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The Lovely Bones

Year: 2009
Studio: Dreamworks
Director: Peter Jackson
Writer: Peter Jackson/Fran Walsh/Phillipa Boyens/Alice Sebold
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci, Michael Imperioli

My first thought about the new film from the director who bought us some of the most expansive visions of other worlds in the 2000s was 'how can he go bigger?'

Instead, Jackson's adaptation of Alice Sebold's novel is the length of a normal feature film and despite the sort of visuals that made his name he zeroes in on a small story about a fractured family.

I haven't read the book but from what I've read Jackson makes three important departures from it. First, where Sebold glosses over the heavenly netherworld Susie Salmon (Ronan) finds herself in, Jackson spreads his wings, showing us mountain ranges sliding across landscapes, pastel-dappled sunsets filling the sky and giant ships in bottles smashing against a rocky shore.

Second, I understand Sebold was fairly graphic about Susie's rape and murder by neighbourhood psycho George Harvey (Tucci). Jackson not only never mentions the rape, he doesn't show us the murder. Instead, Susie arrives in her strange limbo between life and death seeing Harvey in his blood-streaked bathroom.

But third and most importantly, it misses many of the human details such as Susie's mother (Weisz) having an affair with the cop (Imperioli) investigating the killing. Instead Jackson's more interested in the possibilities of the image and visuals, so the critical consensus seems to be that he was the wrong director for the story.

I didn't completely agree, but again that might be because I haven't read the book and didn't miss the finer emotional details.

Susie's voiceover tells us from the get go that she's murdered at only 14 while growing up in the picturesque American Midwest with a loving family. Even though we know what happens, there's still a sense of menace as the creepy Harvey stalks her and eventually tricks her into joining him in his subterranean lair in the middle of a cornfield late one afternoon.

Susie goes to a strange dimension that's not quite heaven but which she can make into anything she wants, but it's not all perfect as she sees her family fall apart, her mother moving away and her grief-stricken father (Wahlberg) becoming obsessive about solving the crime.

The performances and period detail are both great, and although many will find it too PG after reading the book it's a good film on its own merits.

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