After taking on issues not quite relevant to today’s political culture, and remaking an iconic film that had already Saoirse Ronan as Susie Salmon in been twice remade, Peter Jackson returns to what made him an award winning director: making movies out of popular books.  And he finally gets it done it in under three hours.

“The Lovely Bones” tells its story in two parallel narratives.  They start out together as Susie Salmon “like the fish” narrates her life as a fourteen-year-old girl living the typical teenage life in the early 1970’s.  Susie (Saoirse Ronan) narrates the film and it is quickly revealed that she will not survive, as she is murdered by Mr. Harvey (Stanley Tucci) a man in the neighborhood.

Despite her departure from living, Susie continues to narrate and watch her family as the narratives begin to separate. Susie, no longer alive, is in a spiritual realm, not quite heaven, but not of our world. 

The scenes taking place in “the in-between place” will have an interesting mix of appeal.  First they will spark conversation about what it is like in the time between you die and when you finally get to heaven.  Is it accurate? Probably not, but Peter Jackson gives us a beautiful vision that is as far as I can tell, the best guess anyone has ever had as to what that would be like.

These same sequences will also become popular in college dorm rooms as the “TextsFromLastnight.com generation” may now have their “Pink Floyd: the Wall”.  The beautiful cinematography has quite the psychedelic component, such as the sun in the sky being a giant glowing flower, or the dirt in the cornfield turning to water.  The fornicating flowers and marching hammers from “The Wall” have nothing on the production value in “The Lovely Bones.”

Psychedelics aside, the second narrative is that of the family as they seek to cope with the loss of their eldest daughter.  Susie’s father (Mark Wahlberg) becomes immersed in with finding Susie’s killer, but can never find any proof.  To him everyone is a suspect.   This takes its toll on his wife (Rachel Weisz) who is attempting to ignore the situation.  Bring is Susan Sarandon as the functional alcoholic grandmother to try and patch things up, though mainly for comic relief, and you’ve got a family story not quite strong enough to carry the movie.

Susie watches her family from the spiritual realm and sometimes laments her inability to affect change there.   Ronan truly steals the movie, as she should, being the focus of much of the film.  She is well counterbalanced with the creepy, but not obviously villainous Tucci.  Though on screen together for only one scene they develop a truly antagonistic drama post mortem. Tucci’s performance as the villan is a high point in the movie because you think you can trust him, you may even want to, but you know he’s the bad guy.

Jackson will be most credited for creating a beautiful virtual world beyond our physical reality, which is nearly on par with James Cameron’s Pandora from “Avatar” (sans 3D).   Jackson will also be remembered for attempting to make the finality so dramatic he does so at the expense of making the ending drag on as he tries to wrap up both narratives.  Remember “Return of the King?”

Even with a PG-13 rating the main violence point of the film is very Hitchcocian, as you only see the attempt at the murder and the aftermath.  There are a couple points of harsh language but from what I have read in reviews of the book, the murder of Susie is not as graphic as the book describes.  Still this movie is about the transition from one world to another.   Those looking for the thrill of a horror movie will be disappointed, but anyone hoping for a quazi-spiritual experience may find it here.

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