Peter Jackson wrangled Middle Earth into submission, but here he’s defeated by suburban Pennsylvania. Alice Sebold’s evocative best seller proves to be more unfilmable than Tolkien’s sprawling fantasy trilogy. The novel about a murdered girl read like a tone poem with characters flitting in and out as though from her afterlife rec room, teen Susie Salmon was flipping restlessly through channels to check in on her crush Ray Singh, his mom, her psychic channeler, her four family members and her killer. Their arcs folded together at their own pace with offhandedness Jackson could only mimic with a mini-series. Sliced in half for that oh-so-Hollywood tidiness, The Lovely Bones is a disappointment, yet it’s impossible to imagine anyone else doing it better. Jackson’s taken heat for his enthusiastic use of CGI, but the critiques miss his intention. When 14-year-old Susie (Saoirse Ronan, a future star) is hurtled into the In-Between after a fatal run-in with serial pedophile Stanley Tucci (human, if not empathetic), she spends years of Earth time racing through her emotions—an inner journey Sebold does with words and Jackson wisely does without. Instead of holding tight to the book with heavy voice-over narration, he goes silent and translates Susie’s feelings into visuals. In these powerful, wordless stretches the girl races through angry skies and fields that dissolve under her feet. He’s nailed it; the only way to adapt this book is to break away from its actual pages. The book still takes the film in a rout, but you can’t say Jackson didn’t know what hit him.