LONDON (Reuters) - New Zealand's Peter Jackson takes a break from blockbusters with "The Lovely Bones," an adaptation of Alice Sebold's bestselling novel about girl who is brutally raped and murdered and who looks down on her family from heaven.
The film, starring Rachel Weisz and Mark Wahlberg as the girl's grieving parents, had a royal world premiere in London late on Tuesday attended by the Prince of Wales.
It has a limited release in U.S. theatres on December 11 and opens widely through January.
The Lovely Bones is Jackson's first movie as director since the big-budget spectacular "King Kong" in 2005, which came hard on the heels of the Lord of the Rings trilogy that turned the 48-year-old into one of Hollywood's hottest properties.
"Certainly it was a very different film for us, which was part of the appeal of doing it," Jackson told Reuters.
"I could have easily done another big blockbuster effect film and that is what people were expecting me to do, so I just like the challenge of making a smaller movie, much lower budget which reduces the pressure."
He added that the move away from effects-driven, expensive films allowed him to make a "more challenging" picture, although, judging by negative early reviews, many critics will not agree.
Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail said The Lovely Bones "blows away all subtlety.
"Everything's too big, everything's signposted. There's not a subtle moment to be seen and, more importantly, to be felt.
"It's a great shame because Sebold's book showed us a world of pain, loss and love. That sense has been lost in translation. We leave the cinema, not heart-broken. Just glad it's over." In a two-out-of-five star review, the Guardian's Xan Brooks praised the production values and acting but questioned the film's tendency to avoid the most difficult elements of the story, including what really happened to the girl Susie.
"Gone is the dismembered body part that alerts the family to Susie's fate. Gone is her anguished mother's adulterous affair with the detective who leads the case. Gone is all mention of what really transpired in that lonely 1970s cornfield," he said.
"Jackson turns up with his eyes averted, spraying cloying perfume to the left and right."
One factor may have been the movie's rating, with Jackson saying previously that he recognized the importance of securing a PG13 rating in the United States in order to generate the broadest possible interest in the picture.
As well as Wahlberg and Weisz, The Lovely Bones stars Oscar-nominated Saoirse Ronan as Susie, Stanley Tucci as the man who rapes and kills her and Susan Sarandon has her grandmother.
Despite unflattering reviews in Britain, The Lovely Bones has generated some early Oscar buzz for Jackson and his cast. Jackson has won three Academy Awards, all for "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King."
Additional reporting and writing by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato