Peter Jackson’s extravagant adaptation of Alice Sebold’s novel doesn’t have quite the emotional impact one might hope for, namely due to the twin narrative strands of heartfelt family bonding and grisly serial killing remaining at odds with each other. Rather than leaving the cinema feeling uplifted, you might be creeped out.
The material has Jackson’s fingerprints all over it; bold camera movements, traces of horror and a showman’s gift for staging sequences. Jackson’s penchant for black humour means that psychopathic villain Mr Harvey (Stanley Tucci in “I’m a paedophile” makeup) is the most charismatic character. At times Jackson ratchets up the macabre, particularly effectively in an amazing sequence revealing the resting places of previous murder victims.
But it’s the overly calculated attempt at wringing out drama from the proceedings that feels phoney. Wahlberg and Weisz are given undeveloped roles, while lead character Susie narrates the happenings on earth with cloying earnestness. As it’s his interpretation of the source material, Jackson apes Vincent Ward’s What Dreams May Come in a highly computerised and slightly naff tableau of dreamscapes; part teletubbies, part NZ tourism advertisement.
Brian Eno’s plinkety-plonk keyboard soundtrack is relentless but the inclusion of songs from the ‘70s period is awesome. The Lovely Bones might have benefitted from a lighter touch but kudos to Jackson for trying something on a smaller, more personal, scale. His visually imaginative but emotionally under-developed drama at least strikes a unique tone.