Peter Jackson “Bones” It Up

At the beginning of last year, I made a list of films that I was really looking forward to. One of them was “The Lovely Bones,” an adaptation of Alice Sebold’s bestselling novel, which I read and enjoyed. After all, what could possibly go wrong with director Peter Jackson, who helmed “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy?

A lot of things, apparently.

On December 6, 1973, 14-year-old Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) is raped and murdered by her neighbor George Harvey (Stanley Tucci). In death, she finds herself in the “in-between,” her own personal heaven, from where she can observe both Harvey, who has successfully covered his tracks, and her grieving family. Susie is torn between vengeance against Harvey and her desire for her family to heal from this terrible tragedy.

What’s most disappointing about “The Lovely Bones” is its script, which is a poor adaptation of Sebold’s novel. The novel delves into the minds of those who are affected by Susie’s death; the reader familiarizes himself with each of the characters. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t develop its characters thoroughly, nor does it focus enough on the Salmon family’s emotions and struggles, which are the novel’s backbone and soul.

“The Lovely Bones” predominantly follows Susie, her father Jack (Mark Wahlberg), her sister Lindsey (Rose McIver), and the killer Harvey. While the film does an excellent job with Susie, it simply skims the surface of the other three characters.

In the case of Jack and Lindsey, the film only uses the most important scenes regarding Susie’s murder and Harvey from the novel. Harvey, meanwhile, is reduced to being an archetypal murderer, whereas the novel depicts his traumatic and turbulent childhood.

The rest of the characters are merely mentioned and never followed. We only catch glimpses of the lives of mother Abigail (Rachel Weisz), grandmother Lynn (Susan Sarandon), brother Buckley (Christian Thomas Ashdale), love interest Ray Singh (Reece Ritchie), detective Len Fenerman (Michael Imperioli) and friend Ruth Conners (Carolyn Dando), who is the only person who can sense Susie’s presence.

As you can see, that’s a lot of people. They’re also supposed to be key characters in the novel. What are we supposed to make of them?

As Susie, Ronan proves to be one of the finest young actresses working today. She is marvelous as the young and innocent girl, and her emotions are incredibly convincing. In particular, the one scene where she realizes she has been murdered and screams in despair is purely devastating.

Though his character is underdeveloped, Tucci delivers a disturbing and terrifying tour-de-force performance as Harvey. His fake laughter is enough to make anyone uncomfortable, and to see him hiding and staring with a blank face creates a chilling atmosphere.

Wahlberg, well known for playing gritty, tough-guy characters, does well for his part. He effortlessly portrays the vulnerability and paternal instinct of a loving father, and the result is definitely one of his better performances.

Some of the cast could be better if their characters were more fleshed out. Weisz is good as Abigail, but she can’t communicate her inner struggle, even though she evokes the appropriate external shows of emotion. Imperioli is promising, but since his role is severely limited, he’s unable to show his true potential as Detective Fenerman.

And Poor Susan Sarandon – her role as Lynn has been reduced to comic relief, which doesn’t work at all and becomes an unnecessary tonal shift.

As for the rest of the cast, they’re pretty adequate for their roles. Their performances depend on how developed their characters are in the film, which in this case aren’t much. McIwen, Ritchie and Ashdale work well with what they have. Dando, on the other hand, is monotonous and doesn’t seem comfortable with her role.

Lately, all of Jackson’s films have been critically praised for their visuals. However, the visuals used to create heaven in “The Lovely Bones” are uninspired and sometimes even cheesy. One particular scene has Susie prancing on a globe, and the imagery is oddly similar to those peace posters with ethnically diverse children holding hands and standing around the earth.

Jackson still showcases his knack for creating suspenseful moments, like when Susie is lured into Harvey’s lair. His efforts in recreating ’70s America are commendable, as the real-world settings and costumes are believable. Brian Eno composes an emotional and haunting score, and Andrew Lesnie’s cinematography is evocative and magnificent.

Jackson has a tendency to be more concerned with visuals than character development, and it shows in “The Lovely Bones.” The film has an impressive cast, but falters on the characters and narrative. Indeed, Jackson should’ve realized that what made the novel so special was not an ethereal vision of heaven, but the emotional connections between the characters and the reader, which are absent here.