By now everyone and their grandma has heard about “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” and what a tremendous flop it was. I would lie if I pretended otherwise, as well as if I said I didn’t go to see it precisely because it was labelled to be bad. Let’s face it, objective quality, or even critical quality, doesn’t stop a movie from being entertaining, and I have to say, my best memory from Cassandra Clare’s books is that they were fun to read.
But oh, Draco, my Draco, I was not prepared for this. I was not prepared for it at all.
So this post is going to be a bit of an unpopular opinion, because I’m not talking about Cassandra Clare’s past (other people have done this already), nor am I discussing the source material (because others have done that too), nor do I think that the movie’s failure stems from either of the above. No, my dear readers, this movie was made to be a soulless waste of time, and it would have been regardless of the source material. Let me count the ways.
First things first - yes, there is a scene where they fight vampires to dance music. The music direction is all over the place, really - from the majestic arrangements set to scenes like the introduction of a building or a door locking (hello, Harry Potter!) to putting Demi Lovato’s “Heart to Heart” as the soundtrack to the greenhouse scene (which tumblr is taking the piss at as we speak.) There is a huge discord between what happens onscreen and what musical cues we receive, which makes me wonder what exactly what the filmmakers were going for.
Another thing which makes the rounds is the fact that the CGI in this movie is terrible, and that’s true too, although I don’t consider it the crime everyone else does. Yes, it’s baffling that they didn’t think to make good special effects for a paranormal action movie, but you know, people have done those before modern film-making technology came around. In fact, I daresay this movie would have managed, if they’d made up for the lack of special effects with creative montage and camera work. Turn off the lights, play with focus and angle, save the money from, oh, let’s see: special effects, making up an army of extras, choreography, stunt doubles, wire work, or extra takes. (You would also get brownie points from hipser movie-goers, but that’s a bonus.)
Unfortunately, neither the director, nor the cinematographer thought to be a little adventurous. The shots rarely deviated from the standard head, medium, or full body, everything seemed to be in deep focus, and the camera’s role was reduced to that of a blunt tool, not an active player in the adaptation process. (Also, apparently the cinematographer has won awards. A moment of silence, please.)
Okay, but those are nit-picky film nerd things, you say. What about the acting?
Well, the acting is a mixed basket, as one might expect. Props to Jamie Campbell Bower for managing to play a nuanced Jace, it’s not an easy feat to soften up that character (especially while looking like a leather-clad version of Paul Bettany circa “The Da Vinci Code”.) I’m also pretty stoked about the casting of Jemima West as Isabelle, and not another one of the uber-skinny uber-pretty actresses Hollywood has an unlimited stock of. Lilly Collins does her best as Clary, but with a total of two allowed facial expressions, she can only go this far, and Kevin Zegers as Alec is… um… I’m not sure how much of that was the acting and how much was the script, but damn, he doesn’t do halfway, does he?
Which brings me to the script, or as I like to call it, City of Bones, the cliffnotes. This is the biggest indicator this movie was made for the fans and for the fans alone, and you can’t convince me of the opposite.
Hey, kids, remember that subplot about institutionalised racism that plays a huge part in the original trilogy, and which is set up in City of Bones? Yeah, that’s cut out entirely. The closest we get is a throwaway line from Magnus, but without the context of earlier scenes (which just couldn’t be fitted in between all the other exposition dumps in the first half. I guess they took the abbreviation TMI to heart,) it sounds weird and out of place. Sure, I know what it is, and fans of the book know what it is, but not everyone will bother to familiarise themselves with the source, or read Whitley Birks’ deconstructions (much as I would like them to.)
It’s… honestly quite baffling. I mean, best case scenario, a movie should attract new fans, as well as please existing ones. Filmmakers are essentially cutting their own hamstrings by aiming at one single demographic.
I’ll be quoting Lindsay Ellis here, but this movie was clearly not made with the right thought in mind. It seems to me the people responsible for it had some good ideas, and a huge checklist of what makes a blockbuster, but didn’t know how to put those things together. There are bits and pieces there - Clary right after Jace kills the demon in her flat, Simon in the vampire’s lair, even the greenhouse scene - which are beautifully done, and stand well on their own, but in the context of the movie? It was like the movie makers couldn’t keep up with it.
(Also, I find it ironic that Cassandra Clare originally had trouble finding a studio that would fund a movie with a female character, supposedly won in keeping her protagonist, and then the only main character to speak of in this movie was Jace, who, at the very least, got a character arc.)
The result is… absolutely useless. It fails as an action movie because it’s too hammy, it fails as a so-bad-it’s-good movie because it takes itself too seriously, it fails as a romance because there isn’t enough of it and it fails as an adaptation because the filmmakers had no idea what to do with it.
But with all of this, there is a silver lining: if we have certified badass Sigourney Weaver as part of the cast for the sequel, what can possibly go wrong?
Note: Image via Wikipedia.