Reviewer's note: I have not read Alice Sebold's novel.
Peter Jackson's 'The Lovely Bones' is a mess from start to finish. A young 14 year-old girl is raped and murdered by a degenerate serial killer in her neighborhood. She goes to a heavenly place with CGI landscapes that resemble digitally created screensavers.
The movie begins with little Susie Salmon. She's a spunky 14 year-old who loves photography and has a way with words. She lyrically narrates the entire film, even when she talks about her eventual murderer, it's never in anger. Susie seems intelligent; at least we're supposed to think she is, until she pulls a huge blunder which is completely contrary to the character we've been introduced to. See, George (Stanley Tucci) has built a play place underground in the middle of a cornfield. As Susie is walking home from school George confronts her, nicely, and asks if she wants to see what he's built. Straying from everything we know about Susie she accepts his offer and wanders down into a trap door in the middle of a cornfield. Let's just say, nothing good will ever come from going down a trap door in the middle of a cornfield with a middle aged man (Just a sidenote: Are we supposed to believe no one saw George building this structure? It's literally a few hundred feet from the school grounds).
Every character here is relegated to dramatic, hushed whispers. It's as if it's the only way Peter Jackson knows how to convey drama. It worked in 'The Lord of the Rings' movies, but here it becomes so tedious that it's hard to pay attention to anything else. Jackson also overdoes the swooping, zooming camera effect. It's like the hushed whisper of camerawork. When police detective Fenerman (Michael Imperioli) arrives to talk to the Salmon parents about their missing child the same zooming effect is used twice, one right after the other. The camera swoops around Imperioli's face as he's talking about generic police stuff, once it reaches the back of his head it immediately starts over. It's as if Jackson didn't think the scene was dramatic enough, so he amped up the camera effects.
There are also some odd pacing problems here. A light-hearted rock music montage of Susie's grandma (Susan Sarandon) is thrown in the middle for no other reason than to remind us that Susan Sarandon is in this movie.
A few bright spots reside in this otherwise dingy movie experience. Stanley Tucci gives another stellar performance, as George. He's creepy, and his blue-green eyes make him look truly evil. He was nominated for a Supporting Actor Oscar for this role. The times that he's on screen are the best parts, too bad he's almost glossed over for much of the film.
Technicalities aside, the story is bizarre, and cringe-worthy. The movie would like you to think that Susie helps her parents from beyond her grave to solve her murder, but nothing could be further from the truth. Susie trots around the colorful CGI world, looking off into the distance wide-eyed as she sees her family struggling with her departure. Her father (Mark Wahlberg) is determined to find her killer, but even without Susie doing anything, her dad fingers George as the culprit without a shred of evidence to go on. We're supposed to be okay with this, because George does indeed look like your stereotypical pedophile and we've seen him over and over doing dirty things that need not be mentioned. We know he's guilty, but how does Susie's father? He just guesses, because the movie's got to end.
Susie never really seems all that upset that she got murdered, and she doesn't seem bothered that her heaven consists only of other rape victims. There is a time in the film where Susie acknowledges that a girl in her neighborhood that died of Leukemia didn't go to her heaven. Are we to surmise that George was actually the creator of this heaven because of his heinous actions? Twisted. Whether or not the film goes along with the book is irrelevant. Peter Jackson's 'Lovely Bones' is an overdone exercise in dramatic excess that doesn't so much strike an emotional nerve as trigger a cinematic gag reflex.
Fans of the film will be extremely pleased with its video presentation. The Paramount's 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer of 'The Lovely Bones' looks immaculate from start to finish. Perfectly presented as solid demo material, this presentation wows with its bright vivid colors, and its sharp attention to detail. Detail, detail, detail, that's what you'll notice most. From distinct facial details to the old-timey textures and patterns this transfer oozes perfection. Black levels are perfectly balanced, and delineation razor sharp. The CGI heaven landscapes do look like CGI, but they don't look overly fake, instead they're presented here with care, keeping Jackson's stylized vision of Susie's heaven alive and well. Technical anomalies and source noise are non-existent, lending to a crisp clean image that could be used in any home theater setup to showcase how truly spectacular Blu-ray can look.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless presentation doesn't quite come close to the upper echelons of perfection like the video, but it holds its own very well. Even with the continuously whispered dialogue, voices still come out clearly through the center channel. Ambient sound is controlled well, giving us a good sense of what a crowded mall, school hallway, or police station might feel like. Brian Eno's score shines here, especially when it breaks into the creepier, eerier music when George is around. LFE is subdued for the most part, but kicks in during a few parts, like when a large safe is being flipped end over end, banging on the ground. The entire presentation is, for the most part, an engrossing experience. Fans of the movie won't be disappointed in the least.
All of this title's supplemental features are HD exclusives.
Personally, I'm not a fan of this movie. Its ugly story and choppy style give it a nearly unwatchable feeling, couple that with Peter Jackson's tendency to over-direct and you have an end product that's a bloated melodramatic mess. It's a good thing that the video presentation is demo-worthy and the audio presentation is very well put together. Fans of the film will love the comprehensive making-of feature, but might be disappointed by the lack of audio commentary from Jackson himself. While this disc does contain some stunning imagery and great sound, I'd say it's just for fans. You'll either love it or hate it.