"Haunting in every way, it is a great film that could or should have been magnificent"

After taking on the epic challenges of The Lord of the Rings trilogy and a remake of King Kong, director Peter Jackson turned his attentions to a smaller project, an adaptation of Alice Sebold's best selling novel of life, death and the after-life, The Lovely Bones. I have not read the novel, so it is impossible for me to know how closely it hews to the book's narrative, but the film that has emerged starts out strong in it's first 30 or so minutes, and then admittedly it loses focus and audience empathy. That's not to say that the film is without its merits. The visual side of things, as you can imagine, is rather special. Whether it's giant ships in bottles shattering against rocks, mirrored lakes with magnificent vanilla skies, or tree leaves fluttering away to become birds, Jackson truly delivers. 

The cast does a reasonably good job, some of the sequences are filmed with the same nail-biting suspense and unflinching mastery you would expect from the director of modern cinema's most successfully audacious epic trilogy. However, its possible that Peter Jackson was too concerned with making a great looking, technically impressive film which has overshadowed the human element of the story. The acting is hit and miss, Susan Sarandon was disappointing and Mark Wahlberg who is also very talented, seems to sleepwalk through the film - his character is two dimensional but this could be due to the writing of his character rather than his performance. Rachel Weisz is inexplicably missing in action throughout most of the film but they give her a lot of depth for what little screen time she has. Saoirse Ronan brings believability and grace, but the only actor who really distinguishes himself in The Lovely Bones is Stanley Tucci as Harvey. Tucci, especially in his scene with Susie in the underground "playroom" he constructed, hits just the right note of discomfort to make George Harvey a man who instantly proves off-putting while seeming on the surface to be just shy.

Despite it's faults The Lovely Bones still makes for one of the most original and compelling film experiences of the year. Haunting in every way, it is a great film that could or should have been magnificent. Had the execution not been so unbelievably disjointed, The Lovely Bones could have been one of the year's best films. It's a spiritual adventure: this story isn't about the sadness of Susie's death so much as the hopefulness that can eventually arise out of such sadness.