An old saying goes «If at first you don’t succeed, try again». So here we are, with two episodes of Shadowhunters available. Let’s have a look at the aborted movie series that has now become a TV show.
The Mortal Instruments is one of the most successful book series in the Young Adult (YA) genre. Author Cassandra Clare has written six books about Clary Fray, a teenager who finds out that she’s part of an elite cabal of warriors called the Shadowhunters. In fact, she’s a key figure in the war between them and the The Circle. But that’s not the only problem red-headed Clary has as she has a mundane friend named Simon Lewis and then there’s the Shadowhunter Jace Wayland, both of whom are romantic interests.
Basically, The Mortal Instruments has all the elements of YA schlock. Unsurprisingly, it became a success in the wake of its bigger siblings such as The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and the critically panned Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer.
Naturally, this led to other media producers being interested in the property and in 2013, the first of the six books was adapted into a movie titled The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, starring Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower, Robert Sheehan and Lena Headey of Game of Thrones fame. It looked like this:
The movie did not do well at the box office. Review aggregator websites RottenTomatoes.com has it at a 12% fresh rating, which makes it a pretty badly made movie. It cost 60 million dollars to make and made around 90 million dollars. So all in all, it was a moderate success financially, but I don’t know of anyone who actually liked the movie.
As of two weeks ago, there’s a TV series that tries to recapture the success of the books, hoping to eliminate most of the errors that plagued the movie. The series looks like this:
An Analogy Using Pizza
To best describe the TV show as well as the movie is to use pizza. Yes, the pizza you think of. The food everyone likes. Have you ever met anyone who doesn’t like pizza? Also, have you ever made pizza and it turned out to be horribly bad? So bad that you can’t eat it? It’s really, really hard to make bad pizza. Most pizza just turns out okay. Some pizza turns out to be awesome. Very few pizza turn out to be meh and even fewer turn out to be awful.
So let’s imagine that a story – in our case Shadowhunters – is a pizza. All the ingredients it works with are awesome. There’s ham, cheese, dough, tomato sauce, oregano and so on. All you need to do is assemble them correctly, balance them just right and heat them to the right temperature, leaving them in the oven long enough.
Shadowhunters has too much hamminess, and it’s too cheesy. It’s predictable and it doesn’t have a solid foundation to bake on. The actors don’t have enough spice to be convincing and the production values are awful. Shadowhunters is a pretty bad pizza.
Interestingly enough, all the ingredients the show works with have the potential to be really good stories.
- Clary Fray discovers there’s a hidden world
- People have magical weapons
- Magic. In general.
- Tattoos and runes have hidden meanings
- It’s a coming of age story
- The costume ideas are good, albeit not too far out there.
All this just doesn’t add up. The story is bad, some characters are being asses for the sake of being asses and they up the mystery for no reason. Further, the CGI is just bad to the point where suspension of disbelief fails.
The Cringeworthy Production
If you’ve ever been interested in cosplay beyond leering at the hot cosplay babes or the sexy cosplay men, you know that the devil is in the details. It’s the small things that make or break a costume. You can get the dress right, and in the case of Shadowhunters it’s black leather you can’t really go wrong with, but it’s the accessories that make it. It’s a difficult craft, really.
The problem with the costumes in Shadowhunters is not the clothing, but everything else. It just looks so tacky, plasticky and fake. The magic swords that sort of function like Star Wars Light Sabres are very, very obviously made of illuminated plastic and nobody can tell me that the command center is actually located in an abandoned church. The swords even wobble upon impact.
It wouldn’t be so bad if the series would have them as set pieces in the back of a scene, but seeing the characters wielding them as if they were real swords and pretending that they’re super dangerous, it just doesn’t work. At all.
Production value aside, the story and the way it’s handled is not all that good either. The show’s main problem is that it attempts to just dump the viewers into the action, but there’s no action yet. So the characters are just buggering about, doing nothing in particular. Why did the demons in the beginning have to die? Why are all these people talking about anything and why are they doing any of the things they’re doing?
Having recently watched the excellent British crime show Broadchurch, I’ve experienced an excellent example of how a story can be slowly boiled and built to reach nerve-wracking and truly exciting points in an unfolding storyline. Shadowhunters has none of that. Everything, the entire world, what feels like a million characters, and a lot of exposition is dumped on viewers right away. And while it can be handled well – for a good example, look at the TV classic Lost – Shadowhunters doesn’t do any of it.
Wrapping this up, Shadowhunters is one of the shows that shouldn’t fail, but yet it does. With so many good elements and a somewhat original take on things that is consistent with traditional mythology it should be good. But it just isn’t. But maybe the series will get cancelled in a season or two and then rebooted in a few years. Because one thing is certain: The Mortal Instruments seem to be immortal. They might go away for a bit, but they always come back.