Monday, September 2, 2013

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones/Beautiful Creatures

Movie Name: The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
Year of Release: 2013
Director: Harald Zwart
Stars: Lilly Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower, Robert Sheehan, Kevin Zegers, Kevin Durand, Lena Headey, Godfrey Gao, Jemima West, CCH Pounder, Jared Harris, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Aidan Turner
Genre: Action, Aventure, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 1

Movie Name: Beautiful Creatures
Year of Release: 2013
Director: Richard LaGravenese
Stars: Alden Ehrenreich, Alice Englert, Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis, Emmy Rossum, Thomas Mann, Emma Thompson, Eileen Atkins, Margo Martindale, Zoey Deutch, Tiffany Boone, Pruitt Taylor Vince
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Romance
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4

The success of "Twilight" has opened the door for a series of adaptations of young adult novels. This year's crop already includes "The Mortal Instruments:City of Bones" and "Beautiful Creatures". Both films, though with different pedigrees and talent involved, definitely have quite mediocre results. On both counts, the story is quite standard - there's a young brooding female hero, who is either an outcast, or misunderstood by everyone, who comes to realize that she's the bearer of special powers. These powers, unbeknownst to her, set her aside from everyone, and of course, during the narrative, she comes to realize that the salvation of Earth relies on her shoulders. In parallel with this coming of age story, there's a forbidden romance, that comes in the shape of a mysterious young man, who is either a supernaturally gifted man, or a sensitive young man who looks beyond our heroine's conflicts. Both of these films also feature a diversified array of supporting characters, that supposedly create a conflicting context for the two young lovers to overcome obstacles.
Harald Zwart has made a career for himself directing films that are targeted primarily to a younger audience, such as "The Karate Kid" and "Agent Cody Banks". His adaptation of "The Mortal Instruments" is a complete mess, with characters that are never quite fully explained (such as the main antagonist, played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers), or ever fully dimensional. It's difficult for an audience to be invested in anything that happens on screen, when the characters are so clumsily created. The actors don't really help much. Richard LaGravenese comes from a different pedigree - an accomplished screenwriter, turned director (he wrote Terry Gilliam's "The Fisher King" and Clint Eastwood's "The Bridges of Madison County" before directing his debut "Living Out Loud", to name but a few), his adaptation of "Beautiful Creatures" doesn't fare much better, but has a great cast that elevates the flimsy material. Jeremy Irons brings his usual gravitas and depth to any part, as does Viola Davis. Emma Thompson however is poorly cast as the villain, overacting and feeling out of place in a film that is otherwise quite placid and also forgettable. The young leads are engaging, but the film never goes beyond the typical cliches.
Summarizing these adaptations - both films feel devoid of substance and of authenticity (and enthusiasm) of any kind. What elevated the "Harry Potter" series for instance, was the creation of a universe filled with magic, where the spark of the unknown and wonder/menace was always present. These current films try to be angst filled, but end up portraying their young ingenue leads as vapid and selfish heroines, stuck in a two dimensional world where their antagonists are as paper thin as the depth of their feelings.