Converting a book to a film is difficult – far more so than a TV series. A book inevitably has more content, more nuance, more scenes and more development than you can fit into even the longest of films (this film is a little over 2 hours long, though it does feel longer). It’s difficult to decide what to cut and what to keep but almost inevitably something has to be sacrificed. That can be hard, it can be a disaster but it is probably a better idea than doing what Mortal Instruments did:
KEEP IT ALL!
This was a bad idea. Even with this film being eleventy hours long, the plot didn’t fit. The Simon/Clary/Jace love triangle (the romance at all for that matter, it ate far too much space), the vampire interlude, the side track to Magnus for him to say “don’t worry about it, it wears off” (pretty much the entirety of Magnus there), many many many LONG fight scenes, werewolves thrown in just ‘cos, some weird conflict over Luke which wasn’t even close to developed (thankfully) and even the whole incest thing that absolutely no-one wanted – it’s ALLL THERE. Interspaced with lots of scenes which basically have me picturing the director cackling “we have HOW MUCH BUDGET?! CGI ALL THE THINGS! MOAR PRETTY! MOAR!”
So things suffered. Exposition was just rammed in everywhere, just about any character at any time may feel the need to deliver a quick lecture because we need ALL THE THINGS to be mentioned whether relevant or not and we have zero time to develop any of it. The romance between Jace and Clary was ludicrously fast forwarded (and this isn’t just because I can’t see Jamie Campbell Bower and not think “12 year old” no matter how tall he is which means not only did I have to endure incesty-ness, but 12 year old incestyness. No thanks), to the point of being almost hilarious how deeply passionate these two were about each other despite only knowing each other for… 16 hours?
And when Valentine finally appeared I honestly think if I hadn’t read the book I would have had no idea who he was. So much time was spent on flashy fight scenes, pointless side tracks, more flashy fight scenes, boring romance, more flashy fight scenes and big impressive camera pans with swelling music over pretty pretty CGI that there was no real development of the actual villain, what his motives are or even establishing him as a major threat rather than just another element of the eternal exposition. And when he showed up he spent more time on family drama than actually being a conceivable villain.
I actually almost want to argue that Ysabelle is the protagonist of this movie. While Jace and Clary are angsting romantically with Valentine, she’s running around with a flame thrower getting shit done. Of course it didn’t help that Clary’s sole claim to protagonist-ness is that she is the Keeper of the McGuffin and the super-shiny-power-of-shininess which she did nothing to develop, achieve or earn but just had it because she’s the protagonist. Oh Clary Sue step aside and take Sleeping Mother with you (wow, Lena Headey was under-used on this movie) and let Ysabelle take over.
I think this fast forward also led to this film having all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. In fact, I can almost hear the director yelling “subtlety?! HAVE YOU NOT SEEN MY CGI BUDGET?!” If a scene is meant to be tense, the music will ramp up to 11 and the acting will make even the most dedicated Shakespearean complain about the melodrama. The whole beginning of this film contains so much forced ominous foreboding that I actually started giggling. There’s no restraint – it’s all over dramatic swelling music and camera pans and BIG EMOTIONAL REACTIONS because there’s no time to develop emotion, so it’s just forced in there with hammers.
Minoritywise, alas Alec has the same problems as the book: Clary magically guesses he’s gay on first meeting (not that they ever use the word) and he spends half of the film being snippy, bitter and catty towards Clary because he is pining after the straight guy Jace and the rest of the film unconscious. Magnus, Asian and bisexual (in the book. Here we see him comment on Alec’s looks which is about it) appears twice for a few seconds and basically does very little. Both are very minor characters. We also have Dorothea who is a witch (and more) but is still rather a passing character.
To come back to a positive – this is a beautiful film. The fight scenes were awesome, the settings were, indeed, very very very pretty indeed. This was a truly beautiful film (and I’m not just talking about Jonathan Rhys Meyers in leather. Well, not entirely), with some gorgeous CGI and some genuinely ominous monsters. I cannot for one second complain about the look of this film.
But being pretty is not sufficient to sell it.