What Went Wrong: The Lovely Bones
By Shalimar Sahota
May 12, 2011
Reviews at the time were harsh, criticizing Jackson for playing down the more traumatic moments from the novel. It’s clear that Susie has been killed, but we never see how. Unlike the novel, there is no implication that she is even raped. As a response to the reviews, Jackson said in an interview with CNN, “I wouldn’t change the film.” Even he admitted that the reason the film didn’t do so well was because of the subject matter. “To go and see a film essentially about a 14-year-old girl who’s murdered - I can imagine that’s not necessarily going to be at the top of everybody’s list as a must-see film. In a way it was always going to be a difficult film from that point of view.”
While it effectively blends a lot of different genres together, not being able to slot The Lovely Bones into any particular one made it more of a tough sell. Audiences probably didn’t know what they were getting; one half family drama, the other half crime thriller, all peppered with a supernatural fantasy element. The trailer showed that the film is certainly a unique hybrid, and is more about what happens after Susie’s murder. Also, halfway through the film, it becomes slightly less about Susie and more about her sister Lindsey (Rose McIver). It’s the character of Lindsey who also has the best scene in the film, when she breaks into Mr Harvey’s house.
Susie is trapped in an almost perfect playground-like purgatory, which her younger brother calls “the in-between.” While the scenes here look beautiful, only Susie’s encounter with other children that also happen to be victims helps add to the story and the character Mr Harvey. The rest of the time in “the in-between” just pads the running time.
Before it was released, Sebold revealed that her input on the film was merely answering a few questions. She gave the impression that she didn’t really wish to get involved, and just wanted to let Jackson carry on with it. “It’s his film,” said Sebold. “I’m excited to see what he does with it. I know it’s not going to be my book.”
According to Jackson, Sebold has seen the film, but because of the differences with the book, he apparently asked her not to take part in any publicity for the film. Since she considers it to be Jackson’s vision and not hers, she has kept her opinions on the film to herself.
When promoting the film in the UK, Jackson told Sky News, “There was a danger with The Lovely Bones that if I went too much in one direction it would be so depressing that no one would ever want to come and see the movie.” To be fair, he has a point. He could have made a close to authentic adaptation, going so far as to filming Susie’s rape and dismemberment, and in doing so it’s also quite likely that the film would leave an incredibly emotional wallop upon audiences, possibly even leading to far better praise with the critics as well (because all critics are perverts). But the film may have remained in limited release, with no chance of making a profit, since the majority of well-adjusted people aren’t going to be thinking, “I know, lets go see that film where a young girl gets raped… we’ll bring the kids.”
In trying to avoid an R-rating and reach a wider audience, Jackson instead turned in a slightly more cloying film and had to suffer the wrath of critics because of it. Regardless of how he approached it, given what Jackson was adapting meant that it was clearly going to be difficult getting anyone to see it. That it earned close to $100 million worldwide has to been taken as some sort of a triumph.