Saturday, August 24, 2013

"The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones" looks like derivative fantasy

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones”, directed by Harald Zwart and from Sony Screen Gems and German/Canadian production company Constantin, appears to start another fantasy franchise, this time based on the fiction of Cassandra Clare.  On the surface, it seems like a mixture of “Harry Potter”, “Twilight” and a little bit of C.S Lewis thrown in.  The “gimmick” seems to consist of arbitrary portals to a shadow world, which can appear anywhere (as in a painting or window) indoors or outdoors in contemporary New York City (after all, people’s apartments in the City are rather like little kingdoms) and sometimes contain a strange kind of glop for extrusion. 
The concept was not particularly effective.  Life in the Big Apple is just not like this  I’ve lived there, and interacted there too much time.  A “parallel universe” world (like in Potter, Eragon or LOTR) seems like a much more effective idea for fantasy.

As in Harry Potter, characters have novel ways of communication, through embeds in pictures or objects, again constituting a kind of biological Internet.

The story is driven by the sudden disappearance of the mother of the heroine Clary (Lily Collins), while she is out clubbing with her nice stable boyfriend Simon (Robert Sheehan).  The disco is wild (it’s not just the Culture Club, and it’s not like Therapy either), and Lily may have gotten some drugs spiked in her drinks.  (My mother used to warn me about this.)   She meets a wilder punk musician, Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower) who creates some heterosexual competition.  When she gets back home, her world comes apart. She finds the apartment ransacked, and her mother gone.  Typical break-in?  No, it’s a shift to another universe.  Monsters run around (the ectoplactic blob that comes out of a dog – crawls out of the woodwork -- is pretty good). Pretty soon she is on a wild adventure in the City to look for “shadow hunters”, with the tension between Simon (who gets kidnapped and strung up once) and Jace, and a variety of other similar characters, until they finally encounter the Werewolf Alaric (Harry van Gorkum).  Along the way they encounter the ring leader Valentine (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), as well as Alec (Kevin Zegers). 
The physical presentation and behavior of some of the characters is curious.  Very early, Simon is presented as the conscientious, likeable geek, whose facial appearance with the black-rimmed glasses seems like a deliberate likeness of upcoming NYC classical composer-pianist Timo Andres.   The physical similarity, speech style and body language at first glance were so striking that I wondered if Timo had been cast for the part, since I didn’t know who was in the cast.  But in the movie, the world of piano belongs to Jace, who tries to perform some of the Goldberg Variations in a curious scene of the film’s midpoint and says that J.S. Bach was a “shadow hunter”, and that the ear-satisfying dissonance that occurs naturally from Bach’s counterpoint was a way to drag demons out of the woodwork.  Even for Bach, it took “a long time to become a good composer.” 

There is also the matter of the tattoos.  Several of the characters, most of all Jace (Bower) are heavily decorated with shadow-chasing symbols.  There is a scene where Clary, visiting Simon while he recuperates, draws a sketch of Jace with an ankh tattoo embedded right to the chakra center of his chest.  The heavy use of body art, for a few characters, apparently precludes several of the male characters (most of all Jace) from having any differential body hair at all.  A couple of them look waxed (or "thmooth").  The tattoos are implemented with a soldering iron (rather like one in my late father’s workshop) that probably comes with No-No  The only exception to this equalizing male hairlessness comes with the Werewolf, of course, who seems appropriately virile.  What does Clary feel attracted to? I’m reminded of a  June, 1999 American Spectator essay “Notes on the Hairless Man” by David Skinner, who would think that none of these characters are up for love and family.
Sony’s “Make.Believe” link for the film is here. I still wonder how Sony decides what goes to Columbia, Classics, Screen Gems, and Tristar.  It’s all essentially “Columbia Pictures” with the Statute of Liberty.

I saw this before a surprisingly small crowd late Friday night in a large auditorium at Regal in Arlington VA.  The look of the film is very large, inviting Imax.  It’s long, running 130 minutes.

 Pictures: Mine, NYC, Dec. 11, 2010.  

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