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"Bones" Lacks Marrow of Book This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

I could believe in the unreal if given the right materials. I sometimes muster up faith in the magical. I always live for surreal experiences. But when we’re talking about movies, it isn’t my job to sit in the theatre, close my eyes and imagine something better; it is a burden of the director to suspend my disbelief and blow my mind for $10.50. Unfortunately, Peter Jackson has defied his admired reputation with this imitation of a disappointing magician, and The Lovely Bones makes me gasp less than it makes me sigh.

Alice Sebold released The Lovely Bones in 2002, and since then it has accumulated a number of fans and critics, personally recruiting me to both groups. The story spotlights a fictional 14-year-old girl, awkwardly named Susie Salmon, who is physically violated and murdered by her creeper neighbor. It takes a turn for the surreal when the naive protagonist looks down from the “in-between,” the realm after life but before heaven, to reflect upon her short life and observe those dealing with her death.
Ordinarily such a plot structure would be the skeleton for a fleshier story, and the novel comes closer to achieving substance than the film ever gives itself a chance to, but neither develops into the muscular meat that has potential to stain the artistic community eternally. Jackson’s film is simply a horrific mutation of the book.
Even when disregarding the unfit casting of obnoxiously twiggish and underdeveloped Saoirse Ronan, the several so-Hollywood changes are distracting for those familiar with the original work. Everything that gives the thin paper substance is absent from the big screen. Rape, a concept extremely close to home for the author, has vanished from the story, and Susie is shown to have simply been murdered. Instead of Susie’s love interest, Ray Singh, being a simple Indian guy, the casting department chose a British boy-toy who appears eerily older than the protagonist for the role. Ruth, the lesbian psychic, is reduced to a repressed straight girl who, like all the naïve girls in the audience, just wants to be with Ray. Any “deep” dialogue, something that could have strengthened the screenplay, is reduced to the sort of drivel that contributes overall to the PG-13 kitsch of the movie. “You are beautiful, Susie Salmon,” the miscast Reese Ritchie utters in joyful perversion to the younger girl more than once, showing that the clear intention of dialogue is to make the kiddies swoon and anyone with a brain cringe.
Retroactively, I see nothing wrong with the film crew’s option of shooting for a solid R-rating and allowing the philosophical, and thusly uglier, side to shine through, because natural truth is necessarily frightening, and anything less than honesty on the part of an analytical film is self-deception. The Lovely Bones had the option of being the next Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind due to its weighty subject matter, but it chose to be a sort of Ramona Copes with Death adaptation, replacing the gritty bluntness of the novel with childlike idealism hand-crafted for oblivious kids.
The inclusion of revenge in the mix only dilutes the bittersweet flavor further, appealing to the impulse-driven audiences who just want the darned killer punished, mothers fearing for their own children, too ready to distinguish the topic of the film from the Missing Persons newsletter. But in real life, children are lost. Killers do get away. Past lovers get divorced and never speak again. And as The Weepies sing, “the world spins madly on.” The average person would wonder at this consistency why someone in a perfectly fictional world would be allowed to get away with such a terrible crime. Susie Salmon, Sebold’s original character, would wonder why everyone is so afraid to get over it. If a movie lover wants to escape from reality, he or she should buy a ticket for a romantic comedy. A movie dealing with the subject of human mortality should reflect some idea of truth in waking life.
Some people are never ready to deal with death, so examining it requires a definite level of maturity and poise. A complex idea such as this has no use in a simple medium just as premium gas goes to waste when fueling a poorly-made car; it chugs along hopelessly all the same, guzzling every ounce of value. For Jackson and his producers, choosing a younger and broader audience has been a lucrative choice. For the sake of taste, however, it fails. A truly great movie specifically lacks appeal to a mass audience, because the higher the significance, the lower the comprehension. Mass audiences want happy endings, tied-up strings and mindless distraction. True life hardly encompasses them, and one must transcend the typical to achieve the magnificent.
The notion of an afterlife poses infinite questions about perception, regret, love, and quality of life, but Jackson focuses on death’s superficial side by adding a touch of thrill to the mood. Though the idea of life’s inevitable end is scary, the book’s philosophy is pure realism with a fantastic zing. When a person is dead, the creaking sound of hardwood floors doesn’t matter, nor the rush in one’s chest with an impending chase. Once a person is dead, there is nothing else to be afraid of. Thus, Jackson’s applied genre is a gaunt fit that sticks too closely to what people know and is afraid of leaving room for intellectual exploration.
The movie does possess a few strong points that let it deserve three out of five stars. Brian Eno’s ambient music is reason enough to check out the picture, even if it means closing one’s eyes to focus on the best aspect of the experience. Susan Sarandon brings superb acting to the morbid table, behaving expectedly as the ever-fabulous thespian. Buckley’s character is giggle-inducingly quirky, and the film is visually stunning overall, an expectation that Jackson will never likely defy. But a pretty shell is still a shell, and the exoskeleton of The Lovely Bones simply does not live up to the still-flawed novel it hardly attempts to imitate.




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Ally25 said...
Jul. 10, 2010 at 1:40 pm:
Wow.  I did read the book. But have never seen the movie. I think maybe if I had i would agree. This is a verry ...realistic(?) way of looking at it good job :)
 
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