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'The Lovely Bones' Is Visually Beautiful, But Could Have Been So Much Better

Evan Crean Evan Crean
January 14th, 2010 11:00am EST
The Lovely BonesPeter Jackson's "The Lovely Bones" is one of the prettiest films I've ever seen. Aside from lovely aesthetics though, the movie is a disjointed mess, which leaves you wandering in the hereafter with unanswered questions.

Set in the early 1970s, Jackson makes it appear visually as if it brushed up against the era, absorbing its bright colors and remnants of energy from the 1960s. The shots have such beautiful intense color throughout the film, especially during the lighthearted periods.

It's established early on in the narrative that Suzie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan), the main character, is in fact dead; she was murdered by her neighbor when she was just 14 years old. She backtracks and recounts to the audience what her life was like leading up to her death.

Suzie "Salmon like the fish" as she refers to herself, lives the ideal suburban teenage life with her siblings and parents played by Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz. Her parents are caring but not overly meddlesome in her affairs. They assume a certain level of safety is given to children in their small community.

The young Suzie spends her time dabbling in photography in the hopes of preparing for a future career as wildlife photographer. She deals with typical adolescent issues like trying to build up the courage to talk to her crush: Ray Singh, an English boy in her film club. After she discovers the attraction is mutual however, she finds herself too shy to kiss him in the moment before they make plans for a date.

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As Suzie leaves school that day in a bit of a daze, she is caught walking alone through a corn field by her neighbor, the already identified murderer George Harvey (Stanley Tucci), who lures her into an underground structure.

This particular scene builds a lot of tension and is difficult to watch since you know the outcome, but it takes the easy way out by avoiding the gruesome details. We don't witness any details of the murder and the rape that are part of the book on which the movie is based.

For the rest of the film we follow Suzie on a journey through the land between heaven and earth as she roams wide expanses. The special effects used to create Suzie's world look fantastic, creating vivid environments that look like they would be fun to explore.

The film doesn't explain any of this place's rules, and in some instances it doesn't tie Suzie's narration back coherently into what's happening back in the real world.

Suzie watches from the afterlife as those around her try to cope with her death. Her crush Ray falls in with a girl named Ruth Connors who can communicate with the dead. We know that Ruth can see Suzie, though her abilities or even the degree to which she can see Suzie are annoyingly never fleshed out.

The Salmon family suffers a great deal as they try to handle Suzie's death. Her mother retreats from the household while her father becomes consumed with trying to find her killer. Everyone seems to fall to pieces, even after her father enlists the help of her grandmother (Susan Sarandon) to help the two remaining children.

There are indications that Suzie's family can see her, like one scene where her father seems to see her through a window, or another when her little brother references where she is, neither of which are given proper explanation.

Since the police never find Suzie's body they are unable to find any evidence to conduct a serious investigation. In the meantime, George Harvey roams free, plotting future dastardly deeds. After a time however, the Salmons start to suspect Harvey in Suzie's death and work to prove it.

Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz do a pretty good job as Suzie's parents. They each convey the right level of grief that shows a physical toll in their faces at the film carries on.

Stanley Tucci is intensely creepy as Suzie's murderer George Harvey. He represents every scary neighbor archetype you can think of out of movies and television.

Profoundly diabolical and disgusting he steals the show from the other main characters. You can almost say the attention focuses so heavily on him it tilts the tone of the movie more toward a serial killer thriller than something more supernatural.

Starring as the booze and pill addled grandmother, Susan Sarandon is comical but completely out of place in this film. Injecting her dose of kooky parenting into her grandchildren's lives creates humor that feels entirely inappropriate considering the dark overall theme.

Peter Jackson's direction on "The Lovely Bones" gave me high expectations for the project considering his previous resume. As a result, I feel like this film had potential to be so much better than it actually turned out to be.

Its strong aesthetics took forefront, and a well developed story took a backseat. "The Lovely Bones" wastes too much time on superficial elements without developing logical aspects of the story, which makes it come off more like a heavy handed thriller than a supernatural thought provoking tale.

My Grade: C-



The Lovely Bones

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Evan Crean
Story by Starpulse contributing writer Evan Crean, a movie trivia guru and trailer addict with a practically photographic memory of actors and directors. Get a first look at the movies premiering each week, which ones will be worth your $10, which ones you should wait to rent and which ones aren't worth your time.