The hunt continues
Updated: 2013-08-23 07:17
By Elizabeth Kerr(HK Edition)
Another YA publishing phenomenon makes its way to the screen in the hopes of being the next Twilight. Elizabeth Kerr reports.
A lot can and has been said about the divisiveTwilightseries, both the books and the films, so much so it's not really worth repeating; neither devotee nor hater will be swayed from their positions. But either way, it should be acknowledged for its impact on a multi-billion dollar industry and a narrative model we're going to be living with for years. Gender politics aside, the kind of power Twilight wields is rare. It kick-started the search for the next female-focused young adult book series to be pillaged, effectively giving a boost to a moribund publishing sector, had a hand in mainstreaming fan fiction, saved an American television network (the CW) and, yes, was proof positive the XX audience could propel a property to $1.5 billion in global box office.
Every major studio has a YA lit-to-screen franchise ready to go, and in truth,box office lightning that was Twilight and The Hunger Games' has yet to strike a second time. Is it the perplexing narrative, particularly the version that's put on screens, that's getting in the way? Is it a case of too much of a good thing? To suggest the love triangle is a new concept is ludicrous of course. It's practically a dramatic staple now. Since Twilight in 2008, however, the song has remained decidedly the same, and it begs the question of where exactly the saturation point is. After all, two volcano actioners,VolcanoandDante's Peak, were enough.
Post-Twilight teen romance looks like this: A (uniformly) white, raven-haired beauty gets swept up in a supernatural (Beautiful Creatures,The Vampire Diaries,Vampire Academy) or dystopian (The Hunger Games,Divergent,Matched,The 5th Wave,The Maze Runner) world, caught between two equally honorable and hunky young men both vying for her affection. She has either the power to bring peace to warring factions, holds the mystical power to bring peace, or the force of will to dismantle a corrupt and/or Orwellian infrastructure. The supporting players are often fairies, werewolves, witches, aliens, clones, vampires (sparkly or plain) and so on. In fairness,The Maze Runner's main character is a boy - but there is indeed a girl he feels "connected" to - andThe 5thWave's heroine stands out for her frizzy, strawberry blond curls, at least on the page. Progress. But can you really differentiate between Zoey Deutch, Nina Dobrev, Alice Englert, Jennifer Lawrence, Kristen Stewart and Shailene Woodley? Google them. I'll wait See?
So into this fray comesThe Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, based on the bestselling sextet by Cassandra Clare who, like EL James withFifty Shades of Grey, is a fan fiction refugee. As directed faithfully by Norwegian hired gun Harald Zwart (the first Jaden Smith vehicle,The Karate Kid), the film is painfully derivative and wholly mad but it is at least gleeful (if pedestrian) in its madness. The utterly ridiculous story starts with meticulously tressed teenager Clary (Lily Collins) tooling around Toron Brooklyn with her best pal Simon (Robert Sheehan). She ignores her mom Jocelyn (now officially a nerd icon, Lena Headey) when she tries to talk to her, and wangles her way into a street-level Goth club and promptly witnesses a murder. Or is it? Clary was drawn to the club by a rune only she can see on the sign, which holds great significance to her identity. Ignoring her mother again the next day, she meets up with the killer in an alley (good idea), where he promptly tells her monsters - Downworlders - are real, he's Jace (Twilight vet Jamie Campbell Bower), a Shadowhunter, and so is she. While they chat, a pair of supernatural thugs breaks into her house demanding The Cup from Jocelyn, who drinks poison rather than answer. It's Jace to the rescue, and before you can say Hogwarts he's got Clary and Simon safely locked away at the Institute for Shadowhunting.
The first hour ofMI:COBis a mini version of the entire thing - which is laying a massive amount of groundwork with a million story threads for the next installments (part two goes into production this fall). All the parts are rather soullessly moved into place but the feeling that this is cheap knock-off never quite dissipates. Campbell Bower works hard to smolder in a sexually unthreatening way (and it's pretty hilarious when he does) while Sheehan simpers and pines with unrequited love. Everyone runs around inUnderworldseconds beforestopping to pose through gorgeous cheekbonesand spout lore. There's a "Luke, I am your father!" moment and even a touch of LGBT representation, just to keep thingsau courant, though in this "New York" there are no black or Hispanic Shadowhunters and only one Asian dude. Um, right.
Nonetheless there's a giddy appeal toMI:COBthat makes it enjoyably bonkers despite its weaknesses, and once the Big Bad arrives on the scene to beat the tar out of the whiny heroes, things pick up. Megalomaniac Valentine (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) wants The Cup, which an archangel drank from or something. It is the source of the Shadowhunters' power and with it Valentine can rule the world. Or something. Along the way he drops a number of bombshells on Clary, before she sends him packing and sets up the next chapter. Screenwriter Jessica Postigo (her other credit so far is the upcomingTarzanreboot starring Twilight alum Kellan Lutz - are you sensing a pattern?) has thrown everything into the mix and the result is a calculated mess for an audience that's likely a lot smarter than this. It certainly doesn't break any new ground, and to demand the kind of devotion that creates juggernauts writers and filmmakers really need to break new ground. The overwrought romance that started this all touched a nerve that previously hadn't been. Jennifer Lawrence's on and off-screen everywoman groundedness liftedThe Hunger Gamesway above its station. Collins has neither the material nor the personality to do the same forMI:COB, but with the foundation out of the way next year'sThe Mortal Instruments: City of Ashesmight hit its stride. Time will tell if The Next Big Thing has arrived but the prognosis looks bleak. And now's the time to say it: It's still better than Twilight.
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bonesopened in Hong Kong on Thursday.
(HK Edition 08/23/2013 page7)