Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 5, 2020)
Mainly known as the director of fantasy efforts like the Lord of the Rings trilogy and 2005ís King Kong, people forget that Peter Jacksonís first big splash in the world of cinema came via 1994ís Heavenly Creatures. A drama based on real events, it stands out when compared to the main Jackson filmography.
In 2009, Jackson broke from his mold again with The Lovely Bones - somewhat. While this effort comes with fantasy elements, it provides a much smaller scale tale than Jacksonís prior epics.
Based on Alice Seboldís 2002 novel, Bones takes place in the Philadelphia suburbs circa 1973. 14-year-old Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) leads a perfectly typical, ordinary life.
Until oddball neighbor George Harvey (Stanley Tucci) kills her, that is. This leaves Susie in an ethereal limbo where she can still observe her former world.
Susie finds herself with a dilemma. While she desires revenge against the psychopath who murdered her, she needs to balance this against her familyís need to heal.
Though Paramount acted as one of this siteís best supporters for our first decades, in 2009 they cut us off completely. They came back on board in early 2012, but we went about two years where we reviewed only a handful of Paramount releases.
Much of the time this disappointed me, as we didnít get review copies of some big movies in that span. In the case of Bones, though, I felt some relief, as I didnít really want to review that film.
Due to Jacksonís involvement and the movieís generally high profile, I wouldíve felt compelled to write up Bones back in 2010. However, I saw it theatrically and felt too dissatisfied with the film to want to deal with it again on Blu-ray after only a few months.
10 years later, I found myself curious to revisit Bones. I knew I didnít care for the film when I viewed it theatrically, but enough time passed that I didnít really remember why, and I thought Iíd like to give it a fresh appraisal.
I had it right the first time. Disjointed and dull, the movie fails to capture the material in a satisfying manner.
Jackson does manage to evoke the feel of the 70s, but beyond that, he shows no touch for the story or characters. As I noted earlier, the Jackson of 2009 had devoted the prior 15 years of his life to fantasy tales.
From 1996ís Frighteners through the three Lord of the Rings films and Kong, Jackson pursued films that distanced themselves from the real world. Frighteners remained fairly small scale, but the others delivered massively expensive epics.
As noted, we get a fair amount of fantasy in Bones, but not nearly as much as in Frighteners, where ghosts and the supernatural provide most of the action. Bones aspires to deliver a human drama with a fantasy twist, and thatís where it fails.
In the 15 years between Heavenly Creatures and Bones, Jackson seemed to forget how to make a ďsmallĒ movie. Bones practically begs to become an introspective character piece, but Jackson canít resist the urge to turn it into an effects extravaganza.
This doesnít work. Jackson seems so hung up on the various CG elements that he forgets to flesh out an interesting story.
It doesnít help that Bones canít decide where to focus. It flits around from Susie to her family to the murderer without much coherence, and the various parts fail to fit together in a smooth manner.
All the different characters and plot points seem disconnected to some degree, and they donít meld. It feels like Jackson tries to cram too much into 136 minutes and doesnít manage to make it work.
Jackson also finds no ability to bring out the movieís more subtle moments. As noted, he leans heavily on gaudy visuals, and the film lacks an emotional core. We donít invest in the characters or care much what happens to them.
Bones does boast a nice cast. In addition to Ronan and Tucci, we find Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon and Michael Imperioli.
Given Jacksonís focus on the effects, none get much room to breathe. They provide decent performances but no better since the film doesnít allow them the space to operate.
Right after Bones, Jackson fell back into Tolkien, a move that makes sense. Whatever flaws the Hobbit trilogy presents, they offer material more in the directorís wheelhouse.
Iím glad Jackson attempted something different with Bones, but beyond an ďAĒ for ambition, I find little to praise here. The movie shows that the director remains best-suited for more fantastic fare.
Footnote: because the filmís end credits start almost 15 minutes before it concludes, you might expect some kind of added scene in there. Nope Ė the movie just comes with ridiculously long credits!