The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower, Robert Sheehan, Kevin Zegers, Lena Headey, Kevin Durand, Aidan Turner, Jemima West
(Screen Gems; US theatrical: 23 Aug 2013 (General release); 2013)
While some believe in its creative conceits, there is nothing worse that fan fiction. The title tells you all you need to know about this often addled artistic pursuit. First of all, it’s produced by fans, people with little perspective outside of their raging love of something, and second, it’s their fictitious take on material they have no legitimate investment in other than their own personal obsession. Nobody writes fan fiction because they believe they are bettering a certain property. Rather, fan fiction lives in this fool’s paradise where those responsible for your favorite entertainment welcome your frequently salacious bent on their endeavors- - and you honestly believe you have something valid to say.
One could only imagine Gene Roddenberry kicking himself over not coming up with a Spock/Kirk/ McCoy love triangle himself, complete with graphic sexual liaisons and hurting himself additionally for not putting you in charge of making said man-on-man-on-spaceman love a reality.
Thanks to the internet and its easy access to the soap box, anyone can violate a concept’s copyright and glom onto worlds and wonders they had no part if preparing. They can also fancy themselves writers, though those who make a living off fan fiction are probably as rare as those who can claim film critic as a legitimate profession. Indeed, when critiquing this arguable gray area of appreciation, one has to tread softly (too late). For every nodding head, there are hundreds right now ready to take to the Comments section and skin this scribe alive. We are fanatical in our worship of our own words, married to them in ways that any human relationship would deem unhealthy - and by taking on fan fiction, one is killing your baby before your very eyes.
All of this it a prelude to the real point of this rant, the ridiculous work of Ms. Cassandra Clare - except, that’s not her real name. No, Ms. Clare is actually Judith Rumelt, a former entertainment reporter who decided one day that both J.R.R. Tolkien and J. K. Rowling needed help fleshing out their multi-volume universes. With The Draco Trilogy and The Very Secret Diaries, respectively, she helped amend the backstories of Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings, as if either demanded same. She then decided to venture into that most frightening of creative realms for someone like her - something original. Her idea - the story of a young girl who is really a gifted demon slayer, though she doesn’t know it.
Her best friend, Simon, has a massive crush on her and her mother is very overprotective and cautious. Then, one day, all Hell breaks loose. Clary’s mother is kidnapped, our heroine learns of her legacy, and a young demon slayer (who we learn are actually called “shadow hunters”) named Jace Wayland enters into her life. He tells her that monsters are real (insert mandatory inclusion of vampires, werewolves, and witches), that she is destined to help destroy evil in the world, and that a former hero named Valentine is trying to get his hands on something called The Mortal Cup. If he claims it, he will take over the world. Before we know it, a pseudo-love triangle starts up between the three young people, a so called truce between the various creatures is violated so that everyone is on edge, and our heroine haltingly accepts the responsibility for her place before we get the first major showdown of several to come.
Yes, this is Ms. Clare’s ‘original’ idea, a clunky combination of Twilight, Star Wars, Underworld, basic mythology, and enough teen angst to fuel a thousand grunge revivals. Like the work of Ms. Stephenie Meyers and Ms. Suzanne Collins, The Mortal Instruments takes genre contrivances and fastens them onto an established folklore backbone while adding a narrative that wouldn’t be out of place in the pulp section of paperback display circa 1974. It’s Ten Boy Summer with Hocus Pocus. In a recent interview, Joss Whedon said it best when he called these franchises “Choosing Boyfriends: The Movie.” Indeed, there is no loyalty to the supernatural (or sci-fi) precedents that came before. Instead of setting their charade within a high school or summer camp, these contemporary hacks make their millions off of the backs of names like Stoker, Lovecraft, and King.
What’s worse is that, with phenomenal success comes a mandatory conversion to celluloid. Hollywood loves a best seller, even if it centers on an unsavory subject like a young woman learning S&M lessons from a bohunk billionaire, and they will fall over themselves to throw money at these misguided offerings. Granted, all three of these female-oriented works might function better on the page where the plot can be parsed out in chapters and paragraphs, but without that frame of reference, one can only go by the movies made from each. So far, The Hunger Games has been the only series to pass the motion picture muster. Twilight tanked aesthetically while raking in more money than any lame robotic romance between unlikable actors should earn.
That just leaves Ms. Clare and her Mortal nonsense, and if the film by Pink Panther 2‘s Harald Zwart is any indication, we won’t be witness to any more of her moronic mash-ups any time soon. This is a story that borrows so liberally from other sources that you can almost see the price tag on the various plot points pilfered - not that anyone would pay the originators for their inspiration. This isn’t rap, you know. We have the whole supernatural angle (been there, done that), the “who is my father” riffing ala Luke Skywalker (and a similar resolution for both our male and female leads), the enchanted object of cataclysmic importance, the competing boy buddy, the jealous members of the extended warrior family, the flawed mentor, the various spells and incantations, and the predictable moment when our lead tries to go back to some manner of normalcy, only to realize she is drawn, inexplicably, to being a so very, very special.
It’s all pathetic and piecemeal, like a mix tape made by someone else but that you take credit for. There is nothing original about Ms. Clare’s concept, her execution, or the characters populating same. The movie makes it clear that, outside the hints of homosexuality (the werewolves all appear to be “bears” while one of his own has a crush on Jace), we are going through the standard hack heroes and villains, with as much as can be lifted from George Lucas et.al. Fans of the book will probably love seeing their favorite characters brought “to life,” but like a boy band circa 1998, what one thinks it “cool” and “hip” now is destined to be a personal embarrassment later.
Ms. Clare clearly thinks something similar. Before publishing the first Mortal Instruments book, she supposedly deleted all her fan fiction from the WWWeb. Sadly, she didn’t do the same to her manuscript for The City of Bones. The film that resulted shows all of her narrative derivativeness in ways that give all young adult titles a bad name.