Mortal Instruments: City of Bones – 2013

Director Harald Zwart
Starring Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower, Robert Sheehan, Kevin Zegers, Lena Headey, Kevin Durand, Aidan Turner, Jemima West, Godfrey Gao, C. C. H. Pounder, Jared Harris, Jonathan Rhys Meyers
Screenplay Jessica Postigo Paquette based on the book by Cassandra Clare

When Griffin Mill mocked his fellow producers who wanted “eliminate the writer from the artistic process,” this can’t have been what he had in mind.  The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is an example of what happens when the writers eliminate themselves from the artistic process and instead push out formula that worked as a formula for other scribes.  A tweak here and there, with no real alteration of the main concept, which is as follows:

Hot young protagonist happens upon an ancient order of (insert vampires, werewolves, witches, demons, or in this case Shadowhunters) that has quietly co-existed for years along side humans.  Said protagonist, usually coming from a broken home with missing parents, siblings or both, discovers their connection to the order just as dangerous elements begin to close ranks around the protagonist.  Also along for the ride are mysterious and beautiful new friends who are part of the good guys and some less mysterious and beautiful old friends who likely will learn more about themselves soon.  The megalomaniacal antagonist tries to make megalomaniacal destruction, the protagonist and his or her new friends somehow prevent it with a few mysteries solved, a few questions more left to be answered.  Onto the next chapter.

Since 2000, we’ve seen this formula with Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Twilight, Beautiful Creatures, The Hunger Games and now this.  The books come out like clockwork.  The movies arrive shortly afterwards.  If the series is a big success, there is a two-part movie for the last book.  The books, which are often as big as novels, read like The Black Stallion series did for me as a boy.  The same thing happened every book, with only the scene changing.  I still could not wait for the next one.  And I didn’t even like horses all that much.  As Paul Simon says: “Everybody likes the sound of a train in the distance.  Everybody thinks it’s true.

It’s not that this is a bad film.  Functional is a word that I think would accurately describe it.  Zwart directed The Karate Kid reboot.  He also directed The Pink Panther 2Agent Cody Banks and One Night At McCools (anyone else wonder what happened to Paul Reiser?).  His skill as a director is not the question.  The problem is one of inspiration.  There is nothing to recommend this film over staring at a blank screen.

The film’s biggest names, Rhys Meyers, Harris and Heady, have done better work for better projects.  The rest of the kids in this film are indistinguishable from anyone you’d see in any of the afore-mentioned series.  Campbell, in fact, has been in 2 of them (Potter and Twilight).  If that’s not enough, one of the heavies is played by perhaps my least favorite character actor (Durand) giving his worst performance.

These are not reasons to avoid the film, I guess.  If  one is invested the book series, perhaps they would like the movie.  It’s not likely though.  Those without that background will not feel the pressure, and will likely be annoyed at the film’s intentionally open-ended conclusion.  One can only picture an endless cycle of such endings that lead to open doors without possibility of reaching the feeling of accomplishing anything.  That’s the way this one feels.

At least with Harry Potter, the characters were fresh and the concept was newer (if you consider theft from Star Wars and The Lord of The Rings newer).  Twilight was ramped up on gorgeous hunks that allowed women to choose sides and not lose anything more than their dignity.  Both of these series had directors with a higher pedigree and something close to dedication to their cause.  Mortal Instruments just has people in the habit of acting like hamsters, waiting for the next indistinguishable pellet.


(** out of *****)

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