Let me start by saying director Peter Jackson is probably more responsible than anyone for making me a movie fan. Well before his take on LORD OF THE RINGS, I was a huge fan of his gore-comedy cult classic DEAD ALIVE (aka BRAINDEAD). He was the first director who I swore I would have to see everything he made, and I have. For two years leading up to LORD OF THE RINGS I was telling all my friends it would be awesome because the director is a genius...then I'd explain BRAINDEAD and they'd all look at me like I was crazy. But he proved my faith well-placed and I made all the doubters eat their words. It was beautiful.
All this is to say that Jackson pretty much automatically gets extra points for me. I knew his version of KING KONG was ridiculously self-indulgent, but I was fine watching him indulge. So when his take on Alice Sebold's novel THE LOVELY BONES left me sort of empty and not knowing how to respond, well...I assume that means most people will actually think it sucks. And I hate saying that.
I read the novel as soon as I heard that Peter Jackson was making the movie, and although it's a great novel, I thought even at the time it was an odd choice for him. The story is told by a little girl, Susie Salmon. She was 14 years old when she was murdered, and she tells the story from the "in-between" region before she goes to heaven. Think of it as limbo, if you like, but she's there because she can't let go of the people she cares about on earth. Her family, her boyfriend (she dies before she has a chance for a first kiss), etc. Although a lot of it plays out as a hunt for her killer, his identity is never in doubt--and that's intentional. Instead it's about how her murder affects the people around her in surprising ways. Family strife is expected, but the interesting parts are the ways that the tragedy brings people together rather than tears them apart. Of course, Peter Jackson can't make a movie that's not visually impressive, so he goes wild with his imaginings of the afterlife. Some of it sets up some interesting transitions back to the real world, but a lot of it is just crazy indulgent. But I think what bugged me the most is that the novel is a very internalized story. While there's action (mostly around finding the killer and proving his guilt), that's not the story. The story is the internal changes everyone goes through, and while that's clear in a novel, it's harder on film. I'm actually left thinking Peter Jackson actually chose a more unfilmable book than "Lord of the Rings" to try to film. And that's pretty impressive, even if the results fall short.
Oh yeah, and for all my lukewarm reception, I should mention that the audience I saw it with was cheering at all the right moments. So maybe I've finally gotten really jaded.
Running Time: 135 minutes
My total minutes: 166,516