Movie review: ‘Mortal’ seems to last an eternity

SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLEAugust 23, 2013 

  • THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES *

    Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of fantasy violence and action, and some suggestive content. Starring: Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower, Jemima West. Director: Harald Zwart. Running time: 130 minutes. Theaters: Edwards 22 and Edwards 9 in Boise, Edwards 14 and Edwards 12 in Nampa, Majestic 18 in Meridian.

Every moviegoer will have his own breaking point, when “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” surpasses the mundane and enters the ridiculous.

For me, it was upon learning — small spoiler here — that composer Johann Sebastian Bach was actually a demon hunter, who created songs using crafty musical settings that work like a dog whistle for hell spawn. B minor seems to make their eyes turn white and bug out the most …

“The Mortal Instruments” (we’re dropping the last three words from now on — news print costs money) is a film that fans of Cassandra Clare’s book series will enjoy, or at least absorb with interest as they see their favorite characters on the big screen. Almost everyone else will watch a bad movie, with too much exposition, ridiculous dialogue, an unsympathetic heroine and a love triangle that goes nowhere like a season of “Three’s Company.”

This is the world of “Mortal Instruments,” where young Clary Fray (Lily Collins) discovers she is related to the shadowhunters, angel-like beings that have been battling the undead in an ages-old war that goes undetected to humans.

Clary’s mother (Lena Headey) is in peril, the girl sees murderous acts and her dorky/hot best friend—even the nerds have fantastic abs in this film—doesn’t believe her. Clary joins forces with Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower), who leads a team of shadowhunters fighting the traitor Valentine who can summon the undead.

Bower is a feral, often compelling presence, and the script wisely takes itself seriously only 85 percent of the time. But just when a moment starts to feel like fun, someone opens a secret portal and then talks about it for five minutes.

So much explanation in this film. The source material for “M.I.” (it keeps getting shorter …) was 485 pages long, and it feels as if every detail was crammed in the movie.

The responsibility falls in part upon director Harald Zwart, who fell into the trap of faithfully translating the book, without considering the cinematic ramifications. You say Bach existed to fight demons? Then maybe novels exist just so fans can say “I liked the book better than the movie.”

Once again, the established fanbase will probably adore this movie, because it was made for them. And while doing that, the filmmakers squandered an opportunity to ease a broader demographic into this world. Keep it simple, keep it entertaining and if at all possible under 110 minutes. Even a downworlder knows that …

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