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'The Lovely Bones' heads to screen

August 7, 2009 |  5:26 pm

Alice Sebold's 2002 novel, "The Lovely Bones," was on the L.A. Times bestseller list for months, and now we can catch a glimpse of the author's debut book as it heads to movie screens. Although it won't be in theaters until December, the trailer can be viewed on YouTube, Apple.com and the movie's official site.

Directed by Peter "Lord of the Rings" Jackson, the movie stars 15-year-old Saoirse Ronan. It's her second big literary adaptation. She also starred in "Atonement," and, as in that movie, she has to go to some dark places. In "The Lovely Bones," Susie Salmon is raped and murdered at 13; she narrates the book from the afterlife, but she can't quite move on.

In our 2002 review of the book, Paula L. Woods explained:

[Susie] lingers at school with her classmates, especially Ruth Connors, a girl she barely knew in life who happened to be standing in her path when her "soul shrieked past Earth." But most of all, Susie hovers heavily over the lives of her family, anxiously watching her father become obsessed with finding her killer, her mother's slow withdrawal from her family and marriage, her younger sister's desperate attempts at toughness, her baby brother's lonely confusion.

At times Susie's yearning for the living is so visceral, so acute, that she tries to reach out to them and succeeds: casting her image into a pile of broken glass, communicating with her brother, making a life-changing appearance to Ruth and Ray. At other times, she is a cosmic witness to their pain and anguish, trapped in her inability to be neither on Earth nor in heaven as surely as the ships are trapped in her father's glass bottles or her beloved penguin is imprisoned in its perfect snow globe world.

This seems like it would turn out either really well or really poorly on film, but Jackson seems up to the challenge. The images in the trailer switch between a yellowed, almost gritty 1970s look and a crystal-clear CGI for the afterlife. If the wig on Mark Wahlberg is not winning fans, the magical music by the Cocteau Twins has.

Most important, this trailer seems to capture the seemingly incompatible elements -- the horribly creepy and compelling thriller aspects and openhearted sense of soaring possibility -- that the book combined with success. Of course, it's only a trailer; there's a whole movie on the way.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Alice Sebold. Credit: Robert Durell / Los Angeles Times