Editorial : Why did Twilight and Hunger Games succeed but Mortal Instruments failed?


Once upon a time it was animated princesses swirling around in fancy gowns and anthropomorphic animals singing songs about being king of the savannah; now it’s teen novels transported to the silver screen. What exactly am I referring to? Hollywood’s biggest money-spinners, that’s what.

Ever since the fanged not-so-fiends of the “Twilight” crew hit cinemas back in 2008 to hordes of screaming teenage girls happy to part with a pretty penny in order to see Edward’s disturbingly luminescent face on-screen, film producers have been taking popular teen novels and translating them into Hollywood blockbusters.

Whilst “Twilight” is perhaps the easiest to remember (and one I wish I didn’t have to), who can forget the burning success that was Gary Ross’ adaptation of “The Hunger Games”? Released in March 2012, the film had a cracking box-office run, grossing over $697 million and captivating audiences everywhere with the struggles of underdogs Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark as they fought tooth, bow and arrow through the Hunger Games to return back home to District 12.

With dystopic fiction fast becoming all the literary rage (bye-bye, you boring bloodsuckers), book-lovers globally are waiting with baited breath for the cinematic release of Veronica Roth’s “Divergent”, set to hit theatres in March 2014. Shaielne Woodley is set to star as Tris Prior, a young woman growing up in future Chicago where society has been split into five factions, each valuing one quality over all others. Although Tris was born and raised among the Abnegation (the selfless), she ultimately finds herself drawn to the Dauntless (the brave) and the challenges that lie ahead.

However, fantasy stories also seem to be pretty popular these days among cinemagoers; take the “Percy Jackson” series – based on novels by Rick Riordan, tells the story of a boy who discovers that he is the son of Poseidon and therefore a demigod, who faces a series of supernatural adventures as a result of his birthright. Then of course, there is Cassandra Clare’s “Mortal Instruments” series, which follow Shadowhunters Clary Fray and Jace Morgenstern as they try to stop the machinations of dark Shadowhunter Valentine (think a supernatural version of Adolf Hitler).

What’s interesting is how unpredictable the success of these films is likely to be.

When “The Hunger Games” was picked up by a relatively small studio, fans were both overjoyed (because Katniss’ gritty story was less likely to become Hollywood fluff) but also dismayed, because it means that there was a chance that it would not reach the soaring box office heights that it would need to warrant a sequel. Ultimately, the film was a smash-hit with fans, critics and of course, financially, and “Catching Fire” will burn its way through cinemas later this year.

Unfortunately, “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” was not so fortunate. Although it ultimately generated a profit at the box office, critics were not impressed and fans were left somewhat disappointed. At this point in time a sequel to the film has been put on hold while the studio decides if it can ultimately warrant producing the rest of the films that are in the ‘Mortal Instruments’ series.

From the perspective of someone who has read most of these books – and quite enjoyed, if not loved the vast majority of them – and from the perspective of a critic, I did not always find the screen translations as captivating.

Having spent some time thinking about it, here is my list of things I have loved (and not-so-loved) about how some of my favourite novels have been translated from page to screen.

1. Perfect Characterisation

There’s nothing better than sitting down in cinema and seeing characters you know and love brought to life perfectly. Take Katniss Everdeen – I was a little worried when they case Jennifer Lawrence about how she would portray perhaps one of the most compelling characters I’ve ever had the joy of reading about. Having said that, with her blend of tenacity, fear, brutality and vulnerability, Lawrence nailed her perfectly.

2. Brilliant Settings

I suppose something good has to be said about “Twilight” – and if I had to pick one thing, I guess this would be it. The team responsible for designing the sets – from the gloomy Forks forest to the Cullen family’s palatial mansion – transported the world I had imagined while reading the books onto the screen with grace and style.

3. Keeping to the Story

I know it’s not always easy to translate a 300+ page novel into a movie that spans less than two-and-a-half hours on screen. Things always get cut and chopped and changed so that audiences who have never read the books can still follow the film. But as far as I’m concerned, as long as nothing too major gets cut and I still get to see all the scenes from the book that I loved… I’m a happy woman.


1. Not Keeping to the Story

I’m the first to admit that I’m a “Harry Potter” nerd; read the books as a kid… and as an adolescent… and an adult. I’ve seen all the movies on the very night that they opened in the cinema with my entire family present. And to the credit of the revolving-door of directors involved in those films, most of them did a brilliant job of bringing Harry and Hogwarts to life. But all fans will remember the fiasco of “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”. It was the biggest book in the entire series… and the film was no longer than usual length. Enough said.

2. Dodgy Special Effects

Vampires that sparkle… dresses erupting into flames… runes drawn on skin that have magical powers. They’re all well and good when they are words on paper, but translating them to the screen is another story entirely. Robert Pattinson looked like he had been doused in cheap glitter and Katniss’ dress hardly looked like it would warrant a fire extinguisher.

3. Picking the Wrong Actors

I think this is where “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” really went wrong. While I adored Jamie Campbell-Bower as Jace, I definitely wasn’t sold on Lily Collins (I’d buy her – Clint) as Clary. She didn’t have the tenacity, the fire, the passion that Clary does… plus the chemistry just wasn’t there between the two leads.

If as much time went into making sure the right ingredients went into the film as there is spent on marketing, “Mortal Instruments”, and anything else in that realm that didn’t turn out so fab, might’ve turned out better.