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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
I remember getting into a rather bitter war over the Twilight franchise a few years back with some of my closest friends. One friend claimed that I, as a former English major and teacher, should hate Twilight solely because it’s “poorly written.” I responded that I cannot judge the book because I’ve not read it. I can make generalizations based on what I’ve heard from others or from what I’ve extrapolated the book is about due to its hardest core of fans, but I haven’t actually read the damn thing. I’ve never read any of the sequels either (and I don’t intend to). I have, however, seen the films. And I’d like to use our blog as a forum to talk about the movie versions Stephanie Meyer’s megahits (I have seen them all thus far).
I’m not afraid or ashamed to admit that I rarely read books anymore. I just don’t really have the time. I don’t think I’ve read through an entire book since I read Moneyball at the end of 2010. But it’s not like I’ve never been a reader. In college I basically devoured books. I’d read everything and anything, from Conrad’s Heart of Darkness to Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse to Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy. Maybe I burned myself out. Maybe I’ve read the classics and I’m done. Maybe I just don’t feel like reading anymore. Whatever the case, I’m probably not going to read Twilight (or Harry Potter or Hunger Games or Percy Jackson or any of the other tween-centric giganta-hits). But I will see the movies on occasion. Last summer, Nick did a write up on basically all things Harry Potter. I was pretty impressed with his work and loved his reviews. I’d kind of like to do the same thing with Twilight, except it’d obviously be about my experiences with these movies.
Let’s start with the original Twilight film, directed by journeywoman director Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen, Red Riding Hood). I saw this original film basically on a dare. While I wasn’t going to read the books, seeing the first movie (especially as a dollar rental in the Red Box) would be an easy, relatively painless few hours, or so I thought. I was not entirely correct, as I barely slogged through the last hour of this film (though I found enough to enjoy about the first half to kind of sort of somewhat not hate it entirely). Let it be said that it is in no way a good movie, though. The acting is wooden, the direction haphazard (especially the action scenes), the mood melodramatic (though this would become par for the course), the special effects not all that special, and certain scenes seemed like they came out of a different movie entirely (the baseball game).
We must talk about Kristen Stewart, who plays main character Bella Swan. She’s awful in this movie, ’nuff said. Robert Pattinson plays the patented handsome loner role with a sort of detached interest, like he’s either unaware or doesn’t care that he’s filming a movie at all. There is a certain chemistry between the two, but it’s hard to care about their forbidden romance when the acting is so stilted, the dialogue so clumsy, and the direction so bad. I partially blame the budget, as Hardwicke has been a competent director elsewhere. The budget for this film was something like $38 million, and it shows. Future installments wouldn’t have this problem, but the original film in the series definitely suffers from being budgeted so lowly.
But still, I didn’t hate it. Maybe it caught me in a weird place. I had just come off of a failed relationship when I saw this film, and maybe in my wounded state I went a bit easy on it. It’s honestly a bit hard to talk about this movie as well. I’ve not seen the original Twilight film since April 2009 (and I’ll probably never watch it again), but this was the point where I went from being pretty anti-Twilight (but not hating the franchise since it’s not worth the energy) to being pretty indifferent. I obviously still had a lot of problems, but I didn’t find Twilight to be the soul-crushing black hole of suckitude that internet largely claimed it was (Hyperbole on the internet? Well, I never!).
Twilight: New Moon (2009)
Even though I ended up not really hating the first Twilight film, I did find it to be sorely lacking in big-screen spectacle (again, probably due to its truncated budget). New Moon fixes a lot of these problems. Whereas the first film is decidedly small scale, New Moon is higher-budgeted and directed by someone who had a bit more experience in the action genre (Chris Weitz, director of The Golden Compass). This helps elevate the sequel above the original film entirely. It also helps that the special effects are a lot better, particularly in the werewolf scenes (and I don’t care what anyone says, the wolves in the Twilight franchise are pretty cool).
Robert Pattinson’s Edward is pushed aside due to plot devices in favor of Taylor Lautner’s Jacob character, and it is largely more successful based on this alone (I’m Team Jacob clearly). Kristin Stewart’s performance is still wooden, and she’s awful melodramatic (particularly in scenes where she’s sad over Edward’s departure), but she’s somehow more tolerable in this film. New Moon was released during the holiday season of 2009 where it smashed box office records. A few months earlier, Stwewart co-starred in Adventureland, one of my favorite movies of that year. I honestly think this helped me enjoy New Moon a lot more, because she was actually pretty great in Adventureland. I think her experiences in that film helped her mature a bit more as an actress, and she is definitely stronger and more tolerable in New Moon.
Like the original Twilight film, I saw this sequel when I was at the end of a relationship, and I feel the experience I had watching this movie was heightened by the emotional roller coaster my life was currently on. Twilight films are made to appeal the unlucky-in-love demographic somewhat, and I feel New Moon plays to this strength the best of any of the films in the franchise. I mentioned earlier that Weitz is able to handle the big screen spectacle of New Moon better than previous director Catherine Hardwicke did with the original. I feel Weitz is better able to convey the big emotional moments more effectively as well. I kinda wish he was directing the final film because of this.
Twilight: Eclipse (2010)
If the original Twilight film was a low budget romance and New Moon was more of a holiday blockbuster then Eclipse is more of a straight-up summer action film. There’s more action in Eclipse than either of its predecessors, which makes it the most exciting film in the franchise. Tonally it’s all over the place, but at least David Slade (director of 30 Days of Night) brings his A-game to the fantastic and legitimately thrilling action scenes. Eclipse was the first Twilight film to also be released in the summer, and the perfect way to describe this film is probably as a typical summer blockbuster.
The melodrama of the first two installments isn’t nearly as prevalent here, and Slade also cuts down on some of the inessential characters as well (gone are most of Bella’s annoying teenage friends, thankfully). Though the first two films are fairly slowly paced, Eclipse moves rather briskly. There is a clear goal in its plot, and it wastes less time getting to the story than do Twilight and New Moon. Critics generally agree that Eclipse is the best in the franchise, and it did indeed earn better reviews than the earlier films. Of all the films in the franchise, this is the easiest to go back and re-watch.
I saw this film in a hundred year old theater in my hometown with my loving girlfriend, who I am still happily with. Unlike the earlier two films where I was going through a more stressful time in my personal life, I felt more comfortable during my initial viewing of Eclipse. This, plus the fact that Eclipse is the most “summery” of the films are probably two reasons why I actually really enjoyed this movie. It’s the first film in the franchise I can actually recommend to others without feeling somewhat stupid, as at least the action scenes are pretty good and the set-pieces exciting.
Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part I (2011)
When I first heard that Breaking Dawn, the ultimate book in the Twilight series, was going to be split up into two films, I cringed and thought it was stupid. Having seen Part I, however, I’m glad they did it this way, because it can only get better in Part 2, right? Directed by Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters, Dream Girls), Breaking Dawn Part I is the absolute worst film in the franchise. Gone is the taught, tension-filled direction of David Slade. Gone is the romantic melodrama with the big-screen sensibilities of Chris Weitz. Gone is even the small scale scrappiness of the Catherine Hardwicke original. What we’re left with is a disjointed film that feels like more of a hatchet-job than an actual movie.
Part 2 has to be better right? Because nothing really compelling happens in Part I. Bella and Edward finally get married, Bella gets pregnant, and hides from her dad in fear of him finding out she’s married a vampire or something. It’s kind of haphazardly thrown together, and probably appeals better to people who have actually read the books. Having never read them, I really feel this film does a horrible job of explaining its own story. For instance, the idea of a werewolf “imprinting” on another is mentioned a few times in the film, but never really explained. I still have no idea what it means that Jacob “imprinted” on Bella’s monster-baby (oh and spoiler too I guess), but he did and I guess it was supposed to be dramatic but it just kinda happens.
There are a few good gags in the film, such as Edward destroying the bed by having sex with Bella (they’re married, so it’s ok). Michael Sheen shows up to class the joint up once again as the prententiously-dressed Aro (having last appeared in New Moon) and Maggie Grace was hyped as being in this film too, but her character is onscreen for like 3 minutes. I really feel like Condon failed to deliver a solid movie, and honestly I was more disappointed in Breaking Dawn Part I than I was in any of the Twilight films. It’s really that bad. Part 2 has to be better, right?
Since I recounted where I had seen the others, I will mention that I saw Breaking Dawn Part I in the same theater I saw Eclipse in. Part I was released in the holiday season like the first two films. It didn’t gross as much as the sequel or the sequel to the sequel, and it was critically derided (and for good reason). While I can re-watch New Moon and Eclipse and be pretty entertained by them, I probably couldn’t go back to Breaking Dawn Part I, and I honestly have little interest in seeing it again to see if my opinion lightens on it.
Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (2012)
I am very interested in seeing how this journey plays out. It’s been three years since I’ve seen the original Twilight film, and when Breaking Dawn Part 2 is released this coming November it will have been four years since the theatrical release of the first movie. Bill Condon is still unfortunately directing, so I am hoping that he has learned from the mistakes of Part I and will deliver a solid ending to the franchise. Even though I’ve found the films in the Twilight series to be pretty inessential, I still want it all to end on a high note.
The theatrical release of Part 2 is going to be the end of a pretty important era in pop culture. Twilight has been replaced in recent times by The Hunger Games and other, newer teen-girl fads. It’s almost amazing that it has sustained itself this long though. The films have grossed approximately one hundred billion kajillion dollars at the box office and have meant a lot to a lot of people. Twilight is a roundly mocked franchise; it gets picked on for its obvious Mary Sue-isms, its trite and melodramatic love story, and its sparkly vampires. None of this bothers me, though. It’s a book and film series aimed squarely at middle school-aged females and bored housewives. It’s a series not really worth getting as bent out of shape as most of the internet is over it. As I recently said to one of my friends who is still bashing the franchise, “Twilight hate is so 2009.” If you haven’t already, it’s time to get over it.