The Lovely Bones

Peter Jackson ruins a beloved novel with crappy CGI and a confusing screenplay.

By Sean Burns
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 12 | Posted Jan. 12, 2010

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Fish face: Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) is raped and murdered in the 1970s, but lives on in Peter Jackson’s CGI heaven.

Oh dear goodness, what happened here?

New Zealand’s rowdy, splatter-movie hero turned tedious Oscar-feted golden boy Peter Jackson took on Alice Sebold’s beloved novel, and accidentally came up with the kind of shriekingly awful movie that only somebody passionately convinced of his own genius could make. The Lovely Bones isn’t just a lousy picture, it’s so epically bad that it feels legendary. Already a punchline among industry folks, the film’s planned December expansion was scuttled after early screenings ended in peals of derisive laughter.

(Yes, I was there, and indeed found myself cackling at the top of my lungs. So if you’d like to blame me for this mawkish, fanciful tale of a child’s rape and murder not ending up in your Christmas stocking like a lump of coal, I’ll gladly take responsibility. You’re welcome.)

Sebold’s novel is the tragic tale of young Susie Salmon, a precocious youngster who falls victim to a neighborhood pedophile (Stanley Tucci, oozing evil from his fake moustache) and never escapes the dastardly pervert’s bizarre underground playroom. How such a fidgety weirdo could construct such an elaborate death trap beneath a mysteriously abandoned cornfield without attracting attention is never explained, nor do we have any idea why exactly any child in his or her right mind would ever go anywhere with this creep.

Alas, Saoirse Ronan’s monotonal Susie soon finds herself stuck in “the in-between” which is a lot like heaven, except with crappier CGI. Surrounded by giant, garish computer-generated ships-in-bottles and fantasy visions of a date with her goofy boyfriend, young Miss Salmon’s sorry afterlife outdoes the notorious Robin Williams weep-a-thon What Dreams May Come for tacky special-effects netherworlds. She’s even got a plucky Chinese sidekick, conveniently also murdered by Tucci, on hand for words of wisdom.

The horrifically miscast Mark Wahlberg (stepping in for Ryan Gosling, who walked off the project after a sudden attack of common sense) plays Susie’s father, maniacally grieving, smashing props and attempting to solve his daughter’s murder on his own. The town’s head homicide detective ( The Sopranos ’ Michael Imperioli) is too distracted by the affair he’s having with Mrs. Salmon (Rachel Weisz) to do much investigative work, and sadly nobody ever thought to question Tucci’s mouth-breathing, dollhouse-building pervert for more than a couple of minutes.

Did I mention there’s also a teenage psychic who broods like Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club ? No, I don’t know how she fits in here either.

Jackson’s film is such a fiasco, it never even figures out what story it’s trying to tell. His is the tragic saga of a director so fascinated by computer-generated bells and whistles that he’s forgotten all about the fundamentals of filmmaking. Every shot is a trick shot; Jackson’s camera swoops in circles and upside down, dwelling on blindingly enhanced colors and garish, phony vistas. The 1970s period trappings feel like loud wallpaper, but at least they allow Wahlberg to reclaim his Dirk Diggler haircut from Boogie Nights .

Just when you think things can’t get any more embarrassing, Susan Sarandon turns up as the dead girl’s drunken, slutty grandmother, glammed-out and chain-smoking, owning a spectacularly awful slapstick montage in which she attempts to perform household tasks, failing miserably. Yes, we must grieve for a child who was raped and murdered, but let us first giggle at trashed Sarandon trying to work a retro washing machine. Is there anyone in charge of tone here?

The Lovely Bones is silly. Let’s just admit that Peter Jackson—a filmmaker who was previously lauded for zombie flicks and adolescent pleasures—somehow dragged out the Lord of the Rings saga to 10 hours, and remade King Kong in such a fashion that it took twice as much time to watch as the original, yet wasn’t nearly as good. He’s an infant sitting at the grown-up table, and The Lovely Bones proves once and for all he has no business making movies for adults.

The film’s final collision of plot contrivances, in which Susie’s plucky little sister solves the mystery at the exact moment Mrs. Salmon moves back home is so unremittingly hilarious, all I could think of was the fantastic satirical sequence in Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call-New Orleans , when every story strand is miraculously wrapped up while Nicolas Cage sits at his desk musing: “So I guess everything worked out okay, then?”

The Lovely Bones is many things, but it’s not “okay.” D+

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Comments 1 - 12 of 12
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1. Steve said... on Jan 23, 2010 at 07:15AM

“Did your editor write the byline "ruins a beloved novel"? Because most of the problems you had with the film were in the book.

You don't seem to have paid much attention to the film or Jackson's career. Your problems seem to be personal preferences not 'objective' problems. You just say it's crappy and confusing and don't offer good examples.”

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2. BVB said... on Jan 23, 2010 at 12:03PM

“That is a spectacularly wonderful review. Insightful in a way that had me reading sentences twice, so I could feel the thunderbolt again.

Glad I'm not the only one who didn't drink the Peter Jackson Cool Aid.”

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3. Phil said... on Apr 18, 2010 at 11:05AM

“Its film critics like Burns that stall out great movies ever being seen in the United States. What ridiculous power they wield. There are loads of great movies we simply never see; movies that touch on historic as well as current issues our society is struggling with. I guess the dumbing down of America by the media (and of course their tame film critics) continues unabated. There's actually a lot more to us - and in us - than the rah, rah, America-does everything society that people like Burns and his ilk want to promote.

Sean Burns should turn his dubious talents to something that adds value to our world; something perhaps that sparks as much passion and enthusiasm as Peter Jackson's work.”

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4. Anonymous said... on Apr 25, 2010 at 08:04AM

“this reviewer should have their reveiws skewered in the same fashion that he rips Jackson and everything he has done. how about watching the movie and forgetting who the director is? I bet if someone else had directed it he would have liked it.”

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5. perrocaliente said... on May 20, 2010 at 09:57AM

“Peter Jackson apparently thinks filling time with a lot of computer generated eye candy can properly substitute for proper character development in telling this story. With the exception of the killer, the rest of the characters were left to basically sleepwalk through their roles, and consequently I never felt liked I cared in the least what happened to them. The father, moping around building his ships in a bottle, the mother who runs away to become a fruit picker, and oh yes the crazy, whacky, zany, madcap grandmother all just seem to be taking up space and wasting our time here. I have never been so glad to see a movie end (and even the ending was dissatisfying).”

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6. Casey Clark said... on May 20, 2010 at 08:37PM

“Bravo. I read this review. Then I read it to my wife because I liked it so much. Awful, awful movie. But this review almost makes up for it. Well done.”

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7. eddieB said... on May 25, 2010 at 12:44AM

“I actually didn't know Peter Jackson was the director, and I had pretty much the same reaction as Sean Burns. In other words, I wasn't thinking, as perhaps some of you were, I can't wait to see Peter Jackson show his softer side. If heaven is like living in a Claritin commercial, well, at least I won't have to deal with my allergies.”

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8. eff said... on Oct 18, 2010 at 06:25PM

“What's hilarious is that all the things you talk about being unbelievable and bad in the movie, were in the book too. And I'm one of the few who thought the book was pretty awful, not so 'beloved,' so I really appreciate this review.”

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9. Jazzman said... on Dec 9, 2010 at 02:14PM

“All I can say is that as I was reading this review all I could think about is that this critic sounds like a D-bag that I would never like to meet. The hate talk about Peter Jackson's work makes me think that this critic is a sorry fool that never made it into his dream job (Movie Making) and had to settle for a d-bag critic with juvenile comments. But that was just the first thought that popped into my head as I was reading this review. I don't like all of Peter Jackson's movies, but I will ever be grateful to Peter Jackson for bringing The Lord of The Rings to life.”

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10. Anonymous said... on Jan 9, 2011 at 11:54PM

“this is a great movie, you need a new career”

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11. Anonymous said... on Mar 17, 2011 at 08:39PM

“Odd that I don't remember there being a mention of the affair in the movie and some of your issues seem to be with the actual plot, which a lot of it is straight from the book. You're just that new generation of internet douche bag who thinks just because the web's given him a voice he's supposed to complain about any and everything like Maddox or something.”

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12. Anonymous said... on Mar 21, 2011 at 12:35AM

“wow! this was an extremely immature and poor review. first of all "what dreams may come" was an awesome movie very well made. 2nd "lord of the rings" is the best trilogy of this lifetime! i was deeply saddened it had to come to a close. as well done as that movie i would have happily watched 20 hours of it if lasted that long! i haven't read the book for "the lovely bones" however i did like the movie. granted it wasn't the best movie i have watched but it wasn't anywhere near as awful as you make it out to sound. sounds like you need to go back educate yourself a bit more before trying to write reviews because this only showed a poorly educated point of view.”


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