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The Lovely Bones

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The Sweet Hereafter.

That other “vaguely religious-themed movie” I mentioned I saw between The Book of Eli and Legion? That would be Peter Jackson’s well-meaning, meandering adaptation of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones. And in all honesty, given the atrocious reviews it received, The Lovely Bones was better and more enjoyable than I had feared going in. Still, it works better as What Dreams May Come-style eye candy than as a movie on its own terms.

Put simply, the main problem here is the source material. Even more than John Hillcoat’s take on The Road, which I thought was an admirable adaptation of a so-so tome, The Lovely Bones the movie is, imho, about a good a film as you could make from such a lousy and overrated book. Now, I understand Sebold’s novel has spoken to a lot of people. But I am not one of those people. I found it to be ghastly, overwritten. Oprahesque nonsense, and finishing the durned thing felt like a chore. And even with PJ at the helm, sadly, The Lovely Bones remains several hours of mostly needless despair-pr0n.

If you haven’t read the book, the gist is this: It’s early December, 1973, and our 14-year-old narrator, Susie Salmon (here, a very good Saiorse Ronan, formerly of Atonement), one day makes the mistake of following her creepy neighbor (Stanley Tucci) into his newly-constructed evil underground lair. There, she is raped and murdered. (This grisly event takes us to about page 20, iirc.) Susie goes to Heaven — or a Heaven-like Limbo, in any event — while her family grieves and gnashes and laments and wails for 300 pages. Oh, and eventually there’s some ghost sex. Yes, really.

Fair enough, but how do they gnash and wail? Well, Ma Salmon (Rachel Weisz) refuses to deal with the loss and its consequences — She turns Susie’s room into an untouched tomb, has an escapist affair with the detective on the case (Michael Imperioli), and eventually runs off to pick grapes somewhere. Pa Salmon (Mark Wahlberg) handles it even worse — The murder upsets his primal sense of order about the universe, and he obsessively tracks down the killer on his own for years to come. Grandma (Susan Sarandon) moves in to try to fill the void left by the distant parents, when she’s sober. And Susie’s siblings, Lindsey (Rose McIver) and Buckley (Christian Thomas Ashdale), grow up and live their lives, although Lindsey has some sneaking suspicions about the creep next door…

Peter Jackson and his LotR writing team (Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens) have made a few changes here and there. Most notably (and very thankfully), Susie’s rape is now only vaguely implied rather than shown. (To those who question this change, I’m with Ronan: What in blue blazes is wrong with you?) Here, Susie’s murder is quite gracefully handled, although I could’ve done with less spider-toying-with-the-fly type stuff before the horrible deed is committed. And Ma Salmon’s romance with the detective is gone — now it’s just occasional long looks. Otherwise, they follow what I remember of the book pretty closely here.

Which is a lot of the problem. Like the book, The Lovely Bones is mostly inchoate and shapeless. As in the novel, there’s no real through-line or sense of momentum in the story. It moves without purpose — Time passes, stuff happens. Look, Susie is playing in her beautiful heaven…oh wait, she’s sad…hey, let’s have a grandma montage…ok, Tucci is still creepy…hey, look, more heaven….oooh, Marky Mark is on the warpath…and so on. I suspect folks who complain about the last thirty minutes of Return of the King will not have much fun with this one — the whole movie has that languid, meandering, “oh and another thing” feel to it.

That being said, The Lovely Bones is quite pretty to look at. (Thanks, Team WETA!) Despite the awfulness of the subject matter, Bones has a very crisp and colorful presentation that soothes the eye even as the story bogs down. And the performances are all pretty good here — especially Ronan — with one minor exception. His Oscar nod aside, Stanley Tucci is probably the weak link here. Like Peter Sarsgaard in An Education, he’s way too much of an off-putting mouth-breather to take seriously. Playing the killer as more sociable and self-assured — like Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu in the original version of The Vanishing — would’ve added a lot more menace to this thankless character.

So, given what he had to work with here, I thought Peter Jackson et al actually turned in a pretty quality product. (The real problem was trying to adapt Sebold’s book in the first place.) So, no harm, no foul, so to speak: The Lovely Bones is by no means a bad movie — It just sorta is. If you really want to see Peter Jackson tackle a story involving fantastical visions, teenage girls, and unspeakable acts of murder, I’d recommend his earlier classic, Heavenly Creatures. As for Bones, my thoughts on it are pretty much akin to my sneaking suspicions about a film I haven’t yet seen, Lee Daniels’ Precious. In this world, sadly, really horrible things happen to good and innocent people every single day…but that doesn’t mean we have to wallow in the fact.

Heavenly Creature.

A murdered Saiorse Ronan settles into her own personal Heaven — as her family languishes in purgatory — in the long-awaited trailer for Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones, also with Mark Wahlberg (not Ryan Gosling), Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci, Rose McIver, Amanda Michalka, and Michael Imperioli. I wasn’t a fan of the Alice Sebold novel, to be honest, but I’m very curious to see what PJ & Fran (& Brian Eno) have come up with here.

Next Stop Wonderland(s).

In the trailer bin of late:

  • She’s given up, stop: Mia Wasikowska, a.k.a. Alice, takes a tumble down the rabbit hole anew in our first look at Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, also with Johnny Depp (frontlined a bit much here), Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen, Christopher Lee, Alan Rickman, Matt Lucas, Crispin Glover, Noah Taylor, and Timothy Spall. (Looks like a good start, although clearly there is still much CGI-rendering to do.)

  • In a post-apocalyptic wasteland, where naturally Gary Oldman is up to no good, a Mad Maxish Denzel Washington may be carrying the secret to something-or-other in the trailer for the Hughes Brothers’ The Book of Eli, also with Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson, Jennifer Beals, Frances de la Tour, and Michael Gambon. (It’s good to see the Hughes, of From Hell and the underrated Menace II Society, back behind the camera. But I’m betting this’ll seem a bit been-there-done-that, coming so soon after John Hillcoat’s The Road.)

  • Kate Beckinsale uncovers something deadly, dark, and dangerous in the furthest reaches of Antarctica in the straight-to-video-ish trailer for Dominic Sena’s Whiteout, also with Gabriel Macht and Tom Skerritt. (It looks like The Thing, with shower scenes. Beckinsale is probably one of my bigger movie star crushes, but lordy, the woman needs a new agent.)

    And, as Comic-Con 2009 is just kicking off:

  • Pushing Neil Blomkamp’s District 9, Peter Jackson talks The Hobbit and Tintin. (Apparently, the script for The Hobbit is three weeks away, and four or five of the 13 dwarves have been front-lined. Spielberg has finished a first cut of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn, and The Lovely Bones comes out Dec. 11, with a trailer Aug. 6.)

  • Jonah Hex gets a poster that is sadly devoid of Malkovich. (For what is here, the scar looks decent enough, Megan Fox in anything gives me pause (but I guess she’s a hot ticket after the Transformers sequel made so much bank), and the lettering looks a bit futuristic for the property…unless they’re going post-Crisis Hex.

  • TRON 2.0, a.k.a. TR2N, is now called the much-more-boring TRON LEGACY. But, hey, at least they’re not abusing the colon…yet. (More TRON news, of sorts, in the post below, and, since the weekend is young, undoubtedly more Comic-Con news to come.) Update: The TR2N footage that premiered last Comic-Con is now — finally — up in glorious Quicktime.

  • The Ambient Bones.

    As discovered while tracking down the first three Coraline posters above: In an intriguing meeting of the minds, it seems Peter Jackson has locked down the very talented Brian Eno to score The Lovely Bones for him.

    For a possible taste of things to come, you really can’t go wrong with “By this River” (or anything off of 1977’s Before and After Science, for that matter) or “And Then So Clear,” from 2005’s Another Day on Earth.) As these two songs suggest, Eno will no doubt come up with something appropriately ethereal, evocative, otherworldly, and beautiful for Jackson’s long-awaited adaptation.

    One Man’s Heaven.

    A doctrinal schism in Wellington? Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones goes on filming hiatus while PJ and his art director clash over their respective visions of Heaven. (Somewhere, Howard Shore nods ruefully.) Earlier, the project was stalled by Ryan Gosling leaving over “creative differences” the day before shooting, to be replaced by Mark Wahlberg (a la Stuart Townsend and Viggo Mortensen.) Take note, Mr. del Toro, before you rush to embrace animatronics

    Mummies to bones.

    Can’t say I’m all that excited about the project, but I am obviously a fan of the director: The lovely Rachel Weisz joins Peter Jackson’s version of The Lovely Bones, as the mother of the narrator, it seems.

    She’s De-Lovely.

    The LotR team — PJ, Fran, and Phillipa — have announced their first post-Kong project and, as rumored, it’ll be The Lovely Bones. Judging a book by its cover blurb, the story — about a murdered 14-year old girl watching her killer from Heaven — sounds Oprah-esque and precious to me (and not in the Gollum sense.) But then again, I haven’t read it. If nothing else, the project does seem ripe for some Heavenly Creatures-like FX throughout.

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