BY AMBER KELLY-ANDERSON
The appeal of adapting YA novels into films is obvious–the built-in, die hard audience will clamour to the theatre to see their fantasy worlds come to life. That does not, however, mean that every YA with an Etsy jewellery-sporting fan base should be sent to the big screen, particularly if the screenplay requires slaughtering the source material in an attempt to replicate not the actual book, but another YA series with commercial success where a mortal, yet special girl captures the heart of a rakish young man with supernatural talents.
Cassandra Clare’s first instalment in the The Mortal Instruments series has the potential for a good film. The writing is stronger than many YA novels and Clary (played by Lily Collins) is thankfully not as useless as Bella Swan as a character. Clary is a young artist who spends most of her time with her mother Jocelyn (Lena Headey) and best friend Simon (Robert Sheehan), occasionally sketching an odd symbol that she cannot explain and sends her mother into a panic. Celebrating at a club on her birthday (the film is ambiguous as to which one), Clary witnesses a murder that no one else can see.
The trio of youthful murders are, as Clary soon learns, the last in a line of demon killers, known as Shadowhunters. Her history with the Shadowhunters is much richer than she first suspects. When her mother vanishes leaving only a mysterious message about Valentine and the Mortal Cup, Clary must rely on the Shadowhunters led by Byronic hero Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower) to help her discover the truth locked in her mind and, you know, save the world.
The big win for this movie is in the casting. Collins and Bower are good in the way they should be for this type of film. Headey is joined by cable acting staples Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Jared Harris as the adults who flesh out the mysterious world that cannot be seen by mortal eyes. There are even moments of vivacity, such as a Ghostbusters reference, which is always a good decision.
That being said, the film stumbles in capturing the complexity of Clare’s world, instead favouring silly scenes that are added, rewritten, or totally twisted in ways that don’t advance plot or character development. Much of the interesting mythology is sacrificed for such scenes. Some of the dialogue is downright cringe-worthy and several choices, such as fitting Meyers with braids pulled off a dime store Jack Sparrow wig, are distracting. I would guess that fans of the series (like my own viewing companion) might crow about the filmmakers giving away a major plot twist before it even happens. While I understand that there might be concern about alienating the audience with a game changing taboo, it also makes for an odd ending that attempts to set up a sequel while making it almost unnecessary.