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The Lovely Bones: Not All That Lovely

January 18, 2010

Maybe Peter Jackson’s next project will be a tell-all memoir that explores just how a director can utterly destroy a book while adapting it for film.

This is how such a book might open:

Hello, fans! I’m Peter Jackson, and I’m the Oscar-winning director of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, a King Kong remake, some weird little horror movies and, of course, The Lovely Bones. I’m here to share with you my technique for ensuring that writers shudder with fear when they hear Hollywood is making a movie out of their book. I’ve broken it down into five simple steps for you:

  1. Hear about a “hot property” in the literary world. You know, one of those smarty books everyone’s talking about. (“Oprah says The Lovely Bones is hot, so it must be true.”)
  2. Stop off at an airport gift shop, find the book, and read the description on the flyleaf. (“Wow, this is expensive for a book. I won’t bother buying it.”)
  3. Later, jot notes on the back of the script for The Hobbit while flying over the Pacific. (“Wasn’t it something about a dead girl coming back to life to seek revenge?”)
  4. Hire somebody to bang out a script based on those notes, leaving big blank spots with “Add some CGI dreamscapes here.” written on them. (“Maybe when the dead girl gets to heaven, she can go tobogganing.”
  5. Hire Mark Wahlberg.

And there you have it. Thanks for buying my book. Remember, I am really, really rich and successful, and also awesome. Good night.

…. okay, now that Peter’s gone, let me weigh in. We saw The Lovely Bones on Saturday, right after I finished the book. I liked the book. I didn’t love it, but I liked it. I hated the movie. For whatever reason, Jackson took the simplest elements of what Alice Sebold wrote and turned it into a self-absorbed crapfest of a movie, loaded with special effects 10 years out of date, and completely ignoring the sweet narration that drives the book.

The book is the story of what a dead girl sees as she watches life go on without her. It’s about her people and how they move on. She tells us this story, and the movie opens with some of that narration … but then drops it in favour of endless heavenly frolics. Characters are changed for no reason. Everything is different. And the sad, soft story of Susie Salmon becomes, instead, a weak attempt to blend The Sixth Sense with an episode of CSI, with the Teletubbies thrown in for good measure. Jackson tosses us a little “it’s all about the people” remark at the end, but as he ignored that fact for the previous two hours, it’s pointless. I almost laughed out loud.

The child actors in this film are very good. The grownup actors are horrible. Much has been made of Stanley Tucci’s performance as killer George Harvey, but really, he’s just aping Robin Williams in One Hour Photo. And don’t get me started on Mark Wahlberg, who I guess was told to act “sensitive,” so he trotted out his old Dirk Diggler whisper and let his hair get floppy. Wahlberg jumped into filming this fresh from The Happening — he was brought in to replace Ryan Gosling, who quit just as filming was about to start, because he knew —  so I guess some of that movie’s stupidity was still clinging to him.

I’m done. Don’t see this. Go read the book instead.

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