Peter Jackson, having delighted the world as Ringmaster of the epic Tolkien trilogy, has gone for a change of style in adapting Alice Sebold's bestselling novel The Lovely Bones – and come a terrible cropper.
This is one of those big portentous movies about Heaven – What Dreams May Come and Contact are of the same unlovely stripe – though it masquerades as a family drama. Saoirse Ronan plays 14-year-old schoolgirl Susie, who narrates the story of her own murder, in 1973, at the hands of a neighbourhood psycho (Stanley Tucci) in suburban Pennsylvania. From some otherworldly place, she observes how her disappearance – her body has not been found – affects the lives of her parents (Rachel Weisz and Mark Wahlberg), her sister and a local girl who is apparently sensitive to ghosts. "I was alive in my own perfect world," which Jackson conjures in a grandiose outpouring of digimated imagery: flowing landscapes, golden cornfields, ships-in-bottles and polychromatic flowers, all apparently meant to blind us with transcendent shock and awe. In fact, none of it looks as remarkable as the blue of Saoirse Ronan's eyes. It is the kind of film that falls over itself trying to dazzle us, and makes an unholy mess of the vital workaday stuff. For example: when the killer has to dump a huge iron safe into a refuse pit, why does he park his truck so far away, obliging him to haul it inch-by-inch across the ground for several minutes?
Jackson has taken the temperature of a heated adolescent girlhood before, in Heavenly Creatures (1994), and caught something genuinely spooky. This, on the other hand, is all about adult self-indulgence, principally Wahlberg's despairing dad and Susan Sarandon's brassy (and irrelevant) grandmother. Jackson is guilty of it, too, in allowing this massively overproduced farrago to run away from him. Where the book offered a sense of the uncanny, this achieves only a mawkish, Norman Rockwell-style vision of the beyond. It is silly, tedious, tasteless and utterly false.