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Cassandra Clare Jumps Ship as ‘The Mortal Instruments’ Begins to Look Like a Box Office Bomb

On Monday I explained to you just what The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones was. I return to report that it seems that the film is not doing as well as its backers might have hoped. In spite of commercials which depicted the stars in front of a horde of screaming fans, opening day only pulled in about $3 million for the widely panned adaptation. Projections are expecting perhaps $15 million to come back on a film with a reported budget of $60 million. Hardly the fans-camping-outside juggernaut that the marketing was selling us.

A few entertainment journalists have begun to wonder aloud if this means an end of attempted-Twilight-clones. If The Mortal Instruments does flop, it will be the third Twilight-lite picture to tank this year. Beautiful Creatures, also based on a bestselling YA series, sank like a stone when it appeared in February. And Stephenie Meyer’s very own The Host committed instant hari kiri when it appeared in March. It turns out that movie magic can only be made from very particular kinds of young adult literature. And indeed this all seems to prove that Hollywood just doesn’t seem to have much of a sense of how to do an adaptation properly. They might do well to check themselves.

That said, Hollywood isn’t likely to quit running after these properties for quite some time. In YA fantasy epics, it isn’t just about being on-trend and “with” the zeitgeist; the merchandising possibilities when you do manage to hit the target are just too lucrative. Which probably explains why, even though the critics are all saying this thing is the pits, and releasing it in late August doesn’t signal a great deal of faith from the distributor, there are already plans afoot to begin filming a sequel in September.

Still, the distance between The Mortal Instruments’ perceived “fandom” and its ability to get those fans out to the movie ought to be instructive for the young aesthetes in charge of, say, the Fifty Shades of Grey adaptation. And that lesson is that however many mediocre books people are willing to buy for $9.99 and below on Amazon, there is some extra amount of will required to convince oneself to shell out somewhere in the range of $12 a head to watch a hastily-put-together adaptation of same. It’s not like cultural faith in the storytelling powers of Hollywood is at an all-time high; most people go to see blockbusters mostly as an exercise in mindlessness, but this summer has provided much evidence that there’s only so much commercialism people can reasonably be expected to take, even in their mindless art. That’s the takeaway from this summer of depressing, ill-conceived blockbusters: the public still does have some shred of taste left. Even Twilight at least had the distinction of being the first of its kind of Mormon-lady-gothic.

Besides, you can tell that something’s wrong when your creator’s jumping ship already, anyway. Funnily enough, in a puff piece The Hollywood Reporter published just the day before the release, the books’ author, Cassandra Clare, said she was really very happy with the adaptation. She elaborated that she was satisfied in part because of her input into the filmmaking process and in part because fans, she said, loved the film after first screening. Well, it seems she’s had a change of heart.

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Indeed.

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