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Sunday, Jun 24, 2018
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‘Mortal Instruments’ saga opens in a cemetery — not a good sign

There is most certainly an audience for the film “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones”: fans of the six (planned) novels about demons, supernatural demon fighters, vampires, werewolves, witches and warlocks.
They’ll thrill to all the endless litany of runes, talismans, history and rules of this world of shadow hunters descended from an angel who showed up to help crusading knights a thousand years ago. They’ll eagerly await the brief throw-away visit to the “City of Bones” (a cemetery) of the title.
And if you love exposition and shapely if bland young actors in leather, skinny jeans, knee boots, Goth cocktail dresses and heavy eye makeup, this may be the movie for you.
Lily Collins is Clary, the birthday girl whose mother (Lena Headey of “300”) never told her about her heritage, why she keeps seeing signs and people with great hair stalking and stabbing demons in nightclubs and whatnot. Clary, dragging her unsuspecting admirer Simon (Robert Sheehan) along, finds out.
She was born into this world. Simon? He’s just a “muggle.” Sorry, “a mundane,” a clueless human.
They learn all this from the mop-topped warrior-explainer Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower), who drives a Triumph motorcycle, flirts with Clary and has the tedious job of explicating every single thing to them and to the audience.
“All religions assist us in our battle,” he says as they rummage through the demon-killing gear stashed beneath a New York church altar.
“Magnus Bane. He’s a warlock. I should’ve known,” he mutters. Of course.
The shadow hunters fight “a war that can never be won but must always be fought,” the leader of their Institute (Jared Harris) teaches. We’re invited to draw our own parallels to modern battles against terrorism.
Sometimes vampires interfere. Sometimes werewolves help. Johann Sebastian Bach’s contrapuntal compositions play a part. Homoerotic come-ons play into the love triangles set up here.
A magical cup, a “mortal instrument,” is sought by good guys and bad (Jonathan Rhys Meyers).
Cool effects? The Portal is a watery door to points in space and time, and the runes — tattooed over the arms and chests of the shadow hunters, glow when they’re doing their runish thing.
It’s a stilted, silly mishmash of earlier fantasy franchises, with the occasional decent joke and frequent brawls involving swordplay and backflips.
Director Harald Zwart has “Agent Cody Banks” and the recent “Karate Kid” among his credits. Which tells you the best they’re hoping for here is a “Percy Jackson” level of success. This franchise’s fate was sealed when bargain hunter Screen Gems got the distribution rights to it.
And there’s no stopping them. “City of Ashes,” a second adaptation, is due out next year, probably dumped in late August, just like this one.
‘Mortal Instruments’ album intoxicating
Successful film soundtracks have to complete a pair of difficult tasks. They must creatively echo the film they enhance and also stand on their own.
“The Mortal Instruments” soundtrack manages to encapsulate the spirit of the story’s adventure into the violent world of shadow hunting (demon killing), the teenage protagonists’ restless spirit and the fragile love story that weaves itself into the narrative. The recipe for the album is simple: take an indie rock-pop band’s song, shake, stir into a hypnotic electronic dance music track, add a serene ballad, repeat half a dozen times, cook on high and, voila, you’ve got a healthy, balanced mix of action and emotion.
From the dangerously dark and stormy dance track “Into the Lair” by Zedd to the catchy wails of AFI remix “17 Crimes” to the bizarrely compelling low-frequency tubular vibrations of Jessie J’s remixed “Magnetic,” it all coagulates into a moody party.
The high-energy beats are tempered by Demi Lovato’s lovelorn “Heart by Heart” and Colbie Caillat’s evocative “When the Darkness” — two tracks recorded especially for this soundtrack. And He is We’s “All About Us” is a playful invitation to love that will lodge itself deep into your brain.
The teenage baiting becomes obvious with “Almost Is Never Enough,” a duet from Ariana Grande and The Wanted’s Nathan Sykes. It’s a throwback to the 1990s power ballads that are just too cheesy for contemporary tastes but will never go out of fashion for feelings-ravaged adolescents.
On an album full of memorable songs, perhaps Bassnectar’s too-short “Calling From Above” sums it up best: a torrent of eerie, dynamic electronic sounds punctuated by siren calls to get lost in the music.
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