After powering my way through Alice Sebold’s brilliant novel The Lovely Bones last week, I was excited to see the film version because this book had been such a great read. I had a hard time ever putting it down.
While I never really expect films to live up to the books that they are based on, you never know, and sometimes they actually do an amazing job with the adaptation (i.e. Cider House Rules, The Hours).
I’m not going to say that The Lovely Bones is a terrible movie. It’s visually impressive and soundly acted, but I do think it’s also quite misguided. And I’m stumped, as I so often am, as to why somebody thought this book should be a movie. I held out hope that Peter Jackson would be able to balance the same intense themes as the novel, but it was all for naught: his big-screen version is ambitious, but it only shares such a small fraction of the story. Granted, I did just finish the novel yesterday so the details are all fresh in my mind. The changes and omissions made to the story probably bothered me even more on account of this.
Alice Sebold’s book is about things that we don’t want to see — like a little girl’s rape and murder — and about things we can’t see: what goes on in the heads of those left behind, which is often very different from what they’re saying and doing; and what might happen to the soul of a child, who just might be able to watch over her loved ones from someplace else. The book is a delicate, elaborate balancing act that works marvelously; Sebold writes in a way that draws us in to a sort of magical world she weaves with words. But it’s not meant to be taken literally — and Peter Jackson’s heavy-handed, CGI-laden vision really falls short, in my opinion. Jackson, whose visionary filmmaking has earned him massive acclaim in the past, creates a heaven of brilliant, surreal landscapes in which Susie and her fellow dead frolic. The best aspects of Sebold’s novel, though, are the poignant, sometimes illicit relationships that formed in the wake of Susie’s murder. The film focuses far too much on the fantastic Inbetween and not enough on earth. Susie’s family deals with her death each in their own ways, as all grieving people do. However, either to shorten the film’s length or secure a PG-13 rating, Jackson skips or glosses over many of the aspects of the novel that made it so horrific and beautiful. The result, as with so many book-to-film adaptations, is a pretty, superficial muddle.