Paradise Embossed 

Peter Jackson views heaven as a special effects opportunity.

click to enlarge art02_film_lovely_bones_200.jpg

Alice Sebold's remarkably successful novel “The Lovely Bones” was already balanced precariously on the nether reaches of broad appeal. To hand the thing over to special effects king Peter Jackson, the guy behind the Lord of the Rings trilogy and a remake of “King Kong,” was a form of adaptation suicide.

Boundless ambition and ego befits 21st-century Tolkien and Kong, but buries this supernatural family story under a mountain of unnecessary visuals and ham-handed direction. The tale of a young girl explaining from heaven her own brutal murder and the effect on her family demanded a light, sensitive touch. Instead they gave it to the guy riding the filmmaking equivalent of a backhoe.

The intense-eyed Saoirse Ronan (“Atonement”) brings an otherworldly charm as the young Susie Salmon, a middle-school pupil kidnapped, raped and murdered by her neighbor, Mr. Harvey (Stanley Tucci). But even Ronan's uncanny looks are overplayed by Jackson, who ignores his material's more painful aspects while going for grand effects and gestures.

In “Lovely Bones,” every character is one-dimensional and at high volume. As the film's narrator, Susie might as well be speaking with a lisp as she describes her fate and the condition it has left her in — an in-between who's on the way to heaven. These supernatural portions are simply the corniest use of computer imagery ever set to film, full of glowing wheat fields, puppies and ice cream. Sure, a teenage girl might think these heavenly, but they're unnecessary. We would've been better off with Susie's disembodied voice.

Jackson is so determined to make “Lovely Bones” big, he botches all the smaller stuff that could have helped salvage some of Sebold's material. The casting of the typically wooden Mark Wahlberg as Susie's sensitive and determined father ranks high in this pantheon of mistakes, but Jackson can't even handle the well-cast, like Tucci, whose neighborly killer the director dresses up as just the kind of lurking, totally-freaking-weird single guy the police would suspect. But don't. If this is heaven, you might want to take your chances elsewhere. (PG-13) 139 min. HIIII




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