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The Lovely Bones

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Peter Jackson
Produced by Peter Jackson
Fran Walsh
Carolynne Cunningham
Aimée Peyronnet
Steven Spielberg (Executive)
Written by Peter Jackson
Fran Walsh
Philippa Boyens
Alice Sebold (Novel)
Narrated by Saoirse Ronan
Starring Saoirse Ronan
Mark Wahlberg
Rachel Weisz
Susan Sarandon
Amanda Michalka
Stanley Tucci
Michael Imperioli
Rose McIver
Music by Brian Eno
Cinematography Andrew Lesnie
Editing by Jabez Olssen
Studio Film4 Productions
WingNut Films
Distributed by DreamWorks Pictures
Release date(s) November 24, 2009 (2009-11-24)
(Royal premiere)
December 26, 2009 (2009-12-26)
(New Zealand)
January 15, 2010 (2010-01-15)
(United States)
February 19, 2010 (2010-02-19)
(United Kingdom)
Running time 135 min.
Country New Zealand
United States
United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $65 million[1]
Gross revenue $88,605,346[2]

The Lovely Bones is a 2009 drama film directed by Peter Jackson. It is a film adaptation of the award-winning and best-selling 2002 novel of the same name by Alice Sebold. The film stars Saoirse Ronan in the lead role as protagonist Susie Salmon, along with Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz, as her parents Jack and Abigail Salmon respectively, in supporting roles.

Jackson and his producer partners acquired the rights independently and developed a script on their own, later selling it to DreamWorks. Principal photography began in October 2007 in New Zealand and Pennsylvania, United States. After DreamWorks left the project, Paramount became the film's sole distributor.[3] The film's trailer was released on August 4, 2009, and clips from the movie were shown in July 2009.[4]

The Lovely Bones was first released on December 26, 2009 in New Zealand, and then internationally in January 2010. The film's North American release date was changed multiple times, with a limited release on December 11, 2009, and a wider release on January 15, 2010.[1] It was released to mainly mixed reviews from critics; the story and its message were generally criticized, with praise mainly aimed at the acting, particularly of Ronan and Stanley Tucci. In the film's opening weekend, in limited release, it grossed $116,616 despite only having been screened in three theaters, placing it at 30th place on the box office chart.[1] As of Feb. 28, 2010, The Lovely Bones has made an estimated $43,588,000 in North America.[5] The film, mainly its cast -- particularly Tucci -- has received various awards and nominations, notably including a Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild and Academy Award nominations.

Contents

Plot

In 1973, Susie Salmon (Ronan), a 14-year-old girl living in Norristown, Pennsylvania, dreams of growing up to become a famous photographer. On December 6, Ray Singh (Reece Ritchie), a boy Susie has had a crush on, approaches her at her locker and slips a note into her textbook. He asks her out for the following Saturday and attempts to kiss her, but they are interrupted by Ruth Conners (Carolyn Dando) being scolded by a teacher (Thomas McCarthy).

As Susie is walking home from school, she runs into her neighbor, George Harvey (Tucci), who coaxes her into seeing an underground den he says he has built for the neighborhood children. Susie eventually becomes uncomfortable in Harvey's presence and tries to leave; when he restrains her, she kicks him in the face and runs out of the den back into the field, passing Ruth along the way. Meanwhile, the Salmon family begins to worry that Susie hasn't returned home yet, and her father, Jack (Wahlberg), leaves into town to go look for her. Susie makes it into town and sees her father, but he does not notice her. Susie instead runs home, but discovers the house empty. She enters the upstairs bathroom to find Harvey soaking in a bathtub. After discovering her charm bracelet hanging on the sink faucet, near a bloody shaving razor, Susie realizes that she never escaped the den and was instead raped and murdered by Harvey. As she screams in horror, she is pulled away into a surreal world that is neither heaven nor earth, but "the in-between", where she continues to watch over her loved ones. She can not seem to let her life and family go despite her new afterlife friend, Holly (Nikki SooHoo), urging her to move on.

Police are called in to investigate Susie's disappearance the following morning. Detective Len Fenerman (Michael Imperioli) finds Susie's hat with traces of her blood on it and confirms that Susie has most likely been killed. In response, Jack develops all of Susie's pictures, and soon begins to obsessively research various neighbors, including Harvey, through their tax records. Fenerman interviews Harvey, but cannot find any evidence to pin him as a suspect. Lindsey comes to agree with her father on his suspicions, but their casework stresses Susie's mother, Abigail (Weisz), to the point where her alcoholic mother, Lynn (Susan Sarandon), moves into their home to look after the family. Stricken with grief and alienated from her husband, Abigail eventually leaves the family for California. In her afterlife, Susie decides to inspect a lighthouse that has been beaconing her to enter. Once there, she learns that Harvey has murdered several other young girls, including Holly, and that he is keeping Susie's body in a safe in his basement.

One night, Jack follows Harvey with a baseball bat into the cornfield seeking revenge upon him. However, Jack accidentally stumbles across Clarissa (Amanda Michalka), a friend of Susie's, with her boyfriend Brian (Jake Abel), who beats Jack unconscious. Jack is then hospitalized, which prompts Lindsey to continue his investigation. During a track run for school, Lindsey breaks into Harvey's house looking for evidence. She discovers a notebook hidden underneath his bedroom floorboard containing a sketch of the clubhouse and a piece of Susie's hair. Harvey returns home and catches Lindsey in his house, but she escapes and runs back home to discover that Abigail has returned. In fear of being caught, Harvey flees Norristown, taking with him the safe containing Susie's body.

Susie's realm of afterlife begins to expand into a larger heaven and she is greeted by Harvey's other victims. Holly asks Susie to enter it with them, but Susie declines, saying she has one more thing left to do. Meanwhile, Ruth and Ray are present at the sinkhole when Harvey drives up to dispose of the safe. Susie returns to Earth and enters Ruth's body, causing her to collapse. Ray rushes to Ruth's aid only to discover she has become Susie. They share a kiss, completing Susie's last wish, and she returns to heaven.

Sometime later, during the winter, Harvey meets a young woman outside a diner and attempts to coax her into his car, but she rebuffs him. Suddenly, a large icicle falls from an overhead branch and hits Harvey on the shoulder, causing him to fall backward over a cliff and into a ravine, killing him. Susie sees that Lindsey and her boyfriend Samuel Heckler (Andrew James Allen) are married and expecting a child, that her mother is now able to go into her room, and that her family is healing. Susie refers to these as "the lovely bones" that grew around her death. The film closes with Susie wishing her audience a long and happy life.

Cast

Ronan, who was 13 years old at the time of her casting and filming, was cast as Susie Salmon, a 14-year-old girl who is raped and murdered by her neighbor.[10] Ronan and her family were originally hesitant for Ronan to accept her role in the film because of its subject matter, but agreed after meeting with Jackson.[10]

Wahlberg was cast as Jack Salmon, Susie's father, who becomes obsessed with his daughter's murder case.[11][12] Wahlberg stated that his role in the film had encouraged him to be a more cautious parent with his three children and to talk to them more about "not talking to strangers."[13] Prior to Wahlberg's casting, Ryan Gosling was set to play the role but had to drop out right before principal photography.[11][14] Gosling reportedly dropped out of the film in October 2007, one month before filming.[15] Gosling, who had gained 20 pounds and grown a beard for the role, said that he'd dropped out of the role due to the age difference between him and the character, stating: "The age of the character versus my real age [of twenty-nine] was always a concern of mine. Peter [Jackson] and I tried to make it work and ultimately it just didn't. I think the film is much better off with Mark Wahlberg in that role."[11][14][15]

Weisz was cast as Abigail Salmon, Susie's mother. After Susie's murder her mother despairs and abandons the family.[12][13] Weisz stated that playing the character and the film and novel's "uplifting theme" made her look at life as a "treasure" and the film gave her a "positive feeling" rather than a "depressed" one.[13] Ashdale was cast as Buckley Salmon, Susie's younger brother.[12] Tucci was cast as George Harvey, a serial killer who rapes and murders Susie.[16][17] Tucci stated that he'd researched his role by watching documentaries and reading books by criminal profiler John Douglas about catching serial killers.[18] Tucci stated that his wife, Kate, had strongly urged him not to accept his role in the film because she felt, after reading the novel, that the film and his character was too "harrowing."[16]

Sarandon was cast as Lynn, Susie's grandmother.[19][20] Sarandon stated that her character is like a "comic relief" and that her character deals with the pain of Susie's death by drinking, smoking and shooting guns.[19][20][21] McIver was cast as Lindsey Salmon, Susie's younger sister who is the first to suspect Harvey as being involved in Susie's death.[13][22] Jackson cast McIver particularly because she was an unknown actress.[22] Mclver stated that she had read and been a fan of the novel prior to having been cast in the film.[13] Imperioli was cast as Len Fenerman, the detective who's in charge of investigating Susie's death.[23] Ritchie was cast as Ray Singh, Susie's mutual love interest and friend.[24] Ritchie stated that his character is strongly affected by Susie's death and his character in the film is the first to be suspected of having murdered Susie.[24]

Saxton was cast as Ronald Drake, one of the murder suspects.[25] Dando was cast as Ruth Conners, a classmate of Susie's.[8][22] Jackson stated that after he'd searched all over the world for the role, he ultimately chose to cast Dando, a relatively unknown actress, who was also a working as a waitress prior to her casting.[22] Michalka, a musician, was cast as Clarissa, Susie’s best friend.[9] SooHoo was cast as Holly, Susie's best friend in Heaven.

Peter Jackson has a brief stand-in cameo as a man testing out a cine camera in the photo development store.

Production

In May 2000, Film4 Productions acquired feature film rights to Alice Sebold's novel The Lovely Bones,[26] when it was a half-written manuscript. Producer Aimee Peyronnet had sought to attract studio interest to the manuscript, and an insider informed Film4's deputy head of production, Jim Wilson, of the project.[27] The company attached Luc Besson and Peyronnet's production company Seaside to the project, two years before the novel's release.[26] By February 2001, Lynne Ramsay was hired to direct and write the film adaptation of the novel.[28] In July 2002, Channel 4 shut down Film4, causing Hollywood studios and producers to pursue acquisition of feature film rights to The Lovely Bones, which had spent multiple weeks at the top of the New York Times Best Seller list. The film adaptation, which had been estimated at a budget of $15 million, remained with Channel 4 under its newly developed inhouse film unit, with Ramsay still contracted to write and direct. By October 2002, Ramsay was writing the script with fellow screenwriter Liana Dognini, with filming planned for summer 2003.[27] Author Alice Sebold was invited by the producers to provide input on the project.[29]

In July 2003, the studio DreamWorks negotiated a first look deal with producer Peyronnet,[30] after DreamWorks founder Steven Spielberg had expressed interest in the project.[31] DreamWorks did not acquire the rights to the novel, and Ramsay was eventually detached from the project. In April 2004, producers Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens entered negotiations to develop the project.[32] Jackson described the book as "a wonderfully emotional and powerful story. Like all the best fantasy, it has a solid grounding in the real world."[33] By January 2005, Jackson and Walsh planned to independently purchase film rights and to seek studio financing after a script had been developed. The producers sought to begin adapting a spec script for The Lovely Bones in January 2006, with the goal of script completion and budget estimation by the following May.[34]

Jackson explained he enjoyed the novel because he found it "curiously optimistic" and uplifting because of the narrator's sense of humor, adding there was a difference between its tone and subject matter. He felt very few films dealt with the loss of a loved one.[35] Jackson foresaw the most challenging element in the novel to adapt was the portrayal of Susie, the protagonist, in heaven, and making it "ethereal and emotional but not hokey".[33] Saoirse Ronan explained Jackson chose to depict the afterlife as depending on Susie's emotions. "Whenever Susie feels happy, Heaven is sunny and there's birds and everything. Whenever it’s not so great, it's raining or she’s in the middle of an ocean."[36] Jackson described the book's description of "heaven" as being an "In-Between" rather than a true heaven and said he was not trying to paint a definitive picture of Heaven itself.[35]

"[I] basically add more violence and suffering, [the audience] wanted far more violence [...] They just weren't satisfied [...] We got a lot of people telling us that they were disappointed with this death scene, as they wanted to see [the character] in agony and suffer a lot more, we had to create a whole suffering death scene just to give people the satisfaction they needed."

Jackson tells Reuters on re-shooting Harvey's death scene in the film in November 2009.[37]

A 120-page draft of the script was written by September 2006.[38] In April 2007, with the script completed by Jackson, Walsh, and Boyens, and Jackson intending to direct, the group of producers began seeking a studio partner to finance the film adaptation. Besides the major studios, smaller companies including United Artists were also contacted. New Line Cinema was excluded from negotiations due to Jackson's legal dispute with the studio over royalties from his Lord of the Rings trilogy.[39] Jackson sought a beginning $65 million budget for The Lovely Bones, also requesting from studios what kind of promotional commitments and suggestions they would make for the film adaptation.[40]

By May, four studios remained interested in the project: DreamWorks, Warner Bros., Sony, and Universal.[41] The Lovely Bones was sold to DreamWorks for $70 million.[42] Paramount Pictures received the rights to distribute the film worldwide. Production began in October 2007 in Pennsylvania and New Zealand.[6][14] Shooting in parts of Delaware, Chester and Montgomery Counties, including Hatfield,[43] Ridley Township, Phoenixville, Royersford, Malvern and East Fallowfield[44] lasted a few weeks, and most of the studio shooting was done in New Zealand.[38]

In December 2008, Brian Eno signed on to compose the film's score. Fran Walsh, a big fan of his work, suggested him to Jackson.[45] Jackson had called Eno to request using two of his early tracks to evoke atmosphere for the 1970s scenes in the film, when Eno asked if he could compose the whole score, which surprised Jackson since he had heard Eno did not like working on films. For the film's ending, Eno uncovered a demo he had done in 1973 and reunited with the vocalist to create a proper version for the film, commenting: "That song from 1973 was finally finished in 2008!"[46] In November 2009, Jackson stated that he re-shot new footage of Harvey's death scene after test audiences said it was not violent enough and wanted to 'see more of Harvey in pain.'[15][37]

Jackson stated that it was important to him that the movie receive a PG-13 so that the film could appeal to the widest possible audience, despite the necessarily violent nature of some scenes.[15]

Release

Strategy

Jackson at 2009 Comic-Con film festival. While at the film festival, Jackson talked about the film and screened a clip from the film.

The Lovely Bones was originally scheduled for release on March 13, 2009, but it was delayed to December 11, 2009, as the studio became interested in releasing the film for "awards season", which gave Jackson an opportunity to make some effects shots larger in scope.[47] The film then received a limited theatre release on December 11, 2009, in the United States.[48] The film was originally set to have a wider United States theatre release on December 25, 2009 (Christmas Day),[49] as part of a campaign to build its momentum into January 2010.[50] In early December it was confirmed that the United States release date had been pushed back by three weeks to January 15, 2010.[49][51] Paramount and DreamWorks did not give a reason for the change of the release date.[49] The film premiered in New Zealand on December 26, 2009, and was released in the United Kingdom on January 29 and internationally (including the United States) in January 2010.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Paramount invested $70 million in production and an additional $85 million in worldwide marketing and distribution.[51] Jackson had a hand in marketing for the film.[52] In December 2009, the Los Angeles Times described the marketing and promotion of The Lovely Bones as having been a "heavy advertising campaign."[50] In late July 2009, as part of the promotion, Jackson talked about the film at the 2009 Comic-con film festival.[52] While Jackson was at the Comic-con he also screened a four and a half minute clip of the film alongside screenings of District 9, a film that, like The Lovely Bones, he produced.[52]

As part of marketing for the film, in August 2009, people were allowed to enter a contest which required registering at Morefm.co.nz, to win a trip to Wellington, New Zealand, for the New Zealand premiere of the film on December 14, 2009.[53] The offer included, if the winner lived outside of Wellington, a one night’s accommodation of a voucher for flight or petrol to Wellington.[53] As part of the promotion for the film, a teaser trailer was released in August, days before the film's official trailer.[54] The film's official trailer debuted on the television series Entertainment Tonight in August 2009, and was released online shortly afterwards.[52][55] In August 2009, Jackson offered a 'behind-the-scenes look' of the film and discussed elements (mainly violence) in the film's plot line.[56]

Paramount had originally aimed the film at 'older movie goers', but after poor revenue and reviews, Paramount then decided to redirect the film to an audience in another age group.[50] After surveys showed that the film was favored more by females than any other demographic, the film was then aimed at 'young women.'[50] Paramount then began to screen the movie "aggressively for high school- and college-age girls" during the film's limited-theater release.[50] The Los Angeles Times stated that DreamWorks had originally expected the film to appeal to a "sophisticated, adult audience," but after test screenings in the fall, it revealed that it wasn't favored by adults, but rather young females who had "reacted most favorably after seeing it."[50]

Box office

On December 11, 2009, the film was released in North America in a limited theater release and had a wider release on January 15, 2010. During its limited release of only playing on three theatre screens, it was screened only in Los Angeles and New York.[21] The film, as of January 4, 2010, had grossed over $389,000 domestically.[1] Claudia Eller and Ben Fritz of the Los Angeles Times had felt that it did poorly at the box office in the first few weeks of its release because of both poor reviews and word-of-mouth.[50] During the opening weekend release of The Lovely Bones, the film was only shown on three screens nationwide and earned over $116,616 – averaging an estimated $38,872 per-theater revenue.[1] The film's revenue placed it at thirtieth place at the box office chart.[1] In the film's second and third week of release, the film saw a decent decrease but saw a 54.3% increase in the fourth week.[57]

The film was released internationally on December 26, 2009 (having first been released to Australia in a limited release). While it was in limited release in North America, the film's box office revenue was mainly contributed to by non-North American territories.[1] As of February 4, 2010, it has generated a revenue of $50,717,689; $11,494,258 is from international countries, with the film's revenue consisting of an estimated percentage of 22.7 (international) compared to 77.3 (North America).[1]

Home release

The film will be released onto DVD and 2-disc Blu-ray April 20th.[58]

Reception

Critical reception

Despite the film receiving mixed to negative reviews, various critics praised Tucci's performance.

The film has received generally negative reviews from movie critics.[59] The film currently holds a 32% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 168 reviews.[60] Among Rotten Tomatoes's Cream of the Crop, which consists of popular and notable critics from the top newspapers, websites, television, and radio programs, the film holds an overall approval rating of 32% based on 34 reviews.[61] Another review aggregator, Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating from 100 top reviews from mainstream critics, gave the film an average score of 42% based on 36 reviews.[62] Ian Freer of Empire gave the film 4/5 stars.[63] Freer emphasized the "bold, daring original filmmaking, with arguably more emotional and intellectual meat to chew on than either the Rings trilogy or Kong.[63] Freer noted that like The Lord of the Rings, the film "does a fantastic job with revered, complex source material" and that since it is "as terrific on terra firma as it is audacious in its astral plane" it is "doubtful" that there would be a "more imaginative" and "courageous film" in 2010.[63]

Richard Corliss, of Time, wrote that "through [Peter] Jackson's art" and Ronan's "magic" the "obscenity of child murder has been invested with immense gravity and grace" and "like the story of Susie's life after death, that's a miracle."[64] Peter Travers, of Rolling Stone, felt that the film was "conveyed" in a "remarkable performance" by Ronan and described Tucci as being "magnificent as a man of uncontrollable impulses" to "help Jackson cut a path to a humanity that supersedes life and death."[65] Travers praised Jackson for building "jolting suspense". Despite praising the film, however, Travers noted that while the book "never flinched" the film does and while the "business is being transacted" by Jackson with a "Lord of the Rings fantasy" the film "attunes himself to a family tragedy."[65]

Claudia Puig of USA Today gave the film 2/4 stars, remarking that while "[Peter] Jackson gets the thriller scenes right", the "conceit of Susie trapped in a DayGlo world between the one she left and her final resting place, imparting lessons on coping with death, feels preachy."[66] Puig also described the film as having 'strike' "clashing tones" that veer from "lightheartedness to heavy-handedness."[66] Puig also criticized the film's computer generated imagery, describing it as being "cheesy" and felt that it broke "no ground."[66] Kirt Honeycutt, of the Hollywood Reporter described the film as telling "a fundamentally different story" which is "one that is not without its tension, humor and compelling details", but that "it's also a simpler, more button-pushing tale that misses the joy and heartbreak of the original."[67] Honeycutt also described Jackson as having transformed Sebold's "startling, unique novel about the aftermath of a terrible murder" into a story that's more "focused on crime and punishment."[67]

[Alice] Sebold's book would've had a tough leap to the multiplex no matter who guided it. But [Peter] Jackson is too enamored with the idea of mixing heaven and the heebie-jeebies, so he's made the skeevy equivalent of a Mitch Albom book with some pulp fiction pressed between its covers.

Joe Neumaier of New York Daily News[68]

Stephanie Zacharek, of Salon.com, viewed the film as being "an expensive-looking mess that fails to capture the mood, and the poetry, of its source material" because "good actors fighting a poorly conceived script, under the guidance of a director who can no longer make the distinction between imaginativeness and computer-generated effects."[69] Todd McCarthy, of Variety, felt that Jackson had undermined the "solid work from a good cast" with a "show-offy celestial evocations" that "severely disrupt the emotional connections with the characters."[70] McCarthy stated that he felt that the film, overall, was a "significant artistic disappointment."[70] Joe Neumaier, of New York Daily News, described Jackson as having "siphoned out all the soulfulness" that made the author's "combination thriller/afterlife fantasy a best-seller" and that the film was "a gumball-colored potboiler that's more squalid than truly mournful."[68] Neumaier also wrote that the film and Jackson "wasted" a "good cast."[68] Roger Ebert of Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 1.5 stars out of 4, calling it "deplorable", and criticizing the apparent message that Susie's murder eventually made her happier. He was also critical of the film's portrayal of heaven, which he compared to "happy gathering of new Facebook friends". However, he praised the acting, stating that "this whole film is Jackson's fault".[71]

Awards

The film garnered various nominations, mostly for Tucci's performance. The Lovely Bones received six nominations from the Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards; three nominations were for Ronan and Tucci and three were for the film's cinematography, art direction and visual effects.[72] Tucci's portrayal as Susie's killer earned him a nomination from the Golden Globe committee in the category of Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture[73] as well as a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination in the category of Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role.[74] The film also received nominations for Best Supporting Actor (Tucci) and Best Art Direction from the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association Awards.[72]

Award Category Nominee Result
7th Irish Film and Television Awards Best Leading Actress Saoirse Ronan Won
82nd Academy Awards Best Supporting Actor Stanley Tucci Nominated
67th Golden Globe Awards[73] Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
16th Screen Actors Guild Awards[74] Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
2009 Washington DC Area Film Critics Association Awards[72] Best Supporting Actor
Best Art Direction The Lovely Bones
2009 Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards[72] Best Actress Saoirse Ronan
Best Young Actor/Actress Won
Best Supporting Actor Stanley Tucci Nominated
Best Art Direction The Lovely Bones
Best Cinematography
Best Visual Effects

References

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