Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Film review: City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, directed by Harald Zwart

City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments #1) film
Author: Cassandra Clare
Director: Harald Zwart

IMDB description:

When her mother disappears, Clary Fray learns that she descends from a line of warriors who protect our world from demons. She joins forces with others like her and heads into a dangerous alternate New York called Downworld.

My thoughts:

So last Thursday I found myself in an exclusive advanced screening of City of Bones, thanks to Walker Books and Casey of Dark Readers. An advance screening of a highly anticipated book-to-film adaptation is basically a booklovers dream and I am so grateful to both Casey and Walker for the opportunity! We had canapes served to us by men dressed as Shadowhunters and cocktails and fancy schmancy popcorn. We signed non-disclosure agreements which stated that we weren't allowed to review until now. So here is my review of City of Bones the film. **WARNING: This review contains some spoilers for the book AND the film. If you want a totally spoiler-free review, Mundie Moms has one here**

I have a love/hate relationship with film adaptations. I get very excited, anticipate them for months, and usually end up hating them. City of Bones, however, I actually really enjoyed. 

The younger actors were all fantastic; I saw a lot of unhappiness when JCB was cast as Jace but honestly, I thought he was perfect. He captured Jace very well. It helps that he's rather beautiful. Lily Collins was marvelous as Clary; capturing her confusion but determination perfectly, creating a really likeable character. Robert Sheehan was wonderful as Simon as I fully anticipated him being; cute, funny, bit geeky, totally in love with Clary in a way that was both subtle, obvious and totally sweet. Isabelle fell a little flat for me, more because the actress just wasn't given the opportunity to explore Isabelle's flirty, sarcastic side. We saw hints of her personality in her interactions with Clary, but beyond that she was there to expertly wield a flamethrower with magnificently muscled arms. I have never liked the casting for Alec and I liked him even less having seen the film. For a start, he's too short. I try not to ever let this bug me, but it bugs me now because I just don't think the actor chosen looks right in any way. He lacked the vulnerability and insecurity that I felt Alec had in the first book; the way he hides himself behind his hair and his sweaters. Godfrey Gao as Magnus fought valiantly with JCB for most attractive person in the film and I genuinely cannot decide who won that battle. Maybe a second viewing will shed more light on the matter. He was a decidedly more serious, less flamboyant Magnus than in the books, but again I'm putting this down to time, screenwriting and directing rather than the actor himself. I was surprised that he had an American accent; for a second I thought he'd been dubbed. It's pretty good. Jonathan Rhys Meyers really disappointed as Valentine. I think part of it was that they wanted him to appear more aggressive, more militant and goal-orientated, but I missed his charm and charisma; the elements of his character that were so present in Jace. He was much harsher than book-Valentine. I can't decide who I'm blaming for this (also, why was he practically half-naked? I'll be honest, it wasn't the enticing sight I was expecting...also, his HAIR? Just...WHY?!) Jocelyn and Luke were fab, I liked them a lot. Hodge was too old but I didn't mind too much. 

In terms of plot, the film stayed very true to the book until the part where Clary goes to retrieve the mortal cup. It went a bit awry from that point. I understood partly why, I mean, sometimes there's not enough time, or things just don't work, or they want it to look more dramatic. I think that last point was a key factor. There is lots of drama here. There were a couple of changes that really bugged me: Jace kills everything. Seriously. I mean, I get that he's all awesome and stuff, but he kills the Ravener demon which was Clary's kill in the book. He kills Madame Dorothea/Abbadon which was Simon's kill. The reason this bugged me is that these kills belong to the two least trained, least skilled, least knowledgeable characters. The kills show their courage, their initiative and their strength. That was stolen from them by the need to make Jace look that bit cooler and that really annoyed me. The second was Hodge's story arc: what on Earth are they planning? I mean, I'm sure there's a reason for the changes, but still: colour me annoyed. There's also one massive, massive, spoilerific change. Like: HUGE. I DO understand why they've done it but argh. It feels cowardly. There were some other changes of course: the timeline of the beginning of the book is moved around and streamlined slightly; but it's a very seamless change and so did not bug me. Clary discovers her rune-creating powers (which I'm sure you guessed from the hand holding up/lightstreamy scene in the trailer) which has been stolen from book 2. There's also a massive change to how the book ends which I don't quite understand why they've done it but I guess we'll find out. I think the romantic storyline involving Clary/Jace/Simon was really well portrayed. We can see instantly that Simon loves Clary and that Clary just has not noticed. I think Jace liking Clary was made a little more obvious than in the book, but that worked really well. The recognition between Simon and Jace that they are rivals for the same girl's affection was very well done, as was Jace noting the various interactions between Clary and Simon. The scene where Simon confesses his love was beautifully written and wonderfully acted; even though I never shipped Clary/Simon it made my heart clench. There is the famous greenhouse scene and the scene outside Clary's bedroom which were both almost exactly as I'd imagined them. 

The film was funny, with many of the witty one-liners we expect from Jace and Simon. A few were taken from the book, albeit in a slightly altered form, but most were new. There were many laughs from the audience which I actually didn't expect with it being a press screening, but it was gratifying to hear that people who don't know and love the characters like we do found them funny. There were a couple of seriously cheesy moments; watch out especially for the one back in Clary's apartment at the end. I shudder even thinking about it and literally the entire cinema groaned when it happened. 

I was really impressed with things like the special effects and how the fight scenes were choreographed and stuff like that. It was much better than I expected. The scene where the institute is revealed looked a touch CGI'd but was impressive nontheless; possibly one of my favourite scenes in the film. Things have obviously been exaggerated and over-dramatised to fit with the different medium. The shadowhunters have a much more gothic feel than in the book and the institute is much more impressive-looking than I expected. The vampires were much more vampiric and much less people-who-also-happen-to-drink-blood-esque. Things like this always have to change for film though, which is, of course, a much more visual medium than a book, so I expected and wasn't too bothered by it. 

TL;DR: All in all, I was really impressed by, and pleased with, City of Bones both as a film and an adaptation. Slightly more as an adaptation. It was well-acted, well written and well produced. It's clear that the book was very thoughtfully and professionally adapted to film and that's something I appreciate. There were the expected changes, some of which I am frustrated with and some of which I understand. On the whole, I am happy and will definitely be seeing it again.

Beautiful girl + fire weapon, what's not to love?

(That was my first ever film review....was it okay?)


  1. I can't wait to watch this tomorrow! I'm really glad that Jace and Clary were captured well, and that you liked Jocelyn and Luke too. It's a real shame about some of the changes, especially Jace killing everything, but to be honest, I kind of expected that since he kills the demon Clary is meant to kill in the trailer, so... And the cheesy moments seem to be present in all these films, so not surprised about that either (though I will be cringing when I see them! :P). Great review, thanks.

  2. Great review! I agree with you about the cast, and the cheesiness! Oh, that scene at the end... terrible. I thought it was entertaining but also pretty bad, lol.

  3. Urgh, I'm really nervous about this major change in plot... I just hate it when they change major things. Ah well, I'm going to try to keep as open mind as possible. It definitely pleases me to hear you say they handled the adaptation fairly well and it was well acted (mostly). And yeah, this was a great film review!!

  4. I'm going to see the film on Thursday, but I read the review anyway because I needed to be assured that this was actually good. I've been panicking for months now!
    Your review has satisfied me, though, and I'll try not to bite my nails so much now!

    Great review, Cait!

  5. Awww, shame that we don't get to see more of Isabelle - she's one of my favorite characters in the series. Actually shame that you perceived a difference in Alec, Magnus, and Valentine as characters. I suppose the Magnus part is similar to how they gender normalized Katniss a bit in THG but blah!!! I'm not too keen on the spoiler you've mentioned or the change in Hodge's story arc, and the change in kills also bothers me o.O. I do remember reading something from Cassie about how Clary kills the second demon in that scene? She had a response for it, even if I can't remember what exactly she said -- if you're interested.

    It's an excellent film review, Cait! :)

    I'm sad that I couldn't find any theaters near me screening TMI. If there aren't more showings soon, I might not get the chance to see it.

    (Might have to disagree with you on JCB being beautiful - I like the look of the Simon actor more :P and Jonathan Rhys Meyers? Yesss :P).

  6. Great review, Cait! I just watched the movie earlier today and agree with so many of your points. Clary, Jace and Simon were hands down my favorite characters in the movie and I thought Jocelyn and Luke were really well done as well. I was pretty taken aback by Valentine... so much more aggressive than on paper! Also, that line at the end (the angel thing?) AHA I DIED A LITTLE. That was so embarrassingly awkward, I can't imagine having to say that on camera...

    Thanks for the review, Cait, way more than okay! <3

  7. It sounds like they totally changed Valentine, I really loved his charismatic charming side in the books and I'm not sure how I'll feel about him being a regular bad guy in the film. And that hair *shudders* also I'm not looking forward to the cheesy scenes that everyone keeps mentioning.

    I keep hearing mixed things for this from both fans and critics so am kind of nervous to see it on Sunday but I'm glad to see that although there were things that annoyed you that you liked it overall. Thanks for the review! :)


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