, sad, funny, and hopeful. Aside from Jackson himself, special mention must go to Saorise Ronan, who carries this whole thing despite a stellar cast of big names. Without Ronan as Susie Salmon, I don't think this movie would be what it is.
In case you don't know, Susie Salmon is your ordinary 14 year old girl in the year 1973. She loves taking pictures and she has a crush on Ray, an English boy from her school. She has a mom, a dad, a grandmother, a brother and a sister and their lives are completely normal, until Susie fails to come home from school one day.
It is every parents' nightmare and one that we see far too often in the news today. Susie's murder eerily echoes cases that we are all familiar with now, but weren't as well known when Jackson started this production. I wonder how much that has to do with the mixed reception and poor box office.
Jackson's direction is a mixed bag. It is at times heavy handed (red curtains, hmm, do you think that symbolizes anything?), and at times subtle and sublime. Jackson uses certain visual clues effectively (usually quickly and subliminally), and his scenery cannot be beaten. One can't help but notice the subtle colour changes when Susie ventures forth into that corn field, as if nature itself was warning her away. Of course, Jackson gets stellar performances from his cast, most impressive of which was Susan Sarandon as grandma. I've always thought Susan Sarandon was awesome and here she is the light within the shade. Mark Wahlberg is passable as the grieving, obsessed father. Rachel Weisz portrays the mother's grief in a completely different way, and is also quite excellent. One of my favourite Sopranos cast members, Michael Imperioli, shines as Detective Len Fenerman, but it is the unrecognizable Stanley Tucci who runs away with this movie. I can't describe what Tucci brings to the table as the neighbor, Mr. Harvey, except to say that it is the work of a total pro. Word has it that Tucci had to take long hot showers at the end of his work day just to wash away the vestiges of the character he was playing.
The film really takes off when Susie Salmon finds herself in the "in-between". It's not the real Earth which she can never return to, and it's not Heaven, but a place that is a little bit of both. As such it is a fantastical place, like any Heaven you have imagined, but not quite, and with reflections from the real world. And Susie doesn't intend to continue her journey into Heaven until she's taken care of some unfinished business. Ronan's narraration is the structure that holds the film together, and she does it really well.
One criticism that a few viewers had was Jackson's use of CG imagery in the in-between. Some felt it was a bit heavy-handed and didn't convey the wonder that it should. I would argue that this is a matter of taste. You may like it and you may not. For the most part, I found Jackson's in-between fascinating. It wasn't perfect, but I don't know what I would have done differently.
DVD special features include: Nothing! Nada! Zip! Go for Blu-Ray for that.
One thing I'm not sure about is the PG-13 rating. While there's nothing overly graphic in The Lovely Bones, parents should excersize caution. This movie has disturbing subject matter and scenes, and you should be aware of that before watching.
4 stars. Not the masterpiece that people tend to expect from Jackson, but certainly a beautiful piece of art.