I was introduced to The Mortal Instruments series by my teenage niece only a few months ago. I’m a mother of two with a full time job and deadlines for my own writing, yet I managed to binge read the entire six book series in less than a month. Oh yeah, I’m not a fast reader either.
As a new-found fan of Cassandra Clare, I was excited to see the sticker on my library book informing me the series would be an internationally released feature film soon! Woo hoo! However, I was almost three years too late for the sensation that didn’t happen around the globe. Perplexed why this series, which has more well-rounded characters than Twilight and a stronger series arc than The Hunger Games, disappeared from my movie radar, I DVRed The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones and found the answer. The film fell flat compared to the book. Placing my finger on the exact reason why is hard. Perhaps some casting choices, or budget limitations, or simply a poor adaptation to the screen. Basically, The Mortal Instruments film feels like a made-for-TV movie versus a wide-theatrical release.
That may be the reason why Constantin Films, which holds the rights to the film versions of the books, decided to scratch future movies and begin fresh as a TV series on Freeform (formerly ABC Family). New cast. New crew. New sets. Most importantly, new script.
But will the TV show be able to capture the magic of Cassandra Clare’s writing where the film failed? Let’s take a look at Cassandra’s words on the page and compare them to not only the 2013 film, but also the new television series.
Freeform released a seven minute preview of the new show to hook fans and generate excitement. The scene is the opening of the novel: Clary and Simon inside The Pandemonium Club and the first introduction to the world of the Shadowhunters. In the film it is buried after some domestic arguing with Clary’s mom and Eric’s horrendous coffeehouse poetry slam. I have no idea where it falls in the TV show, but I hope this isn’t our first introduction to Clary – or the show is setting up a very different protagonist than readers have come to love. But more on that later.
Let’s start with the setting.
Inside, the club was full of dry-ice smoke. Colored lights played over the dance floor, turning it into a multicolored fairyland of blues and acid greens, hot pinks and golds.
Both the film and the TV show do a fine job of setting up the club atmosphere, both heavy on blue lighting. Alas, neither utilizes smoky dry-ice. The film succeeds at thrusting the viewer into Clary and Simon’s POV with close ups of clubbers and not providing the audience with a sense of where they are in this body-packed dance club. I feel suffocated and out of place alongside the two high schoolers.
The TV show, on the other hand, introduces us to the inside of the club with a huge crane shot, giving us a bird’s eye view and an understanding of where we are, something Clary and Simon don’t have. Instead of Clary tracking the boy with blue hair and a prowling gaze, the audience follows a brunette woman through the club from – – Jace’s POV? I’m not even sure. Regardless, I’m bored by this brunette. There’s no glint of mischief in her eye, no swagger. And what goes down feels more like an overplayed drug deal than any wickedness of a demon.
But it is hard to bring in the internal dialogue of a character who only lasts fourteen pages: It was always easy. He could already feel the power of her evaporating life coursing through his veins like fire. Humans were so stupid. They had something so precious, and they barely safeguarded it at all. … He could smell her mortality, the sweet rot of corruption. Got you, he thought. So, instead the TV show introduces us to the drug-dealing world of blood via a demon disguised as an automaton. Maybe this is setting up a new story arc running parallel to the book’s story line. We will have to wait and see, so I’ll let it slide.
Enter Isabelle Lightwood. Our introduction to Izzy doesn’t do the character justice, perhaps because she’s using her wiles to seduce a demon, which is only a fraction of the power this young woman possesses.
She was beautiful, for a human – long hair nearly the precise color of black ink, charcoaled eyes. Floor-length white gown, the kind women used to wear when this world was younger. Lace sleeves belled out around her slim arms. Around her neck was a thick silver chain, on which hung a dark red pendant the size of a baby’s fist … She smiled, passing him, beckoning with her eyes. He turned to follow her, tasting the phantom sizzle of her death on his lips.
The film nailed this description of Isabelle, I’ll give it that. The costume designer found a modern take on a lace dress from another age and even worked in the thigh-high boots and ruby pendant.
The TV show went the opposite for a costume – modern, slick, no sleeves (so, where are Isabelle’s marks? – the whole point of the long sleeve gown) and a white wig a la Pretty Woman?!
Sorry, but there is no need to force Isabelle Lightwood into a ridiculous wig when technically no one can see her anyway. The only point for this odd hair choice was to have the slow-mo reveal of her luscious locks as she gyrates on a table like a go-go dancer.
I don’t have a problem with Isabelle using her looks to lure a demon to its death. She’s referred to more than once in the series as a heart-breaker. However, I do have a problem with how she is presented in the TV show – at least in this scene. Instead of taking the initiative, as she does in the book, she waits for Jace to say, “Izzy.” With a nod, she hops up on a table, throws off the wig (thank goodness!), and dances seductively. Why? So, male demons can purr at her while Jace speaks with the brunette, automaton demon? Apparently, she’s dancing to distract the male demons. Ok, fine. But here is where my issue lies:
She moved with lightning swiftness, striking out at him with her open hand, a blow to his chest that would have sent him down gasping if he’d been a human being.
In the novel Isabelle throws the first punch. She’s not instructed by Jace. She doesn’t wait for the demon to attack first. She’s there to do a job: kill a demon.
He hit the ground, writhing, the hated metal biting deep into his skin. She laughed, standing over him, and dizzily he thought that he should have known. No human girl would wear a dress like the one Isabelle wore. She’d worn it to cover her skin – all of her skin.
Isabelle yanked hard on the whip, securing it. Her smile glittered like poisonous water. “He’s all yours, boys.”
She isn’t taking directions, she’s giving them! She single-handedly brought down and tied up the demon before Jace and Alec entered the storage room. You don’t mess with Isabelle Lightwood.
Unfortunately, the TV show did. It is Jace that initiates the fighting. Isabelle’s primary purpose is to be a seductive distraction, not a soldier capable of fighting her own battles. Yes, her golden whip is unleashed, but by then she is already shoved to the periphery of the audience’s minds, demoted to a handy, tag-along little sister versus a character who will have – dare I say it – a more interesting love story and character arc than Clary and Jace. (Please feel free to send your hate mail to my partner in crime, Rebecca.) Granted, I am basing this on one scene, out of context, from the TV show, but I do hope the writers of the show realize what an intriguing character Cassandra Clare has handed them and don’t destroy Isabelle with the typical, shallow depictions of female characters in action movies, also known as the Trinity Effect.
Which brings me to Clary. Oh dear, where to begin. Nothing against Katherine McNamara, I have hopes that she will embrace this character and the books and do her best to give the fans what they want. She certainly seems genuinely enthusiastic about everything Shadowhunters on social media.
However, there was something about Lily Collins that I found so appealing, an innocence in her eyes like Clary. But I don’t want to pass judgment on actresses based on their looks. We all have our opinions of who better matches the image in our brains. So I reviewed the book, the film, and the seven minute clip from the TV show again. What, besides varying shades of red hair, is different about Clary from page, to silver screen, to television?
“Simon!” Clary shouted, and seized his arm …
“Do you see those two guys over there? By that door?”
Simon squinted, the shrugged. “I don’t see anything.”
“There are two of them. They were following the guy with the blue hair -”
“The one you thought was cute?”
“Yes, but that’s not the point. The blond one pulled a knife.”
“Are you sure?” Simon stared harder, shaking his head. “I still don’t see anyone.”
Suddenly all business, Simon squared his shoulders. I’ll get one of the security guards. You stay here.” He strode away, pushing through the crowd.
Clary turned just in time to see the blond boy slip through the NO ADMITTANCE door, his friend right on his heels. She looked around; Simon was still trying to shove his way across the dance floor, but he wasn’t making much progress. Even if she yelled now, no one would hear her, and by the time Simon got back, something terrible might already have happened. Biting hard on her lower lip, Clary started to wriggle through the crowd.
In the novel City of Bones Clary is a Good Samaritan. She watches as a stranger is lured into a secluded area of the club, unknowingly followed by young men with cruel intentions. She acts on instinct. Her instincts may lead her into dangerous situations throughout The Mortal Instruments series, but she is always risking her life to help others. The book establishes this character trait on page 8.
In the film The Mortal Instruments, Clary’s intentions aren’t as altruistic. She’s curious about the club and happens to witness the murder of the demon out in the open, her scream of terror being the alarm that lets the Shadowhunters know she can see them and their skill with seraph blades. However, her innocence remains, even if it lacks action on her part.
Shadowhunters, the TV show, sets up a very different Clary for the audience. Before entering the club Jace bumps into Clary, and the pair has an awkward exchange. Afterwards Clary argues with Simon and an African American girl (is this Eric with a sex change or is Maia entering the story early?) about seeing Jace, who is invisible to the latter pair. It’s her desire for knowledge and answers that draws her into Pandemonium.
She follows Jace, latching onto the arm of a hulking, hunky demon and flirting about his gym schedule to gain access to what appears to be the VIP lounge of the club. There is no pretense to save anyone from harm. Clary’s actions are selfish, purely based on her curiosity about Jace and proving she isn’t crazy to her friends. She isn’t innocently hoping to flirt with a cute guy; she’s actively flirting and not because she finds someone attractive but because she is using them for her own personal gain. That’s not the Clary us readers have grown to love.
This vapid portrayal of Clary continues as the fighting breaks out. Unlike the book, where Clary takes action to halt the Shadowhunters from harming the unsuspecting demon – Clary could take no more. She stepped out from behind the pillar. “Stop!” she cried. “You can’t do this.” – Clary in the TV show just watches in horror and screams as Jace, Alec, and Isabelle battle.
At one point, Clary picks up a fallen seraph blade, which lights up in her hands, and accidentally runs a demon through the gut. I’m not opposed to the trick for the show of the blades appearing and glowing only when Shadowhunters hold them. Nice visual device to solidify to Jace Clary’s one of them. However, I am opposed to Clary slaying a demon so early in the story. The demon still looks fairly human, and I can’t imagine the nightmares or PTSD Clary of Shadowhunters will have from this premature slaying. Again, her sense of innocence is stolen from her.
That being said, the way the demons evaporate into stylish, illuminated flames is pretty rockin’.
Although the released scene from Shadowhunters has me questioning the handling of our beloved female characters, I’m reserving judgment until I can enjoy a full episode or two to see if the show writers will redeem themselves from what appears to be a watering down of Isabelle and Clary. Isabelle stripped of her strength and determination, turned into a sexy sidekick. Clary, transformed into a selfish, not entirely bright, girl who things happen to instead of her plunging head first into the action.
One character I’ve got my fingers crossed for, who I felt was handled well from book to film to what has been released of the TV show, is Simon. Thank God – actually thank Cassandra Clare for Simon, the witty romantic who has the worst track record of being crapped upon in the series. He is the comic relief, and so much more.
From City of Bones:
“I feel,” Simon went on, “that this evening DJ Bat is doing a singularly exceptional job. Don’t you agree?”
“Meanwhile,” Simon added, “I wanted to tell you that lately I’ve been cross-dressing. Also, I’m sleeping with your mom. I thought you should know.’
To the Mortal Instruments film:
As blue lights whirl over hear, Simon in his blazer over button down and Clary in a sweatshirt over stripped shirt look awkward in the club as they bump into all styles of goth and punk, leather, mohawks, studded bras, and S&M gear. Simon bounces in place, attempting to dance but looking more like a nervous rabbit, as Clary grooves to the trance music.
Yeah, we’re fitting in.
To the Shadowhunters TV show:
Confused over Clary flirting with an imaginary tattoo man and clearly not wanting to follow her into Pandemonium where he will stand out like the geek he is, Simon wads up Clary’s sweatshirt and hands it to their friend before grumbling.
This place isn’t even hygienic!
Simon follows Clary through the flashing lights and dancing bodies of the club. She fits in more than Simon in his button down over a graphic tee and thick rim glasses.
I’m going to fail at getting us
some birthday drinks.
Shadowhunters premiers on Freeform (formerly ABC Family) on January 12th at 9pm. I’m cautiously optimistic for the show. I hope my fears for Clary disappear when the true set up of her character is revealed on screen, and that the TV format will allow room for Isabelle to breathe and stretch her legs, which never happened in the film. I’ll be watching on the edge of my seat – naw, that’s a lie. I’ll be on the floor close to the TV with dessert in hand, fingers crossed for the ensemble that over a million readers have fallen in love with.
I have hope, for even if Shadowhunters falls victim to the same short comings of The Mortal Instruments the film, there is Simon. In Simon I trust.