Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) remembers when she was a little girl, and was captivated by the snowglobe that she owned which contained a little figure of a penguin; she was entranced by the thought of it trapped forever in its own perfect world. When she was older, she saved her brother from choking on a twig by dragging his body into the family car when her parents were out and driving him to the hospital - it's a miracle she didn't get into an accident and her grandmother (Susan Sarandon) told her she had done such a good deed that she would live a long and fruitful life in return, as it was the way of the world. But when she was fourteen, Susie was murdered...
It's safe to say that Peter Jackson did not receive the kind of acclaim for his film version of The Lovely Bones that the original author Alice Sebold had when it was published. In fact, for those who had read it the reaction was one of utter disdain, as if he had been so caught up in his cinematic box of tricks that he had lost sight of his story and what had made it affect so many readers. Yet while it's true there was little sense that the director had artisitcally secured a handle on his production, it was unfair to pin that solely on the computer effects that peppered the narrative, as they didn't really dominate, even if they did stick in audience's minds as being the worst aspect.
But depictions of the afterlife, which is where Susie narrates from, have always been very much in the eye of the beholder, and Jackson adopted a painterly approach that was appropriately unreal. So Susie makes her way through a variety of artificial-looking landscapes depicting different seasons and sometimes over literal representations of what has happened to her before she arrived there, along with pointers to what will occur to those she has left behind. Though these may be vivid and never convincing - but what would be? - there are bigger problems with this than its endeavours to give its dead heroine peace through the wonders of technology, as the sequences set in the real world were no less troublesome.
At first it appears Jackson is reaching that uncertain balance between the sweetness of Susie's pre-murder life, where she is about to fall in love properly for the first time and the seeds of her career as a photographer are being sown, and the fact that we already know (as she has told us) that she will be killed soon. Yet still there is an unsteady idealisation of the character's life that never rings true, and after the terrible act that befalls her the film does not recover, no matter how often Ronan gazes off into the distance with a wistful yet meaningful expression on her face. It doesn't help that the killer is played by Stanley Tucci in a weirdly cartoonish manner, as if it was the movie's idea of what a serial murderer should be rather than anyone who seems authentic.
For example, look at the makeup job that Tucci is labouring under, the man's appearance simply screams creepy, another element of overemphasis that would see him arrested within nanoseconds rather than allowed to go about his business unimpeded. Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz play the parents with almost nothing to work with, buffeted along by the plot without making much impression, leaving the acting honours to go to Sarandon going over the top as the grandmother and Rose McIver to turn Nancy Drew as the younger sister in another unpersuasive thread. On this evidence, it's hard to see how anyone thought The Lovely Bones would make a smooth transition to the screen, and you could argue that in trying to make dewey-eyed and palatable what should have been harrowing they were adopting a horrendously misjudged tack. As it plays out, the drama grows tedious as we await the killer's comeuppance, and even then that conclusion fails to satisfy with a silly coda. We can only be thankful it wasn't based on a real case. Music by Leo Abrahams and Brian Eno.
Hugely talented New Zealand director best known today for his Lord of the Rings adaptations. Started out making inventive, entertaining gore comedies like Bad Taste and Braindead, while his adult Muppet-spoof Meet the Feebles was a true one-off. Jackson's powerful murder drama Heavenly Creatures was his breakthrough as a more 'serious' filmmaker, and if horror comedy The Frighteners was a bit of a disappoinment, then his epic The Lord Of The Rings trilogy - Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King were often breathtaking interpretations of Tolkien's books. 2005's blockbuster King Kong saw Jackson finally realise his dream of updating his all-time favourite film, but literary adaptation The Lovely Bones won him little respect. In 2012 he returned to Middle Earth with the three-part epic The Hobbit and in 2018 directed acclaimed WWI doc They Shall Not Grow Old.