About four or five years ago, shortly after Breaking Dawn had been released and around the time the first Hunger Games novel was starting to gather interest, I picked up City of Bones, the first instalment of Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments, and I devoured it quickly. I was working in a bookstore at the time, and promptly began recommending it to people looking for something to read now that the Twilight saga was complete.
The series The Mortal Instruments has been lumped in the same grouping as Twilight: it’s a young adult urban fantasy, aimed predominantly at girls, centring on a teenager (Clary Fray) who discovers that there is more to our world than she had always believed. Her life is turned upside down by the sudden appearance of vampires, werewolves, angels, demons and a whole realm of mythical creatures. Oh, and she finds herself caught in a love triangle between a handsome demon-hunter (Jace) and her geeky best friend (Simon), who has always been there for her. It is an often witty series, with a complex story line, plenty of action and characters who seem to have lives that continue off the pages of the book.
So, of course, it has recently been made into a film. I dragged my husband along to see it on its opening weekend, in a cinema filled primarily with teenage girls. The girls loved it. They were particularly smitten with the actor playing Simon, giggling and sighing at every opportunity, and even cheering and clapping when the actor’s name appeared during the closing credits.
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones starts incredibly well. It dives straight into the action and doesn’t let up until we are about half way through (at least an hour in). For most of the film, there aren’t any boring bits nor is there any useless filler. We witness more scenes from other characters’ perspectives than we do in the book (which is mainly from Clary’s perspective). For example, at the beginning, we see a full on action scene where Clary’s mother is attacked and kidnapped, rather than just hearing suspicious noises and discovering a destroyed apartment as Clary does in the book.
The story develops smoothly, and at no point does it feel like the filmmakers are just picking out the important events from the book and slotting them together. The production quality is also very high and the use of realistic sets and magic show that no expenses have been spared. At times, the sets, the action and the story reminded me much more of Harry Potter than Twilight.
Although it started off smoothly, the film starts to get a bit tangled towards the end. Because the film is so action heavy, it does not allow much room for exposition and this had my husband wondering why everyone was fighting. Significant information to the plot is revealed quickly, which makes it have less of an impact than it does in the novel. The addition of a single line by a character called Hodge means that something (no spoilers) we are meant to think is true for most of three books, is revealed as false straight away. The film deviates from the novel in the final fight scene, which is confusing both for those who have read the novel and for those who have not.
The presence of Clary’s friend Simon and his witty banter brought normalcy to the otherwise fantastical world. I had forgotten the ever-present humour in the book, and this humour, interspersed throughout the movie, was greatly appreciated. I’ve become a fan of Lily Collins since seeing her play Snow White in Mirror, Mirror, and I think she was perfectly cast as Clary. Jamie Campbell Bower as Jace wasn’t as cocky as the Jace of the novel. He was also a little too skeleton-thin to convince me that he spent his life training and fighting demons. But, his acting was fine.
And while Valentine (played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers) had a very distracting pony-tail, the only lamentable acting was by a relatively unknown, Godfrey Gao, in the role of Magnus Bane. Bane is meant to absolutely capture everyone’s attention in every scene he appears in in the book, so the combination of poor acting and his understated costuming is disappointing.
Also disappointing is the only lovey-dovey scene in the film. Set in a beautiful, magical garden, Clary and Jace make their feelings for each other known. It comes across as an out-of-place and overly perfect scene from a fairytale, especially considering the song playing has Demi Lovato singing “when your soul finds the soul it was waiting for/when someone walks into your heart through an open door/ when your hand finds the hand it was meant to hold…”. I love romance in books, films and everything else, but I think this film would have worked better if it had pared back the overload of romance in this scene.
Yet, I really liked watching City of Bones. It gets a little ridiculous towards the end, but having read the book, it was no more than I had expected. It is a highly entertaining film, and very well made and although grimacing when we left, my husband has since admitted that he enjoyed it too.* If you have found pleasure in Harry Potter or Twilight (and since they are the two most successful series of recent years, chances are that you have), I suggest that you read and watch The Mortal Instruments as well.
*Upon reading this, my husband has asserted that he enjoyed about 45 minutes of the film and thought that it had a good mythology.