Monday, January 18, 2010

The Lovely Bones Movie: Irresponsible & Bad

I know the old rule: The movie is never as good as the book. We need not look further then The DaVinci Code for that. I am not a person prone to hyperbole but the Peter Jackson directed mess The Lovely Bones might be the worst movie ever made. (My apologies to All About Steve.) Now I wouldn’t use this forum to write a film review, but I feel there is a larger misdeed here than just shockingly-bad movie making.

I’ll get to that in a bit.

For those who have not seen this bastardization of maybe the most important novel of the 21st century (along with The Kite Runner)--Alice Seabold’s 2002 story of Susie Salmon who is raped and murdered at age 14 then tells her story from Heaven--let me summarize. The film is way too long (an uncomfortably-dramatic 135 minutes) and the action is excruciatingly slow. Usually rock-solid Mark Wahlberg and reliable Susan Sarandon give their most hopeless performances to date. The narration of the young Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) is oppressive at best, and her actual acting is cringe-inducing. Every dialogue exchange is pregnant with foreshadowing and figurative language a two year old could recognize as unrealistic. Peter Jackson sledgehammers viewers to death with symbolism in every! single! scene. Jackson’s version of Susie Salmon’s Heaven/the "in between" is a cartoonish interpretation, wrought with every special-effects cliché, better fit for something out of Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka. Nikki SooHoo is murderously-stereotypical as Susie’s Asian friend in Heaven. Even Michael Imperioli, who co-starred in the greatest TV show ever, The Sopranos, is beyond bad as the formulaic detective. The only bright spot in this trainwreck is Stanley Tucci’s portrayal of the creepy killer George Harvey. But it would have helped to have a hint as to why this man serially murders little girls. Any kind of back story would’ve fit the bill. From Susie’s five-year-old brother clairvoyantly breaking down the afterlife-rules, to the so-far-over-the-top-it’s-ridiculous attempts at teenage romance, I think a first-year film student would’ve left this on the cutting-room floor. Oh yeah, how come not a single character ages a day in a time span meant to be at least ten years? I was speechless when I left the Latham cinema. What can I say? It was AWE-FUL!

But that’s not the worst part.

As a high school English teacher I recognize the diminishing role of the written word in our children’s lives. We live in a fast-paced society of X-Box 360’s and DVR’s. It is increasingly difficult to get our students to push through a 300-page novel and appreciate the beauty and genius. Most students see that medium as archaic and a waste of time. That’s why I applaud Stephanie Meyer (Twilight) and JK Rowling (Harry Potter) for reawaking that passion on such a broad scale. Every time a student comes to me and wants a “good book” I hand over Alice Seabold’s The Lovely Bones. It is a magnificently complex and layered story about life and death. It does not shy away from issues of sexuality and deviant human desires. It is a mature story meant for a reader of mature makeup. Seabold’s handling of such hot-button subjects (rape/murder/death) is done with perfection at every turn.

But now, in an attempt to secure a PG-13 rating and rein in a larger, younger audience, Peter Jackson has reduced Seabold’s complex tale to a Razzie-worthy abomination. He shies away from every controversial angle, refusing to even allude to the fact that Susie was raped before being murdered, and keeping all actual/genuine sexuality off camera. In doing so, Jackson offensively strips the movie of all emotion and realism. For the sake of filled theatres he clumsily butchers away all trace of what it means to be prey to earthly desires of the body and mind vs. the liberation of the afterlife.

This dumbed-down farce is to date the most blatant example of diminishing Hollywood standards meeting censorship run-a-muck. The Lovely Bones isn’t Willy Wonka or Twilight, but for some reason is theatrically treated as such. Seabold’s story is far more important. It’s a novel timeless enough to kickstart generational student-interest in reading and being literate. But I fear that is lost now. Because of the irresponsibly-bad production of this film, nobody in their right mind could watch then wish to read the novel it’s supposedly adapted from. So in the end, the same teenagers Peter Jackson tried to pander to he has hurt through overuse of censorship and this silly, money-grubbing interpretation of literary greatness. This film is so singularly bad, I see it as a direct shot against student reading, and the brilliance of a book I used as a tool to compete with our X-Box society. And that is the saddest thing of all.

I promise you, the Troy Record reader, I am going to pull every string I can to contact the book’s author Alice Seabold. I think her readers are owed an explanation for this dramatic deviation. When I get that from her, I will give it to you. Stay tuned.

Brian Huba


  1. I haven't been to see the movie yet, but am a huge fan of the book (& author). I've been reading reviews & blogs and all of them have been negative. It pretty much breaks my heart to know that the book was portrayed so horribly on film. That book was one of those that I couldn't put down. I read it in the car, snuck it in class, anywhere I went, that book went with me (well for about 48 hours until I finished it, of course). So when I found out that they were making it into a movie, I was ecstatic. I knew, obviously, that the movie wouldn't be as good as the book, but I did have high hopes. Ms Seabold allowed her story to appeal to those with active imaginations. She gave her details but you were still able to put it into your own perspective (ie; the scenes in heaven, flashbacks etc). To know the director couldn't expand his ideas and create something so simple, yet magical just absolutely blows my mind. Looks like I'll be waiting around for it to come to DVD as opposed to wasting the money and being disappointed in public. Maybe I just won't even see it and re-read the book.

  2. Oh, & by the way, where were you (someone that I could actually relate to) when I was in Burgh? I won't mention names, but let's just say I was never fond of my English teacher (I graduated in 05). Happy to see that Burgh has an English teacher that is relate-able as opposed to someone who was biased because they had my trouble-making parents! haha

  3. I was intrigued when I came across a review for The Lovely Bones. I have been considering going to see this film and have read the book. My concern -are you seriously an english teacher? Your post is riddled with spelling and grammatical errors. I'm glad my children do not attend Troy/Lansingburgh Public Schools!

  4. wow, melissa aren't you just the fancy one here. You must be perfect in everything that you do right?