Book vs Movie
I chose this particular novel and it’s film adaptation because I am currently watching Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments on Netflix ( Shhh don’t tell anyone ). It’s terrible but strangely addictive and it is filmed in Toronto, which happens to be my home town. Plus, it is an excellent example of a great book turned into a sub par film.
Let’s start with the book. City of Bones is the first in a series of novels written by Cassandra Clare. It is an urban fantasy that tells the story of 15-year-old Clary Fray, a native New Yorker (so she believes ) that starts seeing things she can’t possibly explain and no one but her can see them.
Her and her best friend Simon Lewis go to a club called Pandemonium because there is a picture of a rune on the building that she has been sketching repeatedly for days. Once inside she sees a blue haired boy and a black-haired girl sneak into a storeroom, pursued by two other boys; one-armed with what appears to be a knife.
She sends Simon for help and then on her own, follows the group into the storeroom, where she witnesses the blue haired “boy” being killed. He then vanishes from the room, with the explanation that demons “return to their home dimensions when they die.”
Simon enters the storeroom with the bouncer in tow and questions why she is there alone and realizing no one else can see the others, she mumbles an apology and they leave the club.
Upon returning home, Clary finds her mother Jocelyn fraught with worry and angry at Clary for staying out too late. What Clary doesn’t realize, is that her mother is actually afraid for her and knows that her memories are returning despite Jocelyn’s best efforts. The next morning Jocelyn announces that they are leaving New York and moving to the country for the summer to stay at Luke’s (Jocelyn’s best friend ) house.
Clary, upset by the unexpected move, confides in Simon that she knows almost nothing about her mother or her entire family. Simon mentions seeing thin, white scars on Jocelyn’s back and shoulders, but Clary dismisses this. They go to a poetry reading where Clary sees Jace, one of the boys she saw at the club the previous night and he privately tells Clary about demon-hunters, called Shadowhunters or Nephilim, and claims Clary is not a mundane (ordinary human). Clary answers a call from Jocelyn, who frantically warns her not to come home and to tell Luke that “he” has found her. The call ends abruptly. After failure to call back, Clary returns home to find her mother missing and their home ransacked.
Let’s stop right there because if you haven’t read the series and are planning to, I don’t want to spoil it for you. I will however include a chilling excerpt that I hope will entice you to read more 😉
A Shadowhunter’s Bedtime Story
“Once there was a boy,” said Jace.
Clary interrupted immediately. “A Shadowhunter boy?”
“Of course.” For a moment a bleak amusement colored his voice. Then it was gone. “When the boy was six years old, his father gave him a falcon to train. Falcons are raptors – killing birds, his father told him, the Shadowhunters of the sky.
“The falcon didn’t like the boy, and the boy didn’t like it, either. Its sharp beak made him nervous, and its bright eyes always seemed to be watching him. It would slash at him with beak and talons when he came near: For weeks his wrists and hands were always bleeding. He didn’t know it, but his father had selected a falcon that had lived in the wild for over a year, and thus was nearly impossible to tame. But the boy tried, because his father told him to make the falcon obedient, and he wanted to please his father.
“He stayed with the falcon constantly, keeping it awake by talking to it and even playing music to it, because a tired bird was meant to be easier to tame. He learned the equipment: the jesses, the hood, the brail, the leash that bound the bird to his wrist. He was meant to keep the falcon blind, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it – instead he tried to sit where the bird could see him as he touched and stroked its wings, willing it to trust him. Hee fed it from his hand, and at first it would not eat. Later it ate so savagely that its beak cut the skin of his palm. But the boy was glad, because it was progress, and because he wanted the bird to know him, even if the bird had to consume his blood to make that happen.
“He began to see that the falcon was beautiful, that its slim wings were built for the speed of flight, that it was strong and swift, fierce and gentle. When it dived to the ground, it moved like light. When it learned to circle and come to his wrist, he nearly shouted with delight Sometimes the bird would hope to his shoulder and put its beak in his hair. He knew his falcon loved him, and when he was certain it was not just tamed but perfectly tamed, he went to his father and showed him what he had done, expecting him to be proud.
“Instead his father took the bird, now tame and trusting, in his hands and broke its neck. ‘I told you to make it obedient,’ his father said, and dropped the falcon’s lifeless body to the ground. ‘Instead, you taught it to love you. Falcons are not meant to be loving pets: They are fierce and wild, savage and cruel. This bird was not tamed; it was broken.’
“Later, when his father left him, the boy cried over his pet, until eventually his father sent a servant to take the body of the bird away and bury it. The boy never cried again, and he never forgot what he’d learned: that to love is to destroy, and that to be loved is to be the one destroyed.”
– Jace, City of Bones –
As for the movie there are many changes made to the story to adapt it to the big screen. One huge change would be the protagonist Clary’s age. In the novel she is only 15 but to make it work for the movie, writers made Clary 18. A more realistic age for her as she is running around New York City on her own in various mature scenes.
Here is a summary of the opening scenes in the film.
One night at a club called Pandemonium, 18-year-old Clary Fray, along with her best friend Simon Lewis, witnesses an apparent murder of a boy by a strange group of teenagers whom no one else can see, a girl and two young men attack and kill another young man in the middle of the crowded party, only being noticed by her, and watches the scene in screaming horror. The three take note of her but quickly take off, with the leader of the group staring at her before leaving. Clary is left confused and terrified.
The next day, Clary wakes up to see she has drawn a strange symbol all over her room and takes off to a local coffee shop to talk about what is going on with Simon, fearing she may be losing her mind. Here, she sees the young man from the club again. Wanting answers, she goes out back with him to demand to know why she can see him whereas no one else can. She shows him the symbol she is drawing, which leads him to declare he is right; she is not a mundane, which the boy, whose name is revealed to be Jace Wayland, explains is an ordinary human. Confused, Clary demands to know what she is, if not human. Their conversation is cut short when she receives a distressed phone call from her mother, Jocelyn, telling her not to come home, but to tell Luke that Valentine has found her.
Naturally a novel must be condensed to fit the big screen due to length and what screen writers choose to keep and discard will determine if it is a good film or not. More often than not, fans are left bewildered as to why so many key parts of the story never make it on screen, or why there are new scenes or characters added that don’t belong. The fact is, writers will do what they feel works. It is an art not a science. The changes will work or they won’t. Sometimes it boils down to one simple thing, and that is the story does not translate well to film. In this case however, all of the key ingredients to a great movie were available but somewhere along the way the recipe got lost.
By box office standards this movie was a flop! Too many short cuts, too much CGI, and frankly in my opinion too much going on with little continuity. It was a mash of werewolves, demons, vampires, warlocks and half-angel demon hunters bouncing from one scary set to the next with their wardrobe seemingly provided by Hot Topic.
Clearly the goal was to capitalize on the huge success of the Twilight and Hunger Games franchises. Churn out movie after movie resulting in a money-making mega – franchise. As previously mentioned despite having a great cast including Lena Headey, Lily Collins and Johnathan Rhys Meyers and the raw ingredients, the formula that worked for the aforementioned hits, did not work here. I don’t expect will be seeing a sequel anytime soon.
That being said I really loved the book and found the whole series enjoyable. I think that I will stick to the Netflix series as cheesy as it is, for my visual needs.
Check out Cassandra Clare for more details about The Mortal Instruments series, quotes, excerpts and other novels she has written.