World's Oldest Fledgling

The blog of Stephanie Wardrop, Y A Author

“I’m Not a Mundane!”: Thoughts on The Mortal Instruments Movie

on August 25, 2013

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I had read some disappointed reviews of the film as well as some pitches from YA writers who felt other YA writers should go and support the movie just so other YA novels can be made into books. I’m not sure how I feel about that, though I think Hollywood should not dump YA novels as sources just because recent film versions like Beautiful Creatures tanked at the box office. (The trailer to Catching Fire looks amazing, by the way.) As many such articles argue, the critics don’t get the books or the movies anyway.

So here’s my review of sorts, and I am going to try to do this without any spoilers.

The Characters

While some people get very upset when a character in movie doesn’t look like what they imagined s/he should, I’m pretty open to this, as I’ve said in other posts. I thought Lily Collins was an excellent Clary and Jamie Campbell Bower was pretty Jace-y, though not as cold as the boy in the book version could be at times. (You pretty much knew he dug Clary from the moment they met). Robert Sheehan made a fine Simon and I wished more of Simon’s humor had made it into the script. On the other hand, the actors playing Isabelle, Alec, and Simon and Clary’s poet friend (whose name escapes me) seemed too old to me. I just didn’t buy that they were teenagers, and when I mentioned this to my daughter, who saw the movie with me but hasn’t yet read the book, she couldn’t believe they were supposed to be under eighteen. CCH Pounder was glorious and an example of an actor who does not fit the picture I had in my head but she makes Madame Dorothea one of the best parts of the movie; the same is true for Godfrey Gao as Magnus. (MUCH MORE MAGNUS, please, in subsequent films. Image And Chairman Meow needs to make an appearance.)

Lena Headey made a fine Jocelyn and she got to kick way more ass than poor Mrs.Fray did in the first book, and Aiden Turner worked as Luke, though I want to know why all the werewolves had Scottish accents. (In fact, you could do an analysis of the film as an exploration of English classism and colonialism; all the thugs sound like they walked off the set of Eastenders.)

Jared Harris is always marvelous and heartbreaking (I am still haunted by his last scenes on Mad Men) and his Hodge deserves to do more on screen than provide exposition about the backstory to some of the characters, like Valentine. And, speaking of Valentine, much as I love Jonathan Rhys Meyers, I liked my book-version Valentine better. He was charming and terrifying and diabolically smart, not just a psychopath with an ego problem and, for some bizarre reason, Jack Sparrow hair extensions,   Image mercifully not appearing in this photo. Still, he looked as good in those runes as I’d anticipated.

The Plot

Lots of plot points have to change, just as characters have to be simplified, to turn a 400+ page book of any complexity into a 2-hour movie.  While I don’t want to give anything away, I’ll make a few quick points (some of which I will try to do obliquely so as not to spoil either the book or the film, which you really should check out for yourself):

*If you were looking forward to seeing Idris, even as a glimpse in some glass, you’ll have to wait

*Simon skips one transformation but seems to be on the verge of making another 😉

*Some things that Clary figures out in Books 2 and 3 she realizes much more quickly

*The whole question of potential blood relations between two of the main characters (ahem) seems to have already been foreclosed in this first film installment

*The last twenty minutes to half hour of the movie is not at all like the end of the book. I think it works, however, though i would like to have had more mystery, intellectual grappling, spiritual questioning and less swordplay and beating of heads

All in all, I’d say it’s definitely worth seeing unless you absolutely cannot tolerate seeing books altered in any way for the screen (and if that’s the case, then you should probably avoid any movie based on a book).  My daughter loved it and is really angry that our local library is not open on Sundays so she can dive right into the book and the rest of the series. One could argue that if the film has that effect on enough kids then it’s done a wonderful service to all for this reason alone.  It provides its audience with a two-hour trip into a world that looks like our own*, but only on the surface, and provides wonder and magic and horror underneath what we “mundanes” can see. And who wants to be a mundane, anyway?

*though as other have noted, except for overhead establishing shots, it does not look like Manhattan or Brooklyn

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