At the kind invitation of Omy.sg, I had the privilege of catching “The Lovely Bones” directed by Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson with movie mogul Stephen Spielberg as the executive producer. Screened at the Lido, it certainly won’t be forgotten in a hurry.
Based on the bestselling novel in 2002 by Alice Sebold, the movie centred around how 14 year old Susie Salmon (like the fish), played with much aplomb by Saoirse Ronan, was brutally murdered and raped on her way home from school in 1973 and the events which unfurled before and after the incident.
The victim of a serial killer whom she knew as her neighbour Mr Harvey – played with bonechilling intensity by Oscar-nominated Stanley Tucci – Susie watched how her family came to terms with her death, and vividly described how her early teenage life has been prior to being cruelly snuffed out like a candle. Cunningly choreographed by amateur architect Harvey to blood-curdling precision, the killing scene was suspenseful enough to make one’s heart race without going too much into gore.
Relating her story from heaven (or purgatory, since its repeatedly called the “In Between place”), Susie’s gawky post-pubescent life of first kisses, family bonds, and suburban splendour was played out in the movie, peppered with scenes of celestial wonder as she traverses the transcendental terrain. Throughout the film, many cliches and metaphors were liberally adopted, like golden meadows to represent heaven, and the use of living and dead roses (or camellias?) to illustrate life and death. The injuring of Susie’s father in the real world was also mirrored by the crumbling of the pavilion in which Susie stood in at the heavenly places.
I suspected that Jackson was partially inspired by scenes from movies like “Howl’s Moving Castle” (a masterful movie by anime auteur Hayao Miyazaki) in portraying an idyllic paradise, and “Ghost” in describing the after-life. Some of the post-death depictions appeared strikingly similar to what the late Patrick Swayze‘s Sam Wheat encountered in that movie.
My main bone of contention with the movie was the excessive use of Computer Generated Imagery (CGI). While the computer rendered landscapes and depictions of paradise were spectacular on the cinematic canvas, these splashes of eye-candy do tend to distract rather than add to the main plot of the film. The special effects were stunning and awesome, but they do overshadow certain aspects of the storytelling process.
The soddy script also didn’t quite do justice to the fine acting chops of Susan Sarandon, Rachel Weisz, and Mark Wahlberg. While Sarandon’s chain-smoking and alcohol imbibing Grandma Lynn was almost show-stealingly comical, it added little lustre to the production. It was also illogical how Susie’s younger sister Linsey (played by Rose McIver), could stay calm and gawk at a heartwarming family reunion between her parents after running away from a neighbouring serial killer’s home.
Make no bones about it. The Lovely Bones is a credible offering helmed by a competent director in the art and science of cinematic “wow”. I liked in particular how Ronan deftly delivered her role as a happy teenage girl who had to deal with a multitude of emotions – from puppy love and familial loss to fear and hatred. There were also many scenes which were skillfully handled, like the tender acts of love in the family and the difficult grieving process after a tragic death.
With two Hollywood heavyweights at the helm of a much-loved book, one would expect nothing less than a screen sensation. While it was certainly an emotional roller-coaster at times – I heard occasional gasps and sobs amongst the audience – it ended up missing several brownie points.