Every time Pukerua Bay-born Oscar-winner Sir Peter Jackson begins a new movie, he always has one particular goal in mind.

“We love living in New Zealand,” begins the recently appointed Knight of the Realm.

“It’s where we are from, our kids go to school there and it’s a lovely place to live. So every movie we’ve made, we’ve tried to use the project to give us some piece of infrastructure which we could use on another film.”

However, Jackson’s latest movie – The Lovely Bones, which is adapted from the best-selling novel by Alice Sebold – is shot only partly in New Zealand.

“I tried to shoot it all back home,” Jackson says, “but it was set in Pennsylvania, and Alice based sections on real places. To have the author tell you about how certain parts of the main character’s childhood were autobiographical, it felt wrong to go back to New Zealand.”

The Lovely Bones

The film tells the story of ill-fated teen Susie (played by Saoirse Ronan, with Jackson, right), who is lured into an underground den by her neighbour, George Harvey (an excellent Stanley Tucci), a paedophile and child-killer, who rapes and murders her.

The film picks up Susie’s tale during the first stages of her afterlife, as she looks back on her family down below.

“She has to discover the truth about her murder and then move on in her afterlife,” says Jackson. But even though the film is very loyal to the book, there’s a key difference.

In Sebold’s novel, Susie’s otherworldly realm is a mundane place. But in Jackson’s film it is a surreal dreamscape, resembling something akin to a Yes album cover, set against his country’s awe-inspiring mountains and lakes.

Peter Jackson on the New Zealand spirit

“We use a lot of dream imagery in the film, and scouting for some of the locations was wonderful. It was for the scenes set in the afterlife that we really got to go to New Zealand,” he beams.

Even though he enjoyed the experience of shooting overseas, Jackson concedes he found it more difficult than working back at home.

“There we only have a few movies each year, so all the crew and everyone is really excited and gets really into it. When I was away working, I really missed that spirit we have back in New Zealand.”

» The Lovely Bones is out on February 19.