The Lovely Bones

Jackson's long-awaited adaptation of Alice Sebold's runaway 2002 bestseller, about a murdered teenager who looks down on the people she left behind (including her killer) from her own private heaven, was perhaps a doomed venture from the start. Although Sebold optioned the film rights to her novel back in 2000, before she was even finished writing, the story, ironically, lacks a tight narrative drive. I read the book, and while I didn't dislike it, I found it a weird blend of horror, obsession, and dorky sentimentality.

However, to me the point of the book was to show the effects that a gruesome death can have on those close to the victim, and the bittersweet truth that life eventually moves on as the years go by. Jackson and his cowriters/partners Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens sparked some controversy by deleting the bit where the 14-year-old heroine, Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan), is raped before her murder, but I think this is a minor quibble; if there's one thing Jackson is good at doing, it is exploring the darker side of human nature, and Susie's murderer George Harvey is played with such profound creepiness by Stanley Tucci that the circumstances surrounding her death are disturbing enough without the added cruelty of sexual violation.

I get a sense that Jackson, et al knew that the Harvey plotline was the most dramatic of the novel, so Tucci gets the lion's share of screen time, which ultimately reduces The Lovely Bones to a kind of crime thriller, where we wonder if Susie's father and sister will identify and capture Harvey in time.

Gone is Mrs. Salmon's love affair with the detective assigned to her case; gone is much of the relationship between Susie's Indian/English boyfriend and the spooky girl who can sense Susie's ghostly presence; gone is the sense of time passing and the poignancy of Susie's young siblings trying to build their own lives in the wake of tragedy. In short, gone is the heart and soul of Sebold's novel. Even if you haven't read it, I suspect you may still feel that something is missing in this movie.

As Susie's grieving family, Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, and Susan Sarandon don't have much to do, and they nearly disappear from the narrative entirely, as do most of the supporting characters. What we're left with are several groovy CGI-filled minutes of Susie's afterlife – a psychedelic trip for teenage girls – and many scenes of Tucci being icky.

Don't get me wrong: Tucci is easily the best thing about the film. But Sebold's boldest decision was to depict George Harvey as just one of the many people in Susie's life, so much so that Susie's eventual forgiveness of his deeds feels like a foregone conclusion. That forgiveness is absent in Jackson's film.

The Lovely Bones may look great, but I will file it under the "Noble Failure" category. Good intentions, bad execution. It probably should not have been made in the first place.