Review in a Hurry: Peter Jackson goes back into Heavenly Creatures territory with this adaptation of Alice Sebold's bestseller about murder and girls' fantasy worlds, but it seems that years of making unconstrained, sprawling fantasy epics have completely eroded his ability to construct a tight narrative. Real pretty to look at, though.
The Bigger Picture: It may come as a surprise to younger viewers, but there was a time when Peter Jackson was not primarily known for four-hour director's cuts of movies full of lumbering beast armies. Aside from some well-regarded gross-out horror-comedies, he really put himself on the map with Heavenly Creatures, a drama that used CG to create the fantasy world of two girls (one of whom was a then-unknown Kate Winslet) who resort to murder when the illusion is pulled apart by reality. For those of us who feel that this, and not The Lord of the Rings, was his true artistic masterpiece, the idea of The Lovely Bones was something to get excited about.
It's the story of a teenage girl named Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) who is abducted and murdered by the neighborhood creep (Stanley Tucci, impressively disappearing into character more than usual), but then remains caught in an "in-between" afterlife spawned from her own imagination, unable to move on until she can let go of the loose ends still involved. But getting over her own murder is hard enough; how can she move on when the killer, who is still out there, starts to pursue her sister, too? Can her cries from the afterlife be heard in time?
Would that the audience had as hard a time hearing her cries as the living do, for Susie never shuts up. Her family may take forever to figure out the details of the crime, but Jackson doesn't trust us to do the same, having Susie narrate every scene in a manner that allows for no ambiguity whatsoever. His little in-jokes are just as infuriatingly self-conscious: a cameo appearance in a music store here, a gratuitous Lord of the Rings poster there. And yet the one thing Susie never does clarify is what exactly her power to influence the real world is—the ending suggests it's more than was ever let on, and feels like a cheat as a result.
Jackson is, unsurprisingly, at his best in creating the fantasy realm, where ships in giant glass bottles crack and crash ashore, day and night can exist simultaneously, and every so often horror scenes of the killer are shockingly recreated. Back in the real world, meanwhile, Mark Wahlberg's despairing dad feels a little too much like the inevitable Andy Samberg parody.
It all looks lovely, yes, but there's little meat on these bones.
The 180—a Second Opinion: Susan Sarandon as a gleefully drunken grandma? Yes please. More of that.
There's so much else to see, too—have a look in our Totally New Releases gallery!