Thanks to the Magic of 3-D CGI, Peter Jackson Makes a One-Dimensional 'Lovely Bones'

My Blue (Screen) Heaven
Thanks to the magic of 3-D CGI, Peter Jackson makes a one-dimensional Lovely Bones

A one-film cabinet of curiosities, The Lovely Bones turns the most successful CGI director of the N00s loose on one of the decadeNs prime literary phenomena: Cults collide as Peter “Lord of the Rings” Jackson tackles Alice SeboldNs best-selling New Age gothic, the story of a rape/murder/dismemberment and its aftermath, narrated by its 14-year-old victim from heaven.

A season that has already brought adaptations of a once-controversial classic picture book about a disturbed child and its grown-up Doomsday evil twin (“normal” child on the road in a disturbed world) is capped by a vision dramatizing the ultimate parental nightmare. In JacksonNs hands, The Lovely Bones is doubly appalling. Part DisneyNs Alice In Wonderland, part Fritz LangNs M—the movie is horrific yet cloying, alternately distended and abrupt, sometimes poignant and often ridiculous.

The Lovely Bones begins with a flurry of activity, both inside the snow globe thatNs introduced as a metaphor for the afterlife and outside in the prosaic, comforting suburban universe into which Susie (Saoirse Ronan) was born. The young actress, outstanding as the child snitch in Atonement, is engagingly hyper-expressive and the filmmaking is similarly kinetic, full of floating camera moves and breakneck cross-cutting. Jackson hits the high points of SusieNs young life, speeding toward her brutal demise—but not so quickly as to bypass the novelNs provocative cautionary setup.

Published in the aftermath of 9/11, The Lovely BonesN adroitly comforting synthesis of Our Town and Anne Frank was widely appreciated as a lyrical tale of grief and reconciliation, but it is also a malign fable of adolescent coming-of-age. SusieNs first kiss, about to be delivered by her first crush, is interrupted—and rudely de-romanticized—by the school principalNs irate tantrum over the anatomically correct female nude that SusieNs weird friend drew for art class. Ignoring this omen and walking on air in anticipation of her first date, Susie is enticed down the rabbit hole that her strenuously innocuous serial-killing neighbor (Stanley Tucci, barely recognizable and supremely creepy) has prepared as her death chamber. She leaves this world horrendously despoiled yet essentially innocent.

Punishing sexual curiosity is not a foreign notion for Jackson, who broke into movies making gross-out horror flicks. Fans will remember the scene in Dead Alive in which a chaste ladNs first kiss triggers his motherNs transformation into a flesh-eating zombie. Still, he has the tact to omit the gruesome details of SusieNs murder—and will later expunge the ludicrous scene in which Sebold allows the girlNs ecstatic return to earth.

Unfortunately, Jackson shows no such discretion in literalizing the novelNs vague metaphysics. Once upon a time—see his 1994 comedy of adolescent matricide, Heavenly Creatures—Jackson sensationally infused movie naturalism with garish special effects. Here, all is subservient to the digital splendors of SusieNs heavenly abode—a constantly mutating realm of spacious skies, purple mountains and undulating amber waves of grain, not to mention crystal beaches, foggy forests and the peripatetic cosmic gazebo from which she observes her family and murdererNs doings.

All characterizations are sacrificed to steep in SusieNs celestial surroundings. Initially touching, her parents (Rachel Weisz and Mark Wahlberg) are dwarfed by the ongoing pyrotechnics. Stealing scenes as SusieNs cheerfully dissolute grandma, Susan Sarandon struggles to provide the reality principle—in vain. Although the novel also drowned in a vat of syrup, Sebold got by for nearly 100 pages on the unsentimental clarity of her style and sustained verisimilitude of the narratorNs adolescent voice. Jackson demonstrates no such chops. Indeed, he consistently undermines the movieNs uncanny elements by overdramatizing events, such as SusieNs fleeting visitations, that have their own inherent power.

As the novel suggests a form of talk therapy, JacksonNs adaptation is a misguided tribute to the magic of the movies—which have always specialized in reanimating the dead. But there is something to be said for representing the actual world, and there are some things that can only be visualized in the mindNs eye. What heaven could have been more radiant than a childNs view of her suburban neighborhood—what spectacle more divine than SarandonNs wig?

The Lovely Bones was directed by Peter Jackson; written by Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, based on the novel by Alice Sebold; and stars Saoirse Ronan, Rachel Weisz, Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci and Susan Sarandon. Rated PG-13. Countywide.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *