Thoughts on Movie Adaptations and THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS in Particular

A couple of weeks ago, in preparation for “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” movie, I read CITY OF BONES. I loved it and couldn’t wait to get CITY OF ASHES. I’m still waiting on CITY OF GLASS, but the fact that I’ve only read the first two is an important point in this post.

Anyway, because I loved the books, I went into the movie expecting to like it. And I did, even though it was quite different from the book. But I’m ok with that. Movies are a different medium. You’re experiencing the story in an entirely different way–watching the characters go through the plot rather than going through it inside their heads. So here are a few things I think affected the way this particular movie was adapted, with some general thoughts on adaptations as well.

Set-Up

If I hadn’t already read the second book in this series, I would have thought the writers had taken a lot more leeway with the story than they actually did. In order to explain the world, the writers revealed a number of plot points in the “City of Bones” movie that don’t happen until at least CITY OF ASHES. Even without having read CITY OF GLASS, it was clear to me from where things were going at the end of CITY OF ASHES that some of the things revealed from the very beginning of this movie are actually things you find out in CITY OF GLASS.The Mortal Instruments Sorry if that sounds vague, but I’m trying not to include any spoilers.

In any case, I can understand why they did it this way. When you’re reading the story, you want that tension to get to the end, but in a movie where the viewer hasn’t been gently grounded in the world, it could just end up a confusing mess. Did the writers have to do it the exact way they did in the movie? I don’t know. They might have been able to come up with a way to avoid spoiling a couple of those plot points, but maybe not. It will be interesting to see how they handle those things if they move forward with adaptations of the later books.

Length

As an avid reader, I’m willing to sit through a four and a half hour miniseries (PRIDE AND PREJUDICE) or a two-part movie (BREAKING DAWN, HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS) for a book I really love. But for a book I probably wouldn’t read? Like THE HOBBIT? (Sorry, just not my taste). Nope. I’ll go for the only slightly long version, like “The Lord of the Rings” non-extended version, but I’m not going to sit through something I anticipate being too convoluted for a movie. Even if it’s not true, I expect it to be slow-paced and possibly boring. So, that’s the dilemma film-makers have when they decide to adapt a book. There’s no way they can include the whole story, so they cut scenes and plot points and condense it down to what they anticipate viewers will connect with best. I understand that, and I don’t mind that they had to cut quite a few non-action scenes to make this movie work.

Budget

There’s a lot of scrutiny on YA books made into movies, particularly because TWILIGHT and HARRY POTTER and HUNGER GAMES were so successful. Not every book adaptation is going to bring in those numbers, but the comparisons will still be made. I could definitely see the effect budget had on this adaptation. Cassandra Clare created numerous creatures you’ve never heard of before. While there were some great special effects in this movie, there definitely was room for more with the demons. They chose to simplify in that area, and since the box office numbers didn’t reach the TWILIGHT levels (which, let’s face it, would have been unrealistic to expect), I think it was a wise decision. Who knows? If the numbers improve, they might do more with book two.

Characters

How the characters will translate to the big screen is probably what I’m most anxious about when I go see a movie adapted from a book. If I love a book, it’s because I care about the characters, and I want to love them on the screen, too. For the most part, it’s about the way they act rather than appearance. Sure, I want them to look the way I pictured them, but the only way the actor’s appearance is going to really bother me is if some physical characteristic that’s intrinsic is off–for example, the MC is touchy about being short but the actress is 6 feet tall. That’s a lame example, but hopefully you get the idea. The thing is,  that character doesn’t exist in real life, so there’s never going to be an actor who fits exactly. In “The Mortal Instruments,” I was fine with all of the main characters. The only one who stood out as being very different from what I expected was the antagonist, Valentine, who didn’t look or act the way he’s portrayed in the books. But even here, I can understand why they went for the more flashy/unhinged bad guy. It certainly plays better in a movie.

I’m sure there are other things I could point out, but these are the points that stuck out to me most. What are your favorite movie adaptations? Or least favorite? What did you think of this one?

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About Michelle I. Mason

I'm a full-time writer, focusing mainly on middle grade and young adult fiction with some freelance PR writing and editing on the side. I'm also a wife, mom, Christian, violinist, avid reader and St. Louis Cardinals fan. And I watch way too much TV.
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16 Responses to Thoughts on Movie Adaptations and THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS in Particular

  1. Carla Cullen says:

    I can’t comment on the Mortal Instruments books/movie because I haven’t read/seen them. I love the Harry Potter films, but my favorite is The Order of the Phoenix. Oddly enough, it’s my least favorite of the books, because it’s so long and Harry is so angry for 2/3 of the book, but in the movie, a lot of that anger is condensed and the focus is on the students rallying together.

  2. I’ve only read the Clockwork Angel, Prince, Princess trilogy but I’m eager to see this movie. What I can’t decide is whether to read City of Bones before seeing the movie – or after!

  3. Akoss says:

    Wow! You made some really good points here about book to movie adaptations.
    I haven’t seen the movie and I’m probably going to wait for the dvd instead. I remember reading the first book and while I enjoyed the world building I had a bit of a hard time connecting with the characters.
    Oh and in my entourage the only people who didn’t like the movie were non-writers. I found it interesting. 🙂

    • When you say non-writers, do you mean people who hadn’t read the book? I have heard that those not familiar with the world might find it confusing. It’s hard to put myself in that frame of mind since I have read the books, and just recently.

  4. I totally agree. I finally saw City of Bones and thought the story structure was spot on for the medium. I’ve read all the books to date in the series, and I LOVE the books. But the written word is a different medium, as you said. I can see why they took the liberties they did with bringing plot points from later books forward into the first movie. The plot points they revealed now will pay off much better in the later films. I like to compare films and books with watercolor paintings and oil paintings. The techniques you use to great exceptional oil paintings would turn a watercolor into a muddy mess. My $.02 on this topic. 🙂

    • I like your analogy. I finished CITY OF GLASS over the weekend, but I think I’m going to wait on the rest of the series. From what I’ve seen online, books four and five both have cliffhangers, so I’ll go less crazy if I wait until closer to the release of book six :).

  5. Gina says:

    Eek, I haven’t seen this one yet — but I really want to! Hope it’s still up. I read the first three books last year.

    My favorite adaptation is Coraline. Hands down. Dare I say, it’s even a smidge better than the book! Also will forever love To Kill A Mockingbird.

  6. Pingback: My Favorite Reads of 2013 | Michelle I. Mason

  7. Pingback: YA Series Recommendation: The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare | Michelle I. Mason

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