AFTER raising the bars for both epic filmmaking and book adaptations with his Lord of the Rings trilogy, Kiwi filmmaker Peter Jackson has returned to literature with his version of popular 2002 novel The Lovely Bones by Alice Seabold.
The Lovely Bones is a completely different affair, both in style and in the fact that where Rings hit its marks perfectly, The Lovely Bones feels like a misfire that struggles to match the book’s poetic achievements.
That aside, one has to applaud Jackson’s ambition in tackling a story that doesn’t fit any easy film adaptation template and his willingness to explore uncharted territory after his 2005 remake of King Kong.
The plot concerns 14-year-old Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan). She is murdered by neighbour George Harvey (Stanley Tucci), who conceals the body and escapes suspicion from investigating police.
Departed Susie finds herself residing in a realm called The In-between, which exists between the physical world she left with her death and the afterlife referred to as Heaven, though the film doesn’t include religion-specific elements.
Looking down on her grieving family and on the killer who becomes increasingly convinced he has gotten away with the crime, Susie is unwilling to move on to Heaven with so many loose ends still causing pain to herself and her family, including her father Jack (Mark Wahlberg), who has become increasingly obsessed with finding the truth about her death.
The scenes in the afterlife are highlights, with some wildly imaginative CGI landscapes where nothing is too far-out, including a fleet of life-size model ships in giant bottles wrecking on an alien shoreline.
Unfortunately for special effects fans, most of the film is set in the real world and the spectacular afterlife scenes diminish as the film progresses.
Tucci (Julie and Julia, The Devil Wears Prada) puts in an amazing performance as serial killer Harvey, attracting a Golden Globe nod for his unsettling but subtle portrayal of a monstrous character.
In the book, Susie is raped, murdered and dismembered. This scene is not shown in the film and there is no reference to rape or dismemberment, though it is implied that Harvey is sexually motivated.
With a sudden and unsatisfying ending, The Lovely Bones doesn’t have half the impact emotionally or viscerally that Seabold or Jackson fans would have anticipated and therein lies the big disappointment.
The Lovely Bones (M)
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Stanley Tucci, Mark Wahlberg
Rating: Two and a half stars (135 minutes)
Screening: from December 26