Why Shadowhunters Is Going To Be So Much Better Than The Movie

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"Admirers of Philip Pullman's 1995 His Dark Materials trilogy think the film guts the backbone of the book. Me, I just think it blows," is how Rolling Stone's Peter Travers eloquently summed up his feelings about the The Golden Compass, the adaptation of the lauded young adult fantasy novel by Philip Pullman. But His Dark Materials (the name of the trilogy) is getting a second chance to be reimagined, this time as a series on the BBC. And it isn't the only fantasy series looking for TV redemption.

Less than a couple years after The Mortal Instruments film was panned and slunk out of theaters — after disappointing fans of the immensely popular Cassandra Clare YA series — the books are getting a TV show, Shadowhunters, on ABC Family. Could a serialized format be what these fantasy worlds need to tell their stories?

A big screen version of the His Dark Materials series made perfect sense when it was released at the end of 2007. It became part of a film landscape where six Harry Potter films dominated the box office and the first Chronicles of Narnia film earned over 290 million domestically. Audiences obviously wanted to see kids wrapped up in magical landscapes, and a New York Times best seller as source material must have seemed like a guaranteed recipe for success. The film tanked, earning a 42% on Rotten Tomatoes and a rep online as a destroyer of childhood lit dreams, referenced among fan communities on Tumblr as a prime example of a beloved book adaptation gone wrong.

After the final HP book was split into two movies a Hollywood law seemed to be created saying the final book in an adaptation franchise must spawns two films; the conventional wisdom in fantasy adaptations seems to me more is better. Sure, the story of The Hobbit could be easily contained in a single film, but by stretching it into three they could fit in some cool Tolkien karaoke. But giving a fantasy series a serialized platform rather than a contained blockbuster is giving it more than literal time, it's giving it the space to explore relationships and characters without the pressure to constantly dazzle the audience with special effects.

Game of Thrones
has been criticized recently for its efforts to pack in as much heartbreak and misery as possible into each hour-long episode, but they were still able to make the decision to put a major character, and storyline, on the sidelines for an entire season so they could give more screen time to develop other players. Every extra minute exploring Daenerys' moral dilemmas or Arya's descent into single-minded revenge was a minute freed up by the lack of Bran, something that couldn't be done in a film. Likewise with the recent adaptation of the '90s time-traveling romance Outlander, entire episodes could be dedicated to the development of the protagonist's love, rather than stuffing a film with a simple mix of war and sex (which would still make for compelling entertainment, but less satisfying).

We'll have to wait until January to see if Shadowhunters brings Cassandra Clare's story to life more effectively than the 2013 film (and the His Dark Materials show doesn't have a release date yet) but that fact that producers are willing to revisit the material proves fans are still eager to see their favorite characters on screen. Let's hope this time they're not disappointed.


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