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The Lovely Bones (2009)

2009 film adaptation of the novel of the same name, directed by Peter Jackson.

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The Broken Bones

  • Jan 17, 2010
In 2002, a woman named Alice Sebold wrote a book called The Lovely Bones.  It was well known for how it began so tragically and ended on such an uplifting note.  The book has gone on to be an acclaimed classic, selling over ten million worldwide.  The movie had a lot to live up to in that case.  And I'd like to tell The Lovely Bones is a wonderful movie filled with heart and joy.  Instead it's actually more like getting stabbed to death without dying.  You just WISH the idiot stabbing you would hit a vital organ and kill you already.  Yes, The Lovely Bones is that painful.

The movie centers on a girl named Salmon, like the fish.  First name Susie.  She was fourteen years old when she was murdered on December 6, 1973.  The movie starts off simple enough, with Susie saving her brother's life.  Her grandma tells her that means she'll live a long time.  Of course, Grandma is wrong.  While walking home from school one day, Susie (Saoirse Ronan) is approached by her neighbor Mr. Harvey (Stanley Tucci) where he brings her into a small place he built out in a cornfield.  An underground den.  Once inside, Mr. Harvey takes a moment to rape and murder Susie (actually, we don't learn if she's raped, but that whole Mr. Harvey asking her if she has a boyfriend implies that this is what happens).  Her parents notice something is wrong when she doesn't come home for dinner.  Soon the police discover that she's been killed.  What proceeds is a Susie watching her family cope with her death from heaven... as they go through heartache and eventually accept her death.

There's nothing quite that uplifting about The Lovely Bones.  There are some strong performances by the main cast--especially from Stanley Tucci as Mr. Harvey and from Mark Wahlberg as Susie's father.  No one can really knock the performances.  Where the movie goes awry is Peter Jackson's directing.  

When I first heard about The Lovely Bones being adapted by Peter Jackson, I couldn't help but be skeptical.  My first thought was... "He goes from Lord of the Rings to King Kong to... The Lovely Bones?"  I could understand The Lord of the Rings and King Kong.  They were both epic movies.  The Lovely Bones, however, is no epic (at least not the kind of epic the first two mentioned movies are).  It's a dramatic tale and a complete one-eighty from what we'd seen from Jackson.  My first thought upon hearing that Peter Jackson would be adapting The Lovely Bones was that he would try to make it into this sort of epic film when that's not what The Lovely Bones really was at all. 

For the most part I was right.  Yet it isn't that Peter Jackson tries to make it epic, it's that he tries to be a little too artistic in his approach.  Susie's murder, for example, just isn't done so well.  Rather than even giving us the idea that Susie has been murdered he has to go into this overly long metaphor.  Certainly Jackson didn't have to SHOW us that Susie was murdered, but he might've done well to leave it simple.  It's hard to explain, but most directors who don't want to show us murder have better ways of expressing that a murder has been committed.  What Peter Jackson tries in his extended metaphor, is to be a little too artsy in his approach which comes off as just all around silly.  Like a man who has watched one-two many independent films but learned nothing from them.  It isn't just when Susie is murdered, it's at other moments too.  The "heaven" that Peter Jackson shows us is inconsistent and always changing.  It's a little too random.  One where Susie runs into some of Mr. Harvey's previous victims.  For a movie that's supposed to be about a family coping with death, there's an awful lot of Computer Generated stuff.  I'm okay with CGI, but at many moments Peter Jackson indulges the audience so much more in CGI than he does in indulging us in the characters involved.  There are random flashes to Susie's heaven for, in many cases, the sake of just showing us rolling CGI hills or beautiful CGI cornfields... or rippling CGI water.  Is Susie Salmon in heaven or has she slipped down the rabbit hole into Wonderland?

If anything, the more suspenseful moments (which are few and far between) Peter Jackson manages to get right.  This is in part because Stanley Tucci does a good job.  Good actors don't exactly mean good characters, however.  Within the context of the film, Peter Jackson does little to nothing to actually develop the characters beyond a name.  They're portrayed by some great actors, but that's about it.  In particular, Susie's friends Ruth and Ray just never get any attention whatsoever.  In fact, the movie spends so little time on these two that you almost forget they're even in the movie to begin with.  They pop up briefly in the beginning, briefly in the middle... and briefly at the end.  But they're not exactly fleshed out.  Actually... none of the characters really are.  The only one who manages to get any sort of development at all is Susie's father.  Other than that, the movie spends an awful lot more time focusing on Susie's killer than anyone else.  And while Stanley Tucci does a great job in his role, what you end up getting by this lack of character focus is... well... a pretty numb movie.  Perhaps instead of wasting time showing us a CGI world, Peter Jackson would've been better off trying to focus on the characters just a little.  And instead of trying so hard to be artistic he might've just done better getting to the point.  Jackson rarely does.  The movie just comes off as a little too self indulgent at times.  And at others, it feels as though Peter Jackson is experimenting with film technique.

And we haven't even gotten to the part that readers of the book want to hear about.  How exactly DOES Peter Jackson's interpretation stand up to the book?  I'm not one to care too much about this sort of thing, but it's not like Peter Jackson was giving you a remarkable film to begin so we'll dive right into this one.  The Lovely Bones is a wonderful book that, for the most part, was just really hard to adapt to begin with.  For any director it would've been a challenge.  For Peter Jackson it was an even bigger challenge because, for one, he's trying to make an epic out of something that was clearly never meant to be epic, and he's also dealing with a narrative that was just a little too complex to recreate on screen.  In short, The Lovely Bones might not have been very good regardless of who was behind the camera.  If you read and enjoyed the book and you MUST have a movie adaptation that follows the book, you'll probably walk out of the theater thinking, "At least Peter Jackson knew the names of the characters in the book."  Aside from that you're probably going to wonder if Peter Jackson read the book, or if he read a crudely written book report by a high school student on drugs.  As an adaptation it just doesn't fly.  I still maintain, however, that if I'd wanted the book... I'd have just read it again.

It isn't deviating from the source material that makes The Lovely Bones such a bad movie, however... it's mostly the lack of emotions found within the film itself... put simple it's just a bad movie--regardless of whether it follows the source material or not.  It's two hours long but it just never wants to focus on the characters involved in this horrible tragedy.  You won't come out knowing them.  With some of them, if you remembered their names it would be a feat.  In short, even if you didn't read the book and you're curious, you'll probably still feel empty after The Lovely Bones because it's just so devoid of emotion.  The film deals with such a serious matter yet it insist on detaching itself from the audience at every turn.  And just when you think the emotions are revving up, we're interrupted by one of Jackson's experimental moments where he's trying too hard to be artistic by turning certain moments into CGI filled metaphors. 

Strong performances just can't save the film from bad directing.  Sorry to say, but The Lovely Bones would've probably benefitted more if someone else were behind the camera on this one.  As an adaptation of the book, there was little chance of it really stacking up anyway.  The book was just too complex for the film medium (at least in terms of being a close adaptation--face it Lovely Bones readers, you just weren't going to get it).  What you end up getting is a movie that, in spite of good performances, just lacks a lot of heart and emotion in favor of a director trying too hard for artistic merit and sprinkling just a little too much CGI on top of it all.  It's just an empty shell, and as a result it's just not a movie you'll be thinking about shortly after seeing it. 

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February 03, 2010
I have talked to my wife about seeing this movie but we have not gone yet. But now I think that we are going to. Nice job
January 19, 2010
I was disappoint in the film, too. It did a terrible job of developing all of the significant characters. I loved the book, which was full of vividly-drawn characters.
January 19, 2010
Wow, this is a great review (and I agree with all of your points!) I wondered if Jackson had even read the book; I guess he did, but chose to ignore the whole uplifting, comforting message. And his heaven?! Where was the swing in the high school play yard!?! The movie was grim and scary, not what the author intended at all.
January 18, 2010
Excellent review, Like woopak said I might catch this rental myself, thanks for the heads up.
January 18, 2010
This is such a tragedy considering the book is so highly regarded, as is Peter Jackson.  The screen shots look pretty neat and the commercials tug at the heart string, but it doesn't look like it was a hit with the audience.  Thanks for your take on it, Sean!
January 18, 2010
I'm really eager to watch this because although I wasn't a big fan of the book, I think the story is a great one, especially for film. I have this feeling that I'm going to love it even though it got iffy reviews, lol. I'll let you know what I think! Thanks for the heads-up.
January 20, 2010
Ugh. You were right. The CGI was WAY too plentiful and not even GOOD. Peter Jackson should have enough money for good CGI, right?! I'll have to write a full review!
January 20, 2010
If you write a full review I'll totally look forward to it.  I'm very curious to know what you thought.  It was just so saturated that it hardly focused on the characters involved.
January 18, 2010
Great job on the review!
January 17, 2010
Looks like I made the right decision in skipping this and went for BOOK OF ELI instead. I may still rent the movie, but from your descriptions, it almost sounds like a wanna-be PAN'S LABYRINTH (which I loved) and maybe...just maybe the book was unfilmmable? I wondered if I would enjoy it because I never read the book, and Orlok says I wouldn't since the screenplay was so lacking. Jackson is a good director, I guess this was one of those cases that he gave in to the requirements of the business. Oh, add DEAD ALIVE to Jackson's resume. Thank you for the review.
January 17, 2010
I agree with Orlok... the screenplay is lacking, and the style Jackson goes with just tries too hard, man.  I never thought a two hour long movie could feel as though it was missing so much.
January 17, 2010
Which is weird because the book isn't that long... so why is so much missing?
January 18, 2010
probably an effort to connect with mainstream audiences...or so they thought.
January 17, 2010
Pretty much what I thought, although you were harsher in your rating. I think Jackson read the book and did do his best to adapt it. He certainly didn't set out to make a bad film. I just think that the fact his commercial success as a filmmaker came from four films (two if you consider "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy as one film) and that he was so heavily praised for his use of special effects, he's now forgotten how to tell a small intimate story.
I fear that he's already become like Lucas, Coppola, and Spielberg and will focus on technological innovation and commercial success rather than artistic innovation and quality films.
Truthfully, when I heard Jackson was making this film I thought he might be just the right guy. After all, he made "Heavenly Creatures" and that was great and had some minor similarities with "The Lovely Bones". And heck, if Guillermo del Toro can go from "Hellboy" to "Pan's Labyrinth" then why shouldn't Jackson be able to tell a more intimate and thematically complex story without getting distracted by CGI? Maybe, it's a good thing del Toro is doing "The Hobbit" after all.
January 17, 2010
I think perhaps this was Jackson's interpretation of the book? or perhaps he gave in to the demands of the money men? I dunno, I haven't read the book, so I cannot really say if its unfilmmable. I will rent this when it comes out.
January 17, 2010
Well, I honestly didn't think that its deviating from the book was really as big of a deal as Jackson's directing style was.  Even if I hadn't read the book, for example, it's lack of character development and overt use of CGI to go for "artistic" mert would've still been annoying (I couldn't even understand why Ray and Ruth were there, you know?).  There was something about Peter Jackson's style that just bothered me.  I would've been fine with the CGI, sure, if he didn't try so hard to be artsy with it.  Susie's death as a metaphor... from the moment I saw that I was wondering how many more moments like that I'd have to suffer through.  And then watching giant ship bottles get destroyed in her heaven (or the place inbetween heaven, the movie is pretty vague on that) as her father grieves... stuff like that made me wonder why Peter Jackson was trying so hard.  Those kind of moments made moments that were supposed to be highly emotional (such as her dad smashing those bottles with ships in them) lack feeling as a result.
January 17, 2010
The whole thing with using images in our world for the "inbetween" was so derivative of "What Dreams May Come" that I was groaning. And you're right, Ray, Ruth, Grandma, and half of the characters could have been taken out completely without affecting the plot. That was the big issue, they removed so much of the characterization and the relationships that the story dissolved.
January 17, 2010
Yeah, exactly.  It's weird when you see a movie and plucking half the cast doesn't make a difference to how it plays out as a whole.  I think I'll just read the book again.
January 18, 2010
Thanks for this review. I'll probably still end up watching the film once, but I'm definitely interested in reading the novel.
January 18, 2010
The movie will likely disappoint, regardless of whether you've read the book or not, so I'd suggest that you read the book first. It's sad how much they ruined the story.
January 18, 2010
@Ulalume There's just something about the style that's put to use here.  I don't usually care too much if a movie follows the book (I like to stick that in there for those who do care, though... and I have to admit I do like the conversation) it never really bothers me when it doesn't.  The Lovely Bones is no exception to the rule in my book.  It's just got some pretty bad execution in there.
January 17, 2010
Sounds like it would be wise to skip this one. Don't you hate it when a film bears little or no resemblance to the book?
January 18, 2010
yes! always such a let down.. and so sad because this was a really good read that I'd have loved to see come to life on screen. I'll be skipping as well.
More The Lovely Bones (2009 movie) reviews
review by . January 22, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
*1/2 out of ****       I thought that perhaps I would go back and give Peter Jackson's latest film, "The Lovely Bones", a second chance. I thought that maybe it would be better the second time around. I thought that maybe, just maybe, I would give it my full attention. Upon finishing the film, I kind of had to wonder why the hell I revisited it. I didn't like it at first, and strangely enough, I still don't like it. I'm a Peter Jackson supporter by all means. I liked …
review by . January 14, 2010
Did Peter Jackson even read The Lovely Bones?
 I would not have thought that Peter Jackson, the director of the infamous Lord of the Rings trilogy (in case you didn’t know), would ever be a horrible choice to adapt a cherished novel to the big screen.  Going forward, I will not be so naïve.  In it’s original form, The Lovely Bones, as delicately told by author, Alice Sebold, is a shockingly honest account of what one seemingly happy family endures after the death of their eldest daughter.  Its scope reaches …
Quick Tip by . January 04, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Awful. But what finally ultimately ruined it was the total misuse of the final song (This Mortal Coil's Song to the Siren is not a happy song, it is the most powerful love-tease song in English; inappropriate doesn't begin to cover it).
review by . April 30, 2010
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Fails As A Study of Emotional Burden
   Mainstream fans would remember Pater Jackson for his critically acclaimed “Lord of the Rings Trilogy” and “King Kong” while old-school horror fans may remember him for “Dead Alive”. It would only be natural to have high expectations for any Peter Jackson directed film because well…he does have a good resume. Well, Jackson has made successes with movies about monsters, beasts and even blood and gore; this time around, Jackson tries his hand …
review by . April 19, 2011
   Death is a funny thing. Well, not really. I guess what I'm trying to say is that sometimes the way people, living people, think about death may not leave you with the best taste in your mouth for what your thoughts might be on the subject. I do not mean this in a suicidal way, but from a creative stand point. Take film and literature. Storytellers in both mediums have been telling various stories about life and death for hundreds of years. We have stories about the after life, stories …
review by . January 16, 2010
Good IF you haven't read the book
As the story opens, the narrator, 14-year old Susie, tells us she was murdered. We then see a cringe-worthy scene (that doesn't actually show any violence) and Susie leaves earth for "the in-between;" a nice place, but not quite heaven. She watches her family as they cope with her death and the years pass.       I liked the book a lot, which is odd considering it's about a girl who is horrifically killed by a pervert. Except for that one scene, however, the book was …
review by . April 06, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: Stanley Tucci, without a doubt     Cons: not enough to really dis it     The Bottom Line:   "I'd like to think it's all_a_dream   Someone please come and rescue me   Don't want to see my_family_torn   Left me with a soul without my lovely bones"  ~Josh Todd     The Lovely Bones, directed by Peter Jackson, was a surreal trip, similar to What Dreams May Come, but not nearly as good.   …
review by . March 25, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Death is a funny thing. Well, not really. I guess what I'm trying to say is that sometimes the way people, living people, think about death may not leave you with the best taste in your mouth for what your thoughts might be on the subject. I do not mean this in a suicidal way, but from a creative stand point. Take film and literature. Storytellers in both mediums have been telling various stories about life and death for hundreds of years. We have stories about the after life, stories about …
review by . May 13, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
THE LOVELY BONES is a quiet novel about horrendous events described eloquently and with spiritual insights by author Alice Sebold. While the book, being a rather introspective version of the murder of a young lass, would be difficult to translate to film, Peter Jackson (with a screenplay adaptation by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Jackson himself) should call this version an idea inspired by Sebold's book. If desiring a reenactment of the novel is the viewer's desire, skip this film, but if simply …
Quick Tip by . June 24, 2010
A fairly good adaptation of a brilliant novel. Read the book first.
About the reviewer
Sean A. Rhodes ()
Ranked #7
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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About this movie


The Lovely Bones is a 2009 film adaptation of the novel of the same name by Alice Sebold. The film was directed by Peter Jackson and stars Saoirse Ronan as the protagonist Susie Salmon along with Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz as her parents, Jack and Abigail Salmon respectively.

Jackson and his producer partners acquired the rights independently and developed a script on their own, later selling it to DreamWorks. Production began in October 2007 in New Zealand and Pennsylvania. Paramount became a sole distributor a year later when they split with DreamWorks. The film's trailer was released on August 4, 2009.


Susie Salmon, a 14-year-old girl who is murdered in the first chapter, and narrates the novel from heaven.
Jack Salmon, her father, who works for an insurance agency in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.
Abigail Salmon, her mother, whose growing family frustrates her youthful dreams and later has an affair with Detective Len Fenerman.
Lindsey Salmon, Susie's sister, a year younger than she is, thought of as the smartest.
Buckley Salmon, Susie's brother, is ten years younger than she is. His unplanned birth forced Abigail to cancel her plans for a teaching career. He sometimes sees Susie while she watches him in her heaven.
Grandma Lynn, Abigail's mother, an eccentric alcoholic who comes to live with her son-in-law and grandchildren after her daughter leaves.
George Harvey, the ...
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Director: Peter Jackson
DVD Release Date: April 20, 2010
Runtime: 136 minutes
Studio: Paramount
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