Review: THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES

By Mark Saldana 

Rating: 1.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

As I sat in this screening, I had to contain my laughter and exasperations at the ridiculousness and the shameless lack of originality that this film has in its 130 minute runtime. My guest to the screening defended the integrity of the books on which this movie and possible further installments are based. As usual, I did the research and am convinced that the books are just as trite as this movie. In addition to the hackneyed story elements, the melodrama and overacting of the main villain made this a frustrating and somewhat painful trip to the cinema.

Lily Collins, who delivers an adequate performance in the film, portrays Clary Fray, a teenager unaware of her family’s supernatural pedigree.  While clubbing with her best friend Simon (Robert Sheehan), she witnesses a bizarre killing. The bizarre part has to do with the fact that no one else has the ability to see it. She soon discovers that the killer, Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower), didn’t actually murder an innocent victim, but destroyed a demon in disguise.  Jace, a shadowhunter, introduces Clary to a secret world of demons, shadowhunters, werewolves and vampires which, as it turns out, is part of her family history. The truth about her mother (Lena Headey), her late father, and her mother’s boyfriend Luke (Aidan Turner) comes to light when evil forces threaten them in a quest to retrieve a sacred goblet known as the Mortal Cup.

Screenwriter Jessica Postigo and director Harald Zwart adapt author Cassandra Clare’s novel of the same name which, according to my research, pretty much rips off a handful of iconic fantasy, science fiction and horror stories that have preceded it. The story even steals from other lesser impressive works, such as Twilight and Beautiful Creatures in attempts to cash in on their successes within the young adult demographic. I could list the ludicrous “twists” and vain attempts at surprises from the film, but as much as I refuse to recommend this film to anyone, I still would hate to spoil these moments for anyone who refuses to listen to me.  The lack of imagination and creativity that went into this story and movie are the things that really surprised me.

Aesthetically speaking, the movie does look well produced and shows that Harold Zwart can helm an effects laden fantasy film.   Zwart, cinematographer Geir Hartly Andreassen and the art department do create a magnificently dark and atmospheric world. It is a shame that it’s all for a lame story. The CGI effects work effectively, but are unremarkable in today’s day and age. I was really surprised and somewhat relieved that the producers didn’t order a 3D conversion of the film.  Though the movie does have the potential for some incredible and striking 3D visuals, it’s probably just as well that the filmmakers didn’t convert it, as it probably would have looked terrible as most others have recently.

As it is, the visuals are in no need of enhancement. I really wish that the producers had put more work into the script and into getting stronger performances from the cast.  Collins, Campbell Bower, Sheehan and most of the younger cast members perform adequately and are actually better than some of their older and more experienced co-stars. I was disappointed with Jonathan Rhys Meyer’s hammy and over-the-top close talking he calls dramatic acting in this film. Jared Harris, who stars as Hodge Starkweather, a teacher and mentor to the young shadowhunters, fails to make much of an impression with a barely there, phoned-in performance.  In past efforts, both Rhys Meyer and Harris have offered work deserving of high praise.  Sadly that is not the case here.

Sadly, I wish I hadn’t endured this highly problematic story and poorly executed film for the two hours it ran. As for my screening guest, she was not happy with the adaptation of her beloved story. I’m fairly certain that fans of the books probably will feel that the movie doesn’t do the novel justice, but that is too often the case with adaptations of this sort. I’m still not completely convinced that the book deserves a film version, but this is coming from a forty year old man who has already seen and probably read most of the sources of this blatant rip off. The young adults, unaware of the thievery, would be better off looking into the originals, but kids don’t always listen to their elders.

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