Early Buzz on THE LOVELY BONES

     November 24, 2009

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Earlier today we ran a story featuring a new poster and two new clips from Peter Jackson’s upcoming adaptation of Alice Sebold’s novel The Lovely Bones.  While a couple of the reviews are glowing, the others range from negative to lukewarm with the nature of the adaptation and the emphasis on the visuals as a major point of contention.  Hit the jump to read excerpts from the reviews of Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Total Film, Screen Daily, The Guardian, The Sun, and AintItCool.

For those who aren’t aware of the story, The Lovely Bones centers on Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan), a young girl in 1973 who is murdered by her neighbor (Stanley Tucci) and watches from heaven of how the loss affects her family, friends, and even her killer.  I found Sebold’s book hard to read at times due to its unblinking observation of incomprehensible loss friends and family feel at her murder.  The opening sentence perfectly clues in and hooks the reader: My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.

lovely_bones_peter_jackson_movie_image_01.jpgNow that Jackson has made his adaptation, early reviews are decidedly mixed.

Variety and The Guardian come down negatively on the film.  Todd McCarthy of Variety says that, “Jackson undermines solid work from a good cast with show-offy celestial evocations that severely disrupt the emotional connections with the characters.”  The Guardian’s Xan Brooks has this to say:

Here, [Jackson] audaciously conjures up heaven as designed by a teenage girl – a kitsch spread of sunflower fields, spinning turntables and the sort of airbrushed waterfalls that could have spilled straight off an Athena poster. All of which is entirely fitting, and often captivating. The problem, though, is that The Lovely Bones also gives us a real world as designed by a teenage girl. The land that Susie leaves behind is so infested with cartoon archetypes and whimsical asides that, at times, it scarcely feels real at all.

Unlike Brooks, whose main issue seems to be with the narrative itself, Screen Daily’s Mike Goodridge feels that there is a strong story but Jackson undermines it with an over-reliance on special effects:

The power of the story of a young family devastated by murder is undeniable and the blockbuster film-maker demonstrates subtlety and tenderness in his treatment of the emotive subject matter. But he also almost blows it all with his afterworld special effects, smothering Sebold’s delicate conceit with overblown visuals and ostentatious CGI.

The Lovely Bones movie image Stanley Tucci.jpgGoodridge compares Susie’s personal heaven to the one of Vincent Ward’s 1998 Robin Williams film What Dreams May Come.  Jamie Graham of Total Film makes the same comparison but in a strongly positive review in which he concludes:

Some will label it What Dreams May Come 2, and even those plugged in might experience a short circuit splutter come the 12-hankie denouement. But many more – the book’s fans, certainly – will exit exalted.

Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter feels differently when it comes to how fans of the book will respond.  Says Honeycutt:

This was never going to be an easy story to film. Using the same characters and many events, Jackson and his team tell a fundamentally different story. It’s one that is not without its tension, humor and compelling details. But it’s also a simpler, more button-pushing tale that misses the joy and heartbreak of the original.

Harry Knowles of Ain’t It Cool News and “The Sneak” of The Sun have gushing praise for the film, but I haven’t quoted them since I don’t think their reviews are too suspect for consideration.  Knowles’ reputation as a gushing fanboy precedes him and The Sun requires a hot topless, busty lady on the third page of every issue to sell papers.  I’m not saying either of these is inherently bad; I just don’t turn to them as trusted voices of film criticism.

In the meantime, I will remain hopeful for the film but I do wonder if these reviews signal where other critics will land with their opinions.  It’s important to note that all of the reviews mentioned in this article praised the work of Ronan and Tucci.

The Lovely Bones hits theaters on December 11th.

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