I feel as though two directors inhabit Peter Jackson's body, and are fighting for dominance. One is the gifted visionary who made Middle Earth glimmer just so, and captured every emotional nuance hobbits, elves, and men could express. The other revels in slapstick and CGI and believes you can never have enough dinosaurs or dwarf jokes. Unfortunately, it's that Jackson who directed The Lovely Bones, and the film is littered with tonal missteps, outlandish effects, plot holes, thinly drawn characters, and an emotional immaturity that's utterly at odds with the story.
Based on Alice Sebold's bestselling novel, The Lovely Bones hovers around the spirit of Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan). In life, she's an ordinary girl, who loves photography, eyes cute boys, and has little time for Shakespeare. All that comes to a violent and grisly end at the hands of her neighbor, George Harvey (Stanley Tucci). Unwilling to move on, Susie exists in the "In Between" a dreamy afterlife that's anything she wants it to be. Yet she yearns to return home, helplessly watching as her family grieves, and her killer walks free and unmolested.
The first scenes of Bones are excellent and haunting. Susie's murder is largely left to the imagination while we spend dinnertime with the Salmons. They bicker, laugh, and make their tardy child a pork chop plate. But normalcy and happiness is over and Susie's already gone, though they – and she -- don't know it. Her discovery of her own death is a fever dream of horror, chillingly effective and incredibly shot. Ronan plays it wonderfully too; she's not just Susie Salmon, she's your daughter, sister, or friend. You feel her loss keenly. But once Jackson takes Susie to heaven, the film loses its train of heartache.