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The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones Movie

2013 August 23
by Katie Shanahan Yu
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Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series has quite the following- see YALSA’s Teens Top Ten lists from 2007-2011 to get an idea- so it wasn’t that big of a surprise that someone decided to turn the series into a movie. The new “it” thing to do in Hollywood these days is to search for the next big YA movie franchise now that Twilight and Harry Potter are completely done. We still have The Hunger Games and now the much-anticipated adaptation of Divergent that just wrapped filming, but for every one of those, we have several more Percy Jackson or Beautiful Creatures flicks to suffer through. So where in all of that does City of Bones fit?

Well, there does not seem to be much of a consensus on the first film in the Mortal Instruments series. According to Rotten Tomatoes, the critics believe that the film is 16% rotten while the audience believes it is 82% fresh. Talk about a huge gap. Personally, I would probably rate the film somewhere in the middle of that– an “A” for effort with a “C” for execution. The actors for the film are exactly who, as a fan, you would want. Lily Collins fits perfectly with how one could imagine Clary. Lena Headey reminds us how awesome she is, if we somehow forgot her roles in the Sarah Connor Chronicles, 300 or Game of Thrones, as Clary’s kick-butt -and-take-names-later mom. She really is the definition of a fanboy/fangirl dream. Jamie Campbell Bower pretty much looks exactly how I would have imagined Jace, and embodies that iciness with cracks of vulnerability well. They had the actors right for me, so what happened?

mortal_instruments_movie_posterWell, the plot happened– or happened wrong, anyway…

Now, I am not the type of fan that believes a film adaptation has to duplicate word-for-word or scene-for-scene everything that happens in the book. That’s just not possible and not everything that works in the written word translates to the visual really well or vice versa. With this in mind, I feel like I can be fairly flexible in terms of adaptations. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban directed by Alfonso Cuarón is probably my favorite in the film series, and it took the most liberties with the book while managing to visually create everything I felt as a reader in that book. Harald Zwary who directed City of Bones failed to do the same, and the screenwriters adapting the text played around way too much with the mythology of the series in this first installment.

My first small gripe is that the Silent Brothers were not nearly as creepy in the film as they were in my imagination. That whole scene kind of made me giggle when I should have had an ominous creepy feeling.

One big gripe I had is that the book series is an urban fantasy that takes place in New York City. Watching the movie, you would have no idea these kids were in the Big Apple except for the fact that Simon is wearing a “Made in Brooklyn” t-shirt for the second half of the film. I mean, could they really not afford some stock footage of NYC? Clare always creates this great sense of place in these books, and I felt like that was lost in translation here. It was disappointing.

city of bones cover

My second big issue with the movie is that they changed the location of the latter half of the story to a place that completely messes up the entire mythology of the series, which the uninitiated audience member would have no idea about to begin with because they spend zero time on any of that. They also completely changed the ending. It was so convoluted that I have no idea where they are going to take that storyline, other than far, far away from Cassandra Clare’s land. The reason that I found these two changes so inexcusable was that the filmmakers went out of their way to incorporate the whole brother-sister storyline. I would have gladly given up that plot device from the original source for unrequited romance in exchange for keeping the Shadowhunter mythology and Mortal Cup storyline intact.

Overall, the movie shows promise. The fight scenes were terrific, the romance was delectable and the actors were just what they needed to be. I think they can- and hopefully will- do better with the next one. And I do hope there will be another one. I would love to see more of the guy playing Magnus Bane, Godfrey Gao. He was a total scene-stealer. They should make the sequel for him alone.

My recommendation if you are a fan of the series, you might leave the theater a little perturbed about some things– but overall, you will enjoy it. There were several passionate arguments about what was discussed above but everyone still seemed to enjoy City of Bones, as did I. If you haven’t read the series yet, though… start with the books.

~Katie Shanahan, currently reading Wonder by R.J. Palacio

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5 Responses
  1. August 26, 2013

    I saw the movie over the weekend and I have to go with the pretty bad group. I watched as two people got up and left mid-way through the movie, and I considered joining them. The changes you mentioned left the story weak and bland to me. And the fight scenes – well, I don’t go to movies just for fight scenes. On the whole, it was an evening I wish I had back.

    • Katie Shanahan permalink
      August 28, 2013

      Sorry to hear you didn’t like it! It’s always a bummer when the movie doesn’t meet your expectations. It just shows us how hard it can be to adapt our favorite novels into good films. You really have to give the directors credit when they get it right. It’s a tough job. On a more positive note, did you get to see “The Book Thief” trailer when you went? It looks promising!

  2. Susan permalink
    August 26, 2013

    I took my mother and sister to see the movie. They enjoyed it very much and of course had not read the books. I liked it much better than the critics. There were a few moments I could have done without. Some of the romantic scenes were a bit cringe worthy (really fireflies and butterflies?). Also, the actor playing Mangus was just not good – it felt like someone just reciting lines. Overall, it was entertaining.

    • Katie Shanahan permalink
      August 28, 2013

      It’s so funny that you mention the butterflies and the fireflies because I thought the music was what brought it over to the cheesy side. Although to be honest, I love cheesy romance scenes so it worked for me. :)

  3. Cory permalink
    August 31, 2013

    A lot of the plot changes seemed to follow the “We had better wrap this thing up in case we don’t get another movie,” line of reasoning, which I understand. But still, I think they could have judged from the success of the books that it was okay to have a missing Cup in the end. Oh well, other than that, I thought the movie was pretty good, except the Silent brothers were a little cartoony, and (Spoiler?) there was that one (hilarious in retrospect) part where Jace leaves to go make sure everything was okay downstairs and doesn’t show up until maybe fifteen minutes later after Clary’s already gone and there are maybe a thousand demons being summoned. I mean, is the Institute that big a house, or did he stop to make coffee? Get with the program, Jace.

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