There is something to be said for ambition. The sort of unabashed, no holds barred, balls to the wall energy that makes anything seem like a good idea. Though you'll cock your head at the results of this kind of caution-to-the-wind bravado, the all-inclusive "sure, why not?" attitude, you can't help but crack a smile for the purveyors of this spirit: the first grader who stuffs his class diorama with every figurine and pipe cleaner machination he can muster, the bird who lines its nest with candy wrappers and Fedex receipts, or the people who made the Mortal Instruments movie. They, quite possibly, are the mightiest knights of them all.
You don't have to wait too long for the crazy to kick up in The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. We open on the most spacious apartment in the history of Brooklyn, where young Lily Collins is beginning to see mysterious symbols popping up everywhere, only the first sign of the fantastical journey set to take form. Mother Lena Headey, aided by her platonic friend Aidan Turner, plays the Dursley card and takes effort to deter any exploration of the ominous elements to befall her daughter. But as with every spunky mystic around her age, Collins cannot be restrained. She follows her heart and embarks on a quest, aided by her platonic friend Robert Sheehan, through every single conceivable element of modern fantasy.
The Harry Potter similarities continue when Collins is ushered into a demonic otherworld via New York City's equivalent of a murky train platform (an ecstasy-laden dance club), guided by New York City's equivalent of a haggard woodland giant (a perpetually shirtless goth ghost, played by Jamie Campbell Bower). Working her way up from glowing-eyed club druggers and pieces of living jewelry to demons, werewolves, witches, vampires, and interdimensional portals — tossed in one by one as we gradually abandon all devotion to any margins of logic — Collins engages in an adventure that seems entirely open to all possibilities. Or at least all possibilities that have proven vigilant at the box office in the past four years.
And as she engages, so do we. Not exactly in the way you engage with Harry Potter... more in the way you engage with the Harry Potter ride at Islands of Adventure. You'll embrace the likable and talented Collins just enough to forge the sort of relationship you want with a fantasy heroine. You'll find yourself rooting one way or the other in the love triangle between her, the Shirtless Shadowhunter (Campbell Bower), and her lovestruck pal Simon (Sheehan). You won't have to work too hard to understand most of the mystical facets tossed your way: you know the rules of vampires (no sunlight), of werewolves (they're dudes sometimes), of demons (they're bad). And when it does get confusing, like when teleportation bubbles and portal beams from the afterlife and curses and tarot cards and dreadlocks are tossed into the equation, you have the luxury of abandoning the puzzle. You're not asked to understand anything, just to accept it all.
Accept that all this madness can, does, and should occur within the malleable reality occupied by Collins and her ghastly friends. When it is revealed that classical musicians had a hand in these supernatural forays, accept it. When you're taken from wizards' palaces to Willy Wonkian wonderlands to the destitute streets of a haunted Manhattan post 3 AM, accept it. When genealogical revelations tie everything together in a bow so strange as to put the peculiarity of bat invasions, corpse armies, glowing hieroglyph tattoos, and memory erasing club promoters, accept it. If you can do all that, you'll find a comical thrill ride in this two hours of steadily accelerating madness, this Mulligan Stew of YA fiction. But if you're too hung up on logic, rules, world building, or any semblance of pacing, stick with Potter — Mortal Instruments is for the most adamant "sure, why not?"-ers only.
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The movie magic of bringing Cassandra Clare's YA fantasy series The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones to the big screen isn't just in the CGI (though there is some of that, transporting both the characters and the moviegoers to other realms and bringing terrifying demons to life) but in the minor details. The sketches on the bedroom wall of the New York City apartment where the story's heroine Clary (Lily Collins) resides, the tattoos that adorn the bodies of the marked Shadowhunters (including the likes of Jamie Campbell Bower and Jonathan Rhys Meyers), and the Gothic accents in the library of the hub that is The Institute.
Hollywood.com had the chance to visit the Toronto set of The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones last October and saw firsthand, the intricate detailing that went into not only bringing the novel to life, but making sure all bases were covered when it came to capturing the essence of the story and the characters.
Sets and the City:
Trying to replicate the massive scale of New York City is no small task, so to speak. Even more challenging can be making a realistic NYC apartment. The team behind building the sets for TMI engineered a beautiful — and reasonably sized — living space for Clary and her mother Jocelyn (Lena Headey), right up the stairs from Madame Dorethea's (CCH Pounder) place in their Brooklyn walk-up. Clary's walls were lined with sketches that looked not unlike something you'd see in TMI fan art and the kitchen was spacious, even by fake NYC apartment standards, but a major fight unfolds in that room. Which is why, as production designer François Séguin explained, the kitchen's counters were padded.
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When TMI hits theaters this summer, moviegoers should keep an even closer eye on the library of The Insitution. Even Collins was blown away by how it turned out, as she told Hollywood.com, "[It is] literally is exactly how I pictured it in my head....as a fan, I think the world is encapsulated really, really well."
The set of the library was a veritable what's what in the TMI world: the Mortal cup, the Mortal sword, and Mortal symbols are scattered throughout the gothic architecture, complete with stainglass windows and a fully stocked library. A grand piano, a map of Germany, a birdcage, a magnifying glass, and a statue constructed with the images of skulls and bones were also among the various trinkets and set pieces found in the study in The Institute belonging to Hodge Starkweather (Jared Harris).
Perhaps most importantly, the sets impressed Clare, who was on the set as a consultant. "It's amazing to see it come to life like this, the sets are really beautiful, they are very intricate," the author said. "They really recreated these sort of imaginary places with incredible attention to detail. There's a place in the books called "The City of Bones" that is named after the underground city built out of human bones and corpses, and I think they made 1,000 to 2,000 different models of skulls and each one is different aged to look differently, each one has different sort of features and has been changed in a different way so even though you probably only see it in a glancing shot in the movie like I know every single one of those is different and I think it adds incredible texture to the film." (Fun facts: there were 87 swords on the TMI set and up to 16 runes scattered throughout).
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Dress To Impress:
Never mind that Collins had to do her fight sequences in high heels, Meyers had to do his with long braided hair! The actor, who had a meticulous eye for getting the details just right (during one particular fight sequence Meyers would ask director Harald Zwart for more takes to get the motions down pat) was in head-to-toe leather garb, giving his character Valentine something of a Matrix-meets-YA aesthetic.
Meyers, just like Bower, was covered in fake tattoos by the TMI makeup department. As Bower explained about the tattoos, "These are runes, so each tattoo has a specific power so I’m covered in them and I have real tattoos as well, so my real tattoos have to get covered and then runes get put on top of my real tattoos." The actor, who plays Shadowhunter Jace joked, "I think I should just get runes tattooed all over me, then at least I wouldn’t have to spend three hours in the makeup chair because I’d spend fifteen hours in the tattoo parlor and be done with it for the rest of my life."
You'll be able to keep an out for all the major makeup and minor details when The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones hits theaters on August 23.
RELATED: 'The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones' Trailer
[Photo credit: Screen Gems]