I just want to begin by saying that after seeing this today, the critics have been overly harsh toward Peter Jackson’s latest film, The Lovely Bones. Not having read Alice Sebold’s novel, I have heard from many who have that the book is quite difficult to adapt cinematically. In watching it, I could tell that it was and Jackson seemed to struggle with the source material at times. However, overall I found the film to be far better than what critics thought it was even though it contains serious flaws.

The Lovely Bones is set in 1973 and its about a typical teenage girl (Saoirse Ronan) who gets killed by a creepy neighbor (Stanley Tucci). The identity of her killer remains unknown and her body goes missing as her parents (Mark Wahlberg & Rachel Weisz) attempt to deal with her loss and try to find who killed her. The film alternates between the girl’s existence in the afterlife and the events that unfold back on Earth.

If there is one thing to praise over anything else in The Lovely Bones, it is Stanley Tucci’s mesmerizing performance as the murdering neighbor. Practically unrecognizable under his makeup, Tucci absolutely nails his part and it would be a shame for the Academy to overlook his performance. Tucci portrays the perfect creepy neighbor with a combover thinning hairstyle, big myopic glasses, KMart clothes, and a pedophile mustache. Like Christoph Waltz’s character in Inglorious Basterds, you look forward to every scene with the character. I believe that without Tucci’s strong performance, the film may not have been anywhere near as good as it ended up being.

The main character, Susie Salmon, is played by Saoirse Ronan, whom I expect we’ll be seeing more of in the near future. She does a good job playing Susie, but she fails to achieve the level of performance that I think her character required. I wanted to strongly empathize with her and be overwhelmed with emotion at the end. Although I did sympathize with her, I didn’t feel the sadness that Jackson obviously meant for his audience to feel. However, I liked Jackson’s choice to cast Ronan in the role. Her weakness in performance is made up by her striking physical features. Ronan has a wide-eyed innocence to her that fits her character. Her face somehow also fits the time period rather than it looking like the face of a modern teenage actress playing someone from the 70s (ex: Mila Kunis’ ill-fitting look for That 70’s Show).

As for the rest of the cast, Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz as the parents are fine, but what really stood out for me was Susan Sarandon. For a 64-year old woman, she can still exude a lot of sexiness. Sarandon plays the grandmother who comes in to take care of the family as it goes through the pains of dealing with the loss of their daughter. Sarandon is a chain-smoking, alcohol-drinking mess and its a delight seeing her play up her character.

This being a Peter Jackson movie, the visual effects are pure eye candy. Jackson paints a beautiful version of the afterlife thats filled with natural vistas and sentimental memories taken from Susie’s past. The scenes may come off as saccharine to some, but I mostly enjoyed these fantastical scenes with a few exceptions here and there. One gripe I had, however, was the lack of clarity in the events the girl was able to see back on Earth and how she was able to affect those events. I think this is where the difficulty of translating the book onto the screen becomes apparent. The film mostly lost me in the afterlife scenes where I knew what was being shown had a significance to it, but I couldn’t figure out what the significance was.

Paramount wisely put the first 30 minutes of The Lovely Bones online last night and I can see why. The first Act and the third Act are great. They are well-paced without any slow-down and they keep your attention. The second Act is what most people, including myself, have the most problem with. This is where the film really gets bogged down with visual effects and the film’s focus meanders aimlessly between the afterlife and the real world. Again, this is probably due to the difficulty of adapting the source material and it begs the question of whether Jackson or anyone should have tried adapting the book in the first place.

The Lovely Bones, despite its flaws, is a well-done movie that I still enjoyed, warts and all. True, a lot of its appeal lies in its visuals and not just in the CG effects of the afterlife, but also the look of the 70s that Peter Jackson so perfectly recreates. However, the film still managed to succeed in affecting me emotionally even though, given its subject matter, it should have pushed my emotional buttons more than it did. The film has its moments of brilliance (one great example is the scene where the girl’s sister is inside the killer’s house) and they are evidence of just how great of a filmmaker Peter Jackson is. Many will probably disagree with me on this, but I think Jackson probably made the best adaptation of the book that anyone could possibly have made and I think the film deserves more kudos than it has received.

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