Studio: Paramount Pictures
US Rating: PG-13 – For Thematic Material Involving Disturbing Violent Content and Images, And Some Language.
Film Length: 130 Minutes
Video: Color / 1080P High Definition 16X9 - 2.35:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, French, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish, and Brazilian Portuguese
“Holly said there was a wide, wide heaven beyond everything we knew; where there was no cornfield, no memory, no grave... but I wasn't looking beyond yet, I was still looking back.”
The Film: 3.5 out of 5
Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones is a strange dichotomy; an unusual and unexpected hybridization of his Lord of the Rings trilogy grand-mastery of visual effects and spectacle, with his small scale, local and intimate pre-trilogy work. Anyone who was aware of Jackson’s filmmaking gift from work as disparate as the wickedly entertaining gross-fest, Braindead (aka Dead Alive), and the triumphant Heavenly Creatures, which exclusive of the visual effects accomplished fantasy, is most akin, execution-wise, to The Lovely Bones, will appreciate this latest film on a few more levels. And yet, for all the technical skills and storytelling on many scales Jackson holds, this tale does not bring forth the very best in him.
American Author Alice Sebold’s novel of a young girl, Susie Salmon, who disappears one night on the way home from school, is a beloved and best-selling tale. The touching, and occasionally moving story of Suzie, who has been murdered by a creepy neighbor, (though the family holds out hope that she will one day be found alive), is an unexpected experience. As her disappearance turns her family inside out, Suzie is caught between the earthly world and the heavenly realm, and from there she narrates her story.
Jackson’s affection for the story is apparent in every frame, and his adapted screenplay, written with longtime partner Fran Walsh, retains the power of the source material; the emotional resonance, even if it portrays the poetry apparently somewhat differently. There is simplicity to Jackson’s approach. A dark tale embroiled in a hopeful cocoon. But the execution’s focus appears divided between creative pursuits. The majesty of the fantastical scenes of the world between is almost lyrical at times, while the family drama of life in the Salmon household addles from gritty familial distress, comedic mayhem montage, and investigative thriller. While disjointed would be an unfair choice of words, the film does not become the cohesive experience one might expect.
Performances are solid, with Saoirse Ronan’s portrayal of Suzie Salmon standing out as almost absolutely perfect. Supporting her are Mark Wahlburg as her tenacious, singularly focused father refusing to give up on finding her, Rachel Weitz as her mother struggling with the loss and the need for normalcy to return to her family’s life, Susan Sarandon as the boozing grandmother who comes to stay with the family to bring some unusual stability to the distressed Salmon household, and Stanly Tucci as George Harvey, the creepy, off-putting neighbor who caused the world to change for the Salmon family, and ends the life of little Suzie. Mention should also be made of Michael Imperioli who portrays the detective in charge of the case, and looks as though he was pulled directly from the set of the short-lived American remake of Life on Mars.
The Lovely Bones is not the best film, but is still quite good. It is stocked with both extraordinary fantastical jaunts and frustratingly uneven real-world execution; perhaps the byproduct of a film never quite sure what it wanted to be, or how it wanted to be seen and felt. Jackson so ably created a complex emotional connection onscreen between Naomi Watts’ Ann Darrow and the giant King Kong while expressing and exploring that unique emotional bond between us and the characters. Yet in The Lovely Bones, Jackson chooses a simpler and less appealing approach, telling what is in effect, a storybook tale; a traditional fairytale of sorts with a decidedly dark streak that does not always feel in sync. That dark streak is the uniqueness of Sebold’s story; the voice of the dead telling her tale with all the innocence and vulnerability of such a young soul. That approach, coupled with the express visual flights of fancy conjured by Sebold, is made evermore vivid, lavish, grand, and spectacular by Jackson’s own wild imagination (and the faithful skills of Weta Digital). Here the film excels.
In many ways, The Lovely Bones is a wonderful, intriguing experience. Its hope, faith, and majesty are instantly warming, and emotionally satisfying. But it is also a film that leaves you wanting, and at times, the balance between Suzie’s existence, that of the Salmon household, and the unsettling world of Stanley Tucci’s killer are so at odds – so different – that they present as being from different films.
The Video: 4.5 out of 5
Paramount Pictures brings the curious Lovely Bones to blu-ray with a faithful and impressive presentation. In its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, 1080p High Definition, this blu-ray retains the natural film grain, preserving the 70’s feel in which the film is set, and is abound with pronounced golds, blues, and grays. The fantasy sequences are naturally the most vibrant; bright, clean, and sharp with exquisite detail. The close ups in the film in particular reveal the quality of the presentation; hands and object are exposed of their qualities, and the results are superb.
The Sound: 4 out of 5
The Lovely Bones is presented with a full, deep, and crisply clear DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Brian Eno’s sublime and ethereal score is more contemporary-pleasing than his deeper library would indicate, is the audio’s highlight for me (and it is a crime that the score is not commercially available). Jackson’s propensity for close-quarter sounds is lessened in this film, but was still an opportunity for the audio to shine or fail; and it shines. The fantasy elements of the film allow swooping sounds, blustery gusts, and crashing waves (with enormous ships in bottles running ashore). The sound design delivers for this film, though not as intricate as the Lord of the Rings epics, the results are still very good.
The Extras: 3.5 out of 5
Filming The Lovely Bones (HD): An extensive production diary in 15 segments hosted by Peter Jackson and Philippa Boyens that follows the film’s shoot and post-production work on the visual effects. Perhaps one of the best making of documentaries I have seen in several years, and an involved, exceedingly interesting few hours. With an introduction by Peter Jackson himself, this is broken in to several sections (USA Principle Photography, New Zealand Principle Photography, and Visual Effects Photography).
Peter Jackson works hard to strike a number of alternating tones in The Lovely Bones; hope, horror, tragedy, fate; but the results are not always in keeping with the visual and emotional experience intended. The scene in which Suzie is lured by the unsettling neighbor is uncomfortable, tense, and chilling, and as a critical scene in the film, becomes about the killer and not, as it should have been, the victim. Perhaps by design, but the experience is not commensurate with the overall narrative of the film. The perspective is too much that of him, than of her.
There are genuinely triumphant moments, and the closing moments of the film are the pinnacle. The visual effects are bold, and Brian Eno’s score is weeping and elegant, and yet the sum of the many solid, and even exceptional parts, do not equal a triumph. Good, not great. Fine, but flawed.
Overall 3.5 out of 5