Two (Almost) Lovely Stories

There’s a lot of times when you read a book and then later it gets made into a movie.  You watch the film, but often times it leaves you feeling “the book was better”.  Many times, that’s not a dig on the movie – it’s very hard to convey the subtleties that an author can in a 90-120 minute film.
But while I was on vacation, I read Alice Sebold’s 2002  book “The Lovely Bones” which I was curious about because a month or so before we had watched Peter Jackson’s 2009 film adaptation.  I give them both a solid “B”, but for different reasons.
(A FEW SPOILERS)
The Lovely Bones
Alice Sebold

The book tells the story of the murder of a teenage girl (Susie Salmon, like the fish) and its aftermath on her family.  The story’s device is that it’s told from Susie’s vantage point in the afterlife.  Susie recounts what happens and watches her family deal with her disappearance and death, tries to will them discover her murderer and eventually hopes that they’ll move on and be happy with the life left to them.  The most gripping part of the book is her entrapment and demise and her father’s relentless obsession with finding her killer.  There are some minor supernatural elements that are blended nicely into the story and give the read a gauzy dreamlike feel.  My problem with the book was that that most interesting part was all in the first half.  The second half is more of a meandering story of a family that crumbles under the stress of having a lost a daughter and then reassembles.  I cared mostly about Susie, her murder and finding out whether her killer would be caught and so the second half left me a little flat.
Jackson seemed to feel the same way, because in the film he pared down the story to focus on Susie, her murder and finding out whether her killer would be caught.  Good going, Peter.  Saoirse Ronan was wonderfully cast as Susie and epitomized that fragile age of not-a-child, not-a-real-teenager.  The scenes with her were riveting, and the Jackson nails the subtle supernatural aspects to good effect.  Stanley Tucci was incredibly creepy as the man that kills Susie.   In many ways, this film was prepped to maybe be better than the novel because of these performances and more focused story-telling.

Then Peter decided to stray from the material (rather than trim and edit) and got very “What Dreams May Come” with Susie’s afterlife.  There were bizarre “heavenly” FX shots that a) didn’t look that great, and b) had pretty much no impact on the story.  There’s a reason that heaven is effectively shown as a white light (see LOST finale), because trying to “show” heaven is always going to be a letdown.  Those scenes’ inclusion were really too bad, because they were constantly derailing an otherwise fine film.   Sometimes, Peter, less is more.

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18 thoughts on “Two (Almost) Lovely Stories

  1. Great review. (more spoilers, maybe)I had the same criticisms of the book – that powerful beginning is what dragged me through it as it slowed down and I began to realize that it wasn't going to come to the ending I wanted (even though I was glad it didn't). As for the movie, it didn't disappoint me – it was different enough from the book to be good in its own right, without moving so far that I felt it had lost the point. I really liked the bizarre afterlife shots – and I felt that both the book and the movie were careful enough to point out it was a kind of in-between, and still offered the white light as the eventual beyond. I think the movie would have been lost without those scenes, at least for me. Then again, I guess I understood them better because I did these two in the reverse order from you – and so I read a lot more into the movie than was perhaps there?

  2. I thought it was one of the best book to movie adaptations I've seen. Being a big reader so many have let me down. Too often important things or even characters (The Beach) are left out. The Time Travellers Wife was a shocker. I think the characters were all spot on. The sister, Lindsay was great.

  3. LOM — you bring up a good point about watching-reading them in reverse order than I did. PJ may have assumed that most of his viewers would have read the material before (maybe like LoTR) and he was trying to enhance/deepen the story. But when I watched some of those scenes, I thought "that can't be in the book".

  4. cat — yes, I really did enjoy both. And you're right — Lindsay was really excellent. The film scene (where she steals the evidence) was really tight and suspenseful.

  5. If I had to choose one, Budd — I'd say read the book (which is a pretty easy default in the book v. movie contest), but the movie was really pretty good, too and many of the scenes really effective.

  6. Then I shall check it out. Cheers! Have you seen the Benjamin Buttons film yet? You must do if not. I have recently borrowed that as well as Changeling, which I have not watched yet. Went to see Buttons in the theatre first time with Masha when we were dating.Did you watch the final world cup game? What an exciting game! Imagine the Dutch players being such arseholes. I always liked Dutch people and even lived there. Wassup wit dat?

  7. I haven't seen Benjamin Button — I ususally steer away from Brad and Angelina movies — though I also heard that Changling was really good — and I like the writer of that film a lot, so maybe I'll have to let go of my prejudices!

  8. havent read the book or seen the movie, so i stopped reading your post after you said there were spoilers. but i had to add that i cant wait to see the movie!!!

  9. Yes, check it out. I did not watch it last night as I was too worn out from work (and hence took today off, something I never do!) but maybe will tonight. I did enjoy the film and so did Masha, the ultimate critic.

  10. Oh no! Am I the only one who loves What Dreams May Come?!NOT THAT I WANT TO BAWL MY EYES OUT JUST THINKING ABOUT IT OR ANYTHING(But seriously… when his dog runs to him! It just destroys me every time!)

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