As a rule, I don’t read scripts. So much happens between the page and the screen that you can be terribly misguided by a screenplay alone. Unfortunately, a few years ago my curiosity got the better of me and I took the time to read Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Alice Sebold’s novel “The Lovely Bones.”
Having never read the original source material my interest was tapped by the logline in numerous reports about the project, anecdotes about how good the book was and, lastly, curiosity on where Jackson would go after the — at this point — underrated “King Kong.” What I found was a powerful and imaginative work that was filled with rich characters and an emotional ending that, in all honestly, truly moved me. So, I put the script down and marked this film as one to watch. And in the meantime, what an interesting life “The Lovely Bones” has had.
“Bones” starts off with what appears to be an idealized 1973 nuclear family of Jack and Susie Salmon and their three children: Susie, Lindsey and Buckley. At 14, Susie is the oldest and the apple of her father’s eye, but before you can see the end of act one coming, tragedy strikes and Susie is brutally murdered by George Harvey, a neighbor. Harvey is a psychotic who manically covers his tracks leaving the police have no leads on who committed the crime. To make matters worse, the only part of her body ever found is her dismembered elbow. Predictably, the Salmons go into a tailspin and Jack becomes obsessed with uncovering the truth about what happened to his daughter.
In the meantime — or more importantly – outside of time and space, Susie’s soul has reached some sort of fantasmic utopia. A beautiful world she at first thinks is heaven, but soon learns connects her to her unresolved fate on earth.
The story has elements of horror, drama and fantasy, styles Jackson has excelled at in the past. For better or worse, pundits in the media soon recognized that this project had thematic similarities to his breakout “Beautiful Creatures.” That may be true, but as the recently revealed trailer (see embedded above or click her for a larger version) shows that in someways “Bones” may be a much more conventional movie.
If the preview demonstrates anything though its that he casting of Oscar nominee Saorise Ronan (“Atonement”) as Susie, Rachel Weisz as Susie’s mom Abigail and Susan Sarandon as Grandma Lynn was spot on. However, since production the concern has always been about Mark Wahlberg. Also an Oscar nominee, Wahlberg was a last minute replacement for Ryan Gosling who transformed his appearance by gaining weight and growing a 70s style beard to play Susie’s traumatized dad Jack. This was not where Jackson wanted to and in an odd and embarrassing moment for all involved, found him quickly replaced by Wahlberg. Unfortunately, if any actor fit the description of Jack in the script it was the everyday appearance of Gosling. Not the best circumstances for any actor to experience while playing a difficult part, what is unclear in the trailer is whether Wahlberg has the range to pull of the emotional needs of the character. His traditional brash and blunt acting style is 180 degrees from Gosling and may even feel awkward for fans of the book. It’s either going to work or it isn’t, but it’s not an exaggeration to say the movie’s overall impact may hang on it.
Besides Wahlberg, the other big question hanging over the project was how Jackson and his WETA Digital artists would handle the interpretation of the in-between world Susie inhabits. It was one of the reasons for the projects long post-production schedule (filming began in Fall of 2007) and there was no doubt Jackson wanted to avoid the old heaven cliches that have become caricatures of themselves over the past century. The trailer provides only a tease, but it seems safe to say that aspect of the picture may have been worth the wait.
Because of Jackson’s history of winning three Oscars for “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” any film he makes is going to go under the awards season microscope and is labeled a frontrunner before the first still image is released. It’s a fate that befalls a select few including Clint Eastwood, James Cameron and Steven Spielberg (such troubles). And with the ten nominees dramatically changing awards season overall, what might be just an excellent supernatural thriller may easily find its way into a not-so crowded race. No doubt, its certainly going to be one of the more interesting award season storylines to watch this year.
“The Lovely Bones” opens nationwide on Dec. 11.
To view some new stills from the movie, click here.