BEVERLY HILLS, California — On its surface, a movie about a dead 14-year-old reflecting on her gruesome murder and how it has torn apart her family doesn't exactly sound like the feel-good movie of the winter. But this weekend's "The Lovely Bones" comes from a one-of-a-kind best-selling novel, and with "Lord of the Rings" filmmaker Peter Jackson at the helm, it might just be one of the most life-affirming films of the year.

"I love it; I think it's beautiful," explained Rachel Weisz, who plays the grieving mother of Susie ("Atonement" Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan), a murdered young girl narrating the film from the beautiful "In-Between" as she makes her way to heaven. "It's very uplifting, optimistic and hopeful. It's obviously about a very serious subject matter, but I think that the overriding feeling is very hopeful and optimistic and shows you life is a miracle and a treasure, and how we have to value every minute that you can, trying to live each day as if it were our last."

The film also features Mark Wahlberg, Susan Sarandon, A.J. Michalka and Stanley Tucci in a staggeringly haunting performance as Susie's killer that is already earning Oscar buzz. But the real star might be Jackson's dazzling vision of a little girl's personalized purgatory, made up of dogsled races, massive sailboats, disco dance floors (the film is set in 1973) and trees with flying leaves. Is Susie's world a peek into the visionary filmmaker's dreams?

"It depends on what I've consumed the night before," Jackson laughed. "It was very important to us that the 'In-Between' made some form of sense. ... We took the idea that her soul — her life force, if you will — now exists in a world of sub-conscience, the world of dream. It's not a physical location; she doesn't go to an afterlife which is a normal place where people hang out. ... Everything is based on Susie's life to that point [when she dies]; it was influenced by things that she has around her house. Her father has some pictures of romantic European landscapes done by artists in the 19th century on the wall of his study. Some of those landscapes have inspired her dream world."

For Wahlberg — who has a 6-year-old daughter and another baby on the way — it was extremely difficult playing a man whose daughter has been brutally murdered.

"The stress level, and me being an emotional wreck day-in and day-out as I have to put myself in that place to be able to convey the emotions in an honest way — that was the one reason why I didn't want to do it," remembered the "Departed" star, who nearly passed on the role. "But there were many other reasons why I did want to do it. Working with Peter was probably the biggest, and thinking ultimately that it was going to be a great film that did have a very hopeful and very uplifting ending to a tragic beginning."

And according to Weisz, it was their 48-year-old director's knack for putting himself into the curious mind-set of a tween that ultimately made the film so hopeful, despite its sad circumstances. "I'll tell you something," she laughed. "I played — what is it called? — laser tag with him in New Zealand. And he takes it really seriously. He dressed up in this very intense camouflage stuff, so he basically looked like foliage and the hills that we were in. I've never seen anyone take a game so seriously. He's like a big kid in that way; he's a lot of fun."

Check out everything we've got on "The Lovely Bones."

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