2008 121 minutes and 2009 130 minutes
Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner
Based on the Novels by Stephanie Meyer
Directed by Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight), and
Directed by Chris Weitz (The Twilight Saga: New Moon)
I once picked a book from the Twilight series off my couch and thumbed through it. My wife, along with Puddlies, the stray cat we were housing that month, spent most of the latter half of November 2008 reading all four books in Stephanie Meyer's vampire-human-werewolf love-saga. I don't know which book I had picked up-maybe it was the third one. I picked a page at random and read a single paragraph. I do not remember what happened in this paragraph. I do know that the phrase "marbled chest" appeared multiple times. I also know that what I read was not exactly great writing. If Harry Potter is "middle of the road" this was the ditch. But what the heck do I know?
Summit Entertainment, wisely smelling profit, quickly filmed versions of the first two books and released them in back-to-back years. Here is my opinion of these two films:
Setting--Meyer's books are set in Northern Washington, a moodily beautiful, mysterious area, and Twilight and New Moon are filmed here as well. The setting simply cannot be screwed up. If you just turn on a camera and throw it into the mountainous coastal forests of Northwestern America, you will already have mood and atmosphere, even if your filming device lands in the mud next to a tree stump.
Music--I don't know why, but the most talented musical acts in the world will all write original songs for these films if only asked. Thom Yorke will turn in A-grade material that can only be found on the Twilight soundtrack. Bon Iver? St. Vincent? They'll do a song together. A teen favorite like Paramore? They'll turn in their best work ever. The biggest bonus of this great music is that it amps up the atmosphere even more. Take a ridiculous, ineptly directed scene involving wolves chasing a vampire around a tree in slow motion. Within the first notes of the spacey song backing the scene, you will not be watching Twilight anymore, but thinking and existing in the Trapper Keeper that weird girl who sat next to you in the sixth grade had. That's right, you will be floating in an Outer Space ocean with Killer Whales and Dolpins, leaping over aquatic asteroids, because the atmosphere and music are that rapturous.
These are the only two traditional pros of these two films. However, there are several non-traditional pros.
Acting--The acting in these films is terrible, distractingly bad. Shockingly, this actually makes the films more watchable. Meyer's dialogue and plotting are already ridiculous. A revived Laurence Olivier could not add honest gravitas to the dreck coming out of these young actors' mouths. Whether by some genius of craft, or by some genius of casting the worst actors possible for each role, these young thespians stumble through each line like a grade-school dropout stoner, low on sleep, attempting to explicate string theory in their second language, English. Even simple lines like, "Hey, come back here!" are read as, "Hey come, back...here?" Star, and supposed human, Kristen Stewart, sounds and appears to have found a tab of acid in her father's closet and dropped it the wrong way. Love interest Robert Pattinson is about five heartbeats from the titular character of Weekend at Bernie's. When you put the two together, things get even worse. Perhaps this is because the already stilted actors have no chemistry together. Perhaps this is because Meyer's material is so untenable by any actor's tongue that there is absolutely no way to achieve believability. Either way, we win. For instance, for some reason the two leads are supposed to be attracted to each other in a not normal human-to-human way, but on a level I am only attracted to a Philly Cheesesteak Pizza. Well, I guess Pattinson, playing a vampire, is "hungry" for Bella, but beyond the fact that she would make a (quick) meal, his attraction to her is pretty unexplainable. I guess some people just like gray wallpaper. As for why she likes him, maybe her greatest aspiration in life is to be a Philly Cheesesteak Pizza, though I suspect she is something closer to some sort of scone, or maybe a grainy, flaxseed bagel. Appetite notwithstanding, all of Pattinson's lines are delivered with his head pointed to the side, while Stewart's are delivered with eyes pointed at the ground. I would have hated to attempt to mic these two. Somehow, though, these horrible line-readings are so entertaining, you will be rewinding the films to hear them again and again. They are that bizarre. You won't find anything like them anywhere.
Romance--Perhaps lack of romance should be the key Pro here. These two characters are supposed to have an animal attraction to each other. At the same time, they are supposed to never be together. They begin to kiss but then start chasing each other's lips around in a circle, much like a pale, goofy snake trying to catch its own tail without success. Who in their right mind would not want to watch this? This incredible awkwardness is far more entertaining than any actual chemistry other actors could provide in these roles. After sharing a fairly believable kiss at the end of the first film, the two leads become even more awkward in the second film by trying and failing miserably to duplicate it. Even better is the contrast newcomer, Taylor Lautner, a young werewolf love-interest, brings to the second film. Lautner is one the few actors who actually appears to be genuinely happy to be in these films. His excitement is contagious, and he is immensely likable in this role, despite the fact that his acting seems more appropriate for a Disney Broadway musical. How does this add to the yucks? Well, allow me to explain. Despite my love for my wife being undying (haha, me so funny), I will admit that women can be a bit of a mystery sometimes. The women of the Twilight world are no different. Well, maybe they are a little different. After a groggy Pattinson announces that he is leaving Stewart forever at the beginning of New Moon, and Lautner sweeps in, I admit some following events confused me. Most of these events involve the choice Stewart's character makes in her decision of which boy she would rather have eat her. Pattinson, who has the body of an aging Walt Whitman, is somehow held as more desirable than Lautner's character. Despite the fact that Lautner can fit Pattinson in one of his abs and can speak through the front of his mouth, Stewart would rather mope around with Pattinson than Lautner. Though I'm no skinny chump, I will be the first to say that I hope women care about more than just looks. I know that I am loved for what is on the inside as well as what is on the outside, but come on! While Lautner's personality borders on disturbingly cheery, at least it is a personality. Also, his character has an unselfish devotion for Stewart's that Pattinson's doesn't. This hillarious juxtaposition of the "heroine" essentially choosing an overcooked mouse over what I can only assume to women is a Philly Cheesesteak Pizza, adds even more entertainment value to the film. Of course she chooses Pattinson. Because that makes sense...? and segues perfectly into the next pro:
Plot--Most stories and films involving vampires and werewolves incorporate a set of longstanding rules that have been followed since these beings imaginative creations. Not Twilight, though. Vampires killed by sunlight? Of course not. Why create a threat through darkness? Even camp like the Lost Boys (dir. Joel Schumacher, 1987) can posit some dread with just the looming threat of nightfall. But why do this when you can have your pasty lead take off his shirt and sparkle in the sun like an anorexic diamond? (Yes, this really happens. I'm not joking. This review is not a joke. I don't have time for that!) This of course lazily takes away the need to create scenarios where your lead must protect himself from the sun, but it also delightfully creates even more ridiculous scenes for us to laugh at, despite the fact that our stomach's are probably already hurting from doing so. Wood must also pose no threat to Pattinson's heart, as our hero often swings through the forest like George of the Jungle(this brings up even more laughs that I will explain in the following Pro). As for a werewolf, you might think this is someone who turns into a wolf on the nights of the full moon because they themselves have been bitten by a werewolf. Nope: YOU'RE WRONG!!! How silly of you not to know that a werewolf is someone who at puberty gains the ability to transform into an oversized CGI canid at will! What is wrong with you! Stephanie Meyer picks and chooses which attributes of each monster she wants to keep to the point that these are not really Vampires or Werewolves anymore...they are Meyerpires and Stephanwolves! Growl!
As stated above, the attraction between the two leads is illogical. Stewart's character is the most useless person in the world. She has no talents or positive qualities. The one hint we have of her being "special" is the fact that vampires cannot read her mind, though to be honest, is it really attractive if it is already obvious that the only thing you would be hearing is, "Toast. I want some toast. Toast is good. I'm not hungry, though. I don't really like to eat. But if I did, I would eat some toast. Except it cuts the roof of your mouth. Meow, meow, meow, meow, meow, meow, meow, meow...." Pattinson's character is a bore in his own right. Though supposedly he likes music or something, in honesty he really just likes to think about Bella, and how she is the best, and how he can never be with her, and meow, meow, meow, meow...
This refreshing lack of attention toward creating a believable, engaging plot pilots the movies to a mountain of cinematic gold. Why have a plot? If the movie doesn't care about it, then you don't have to either. Just sit back and enjoy not only not using your brain, but forgetting that you even have one.
Direction--Catherine Hardwicke, director of the first Twilight film, once directed the highly well-respected film, Thirteen, then she did this. Many times you will wonder how Hardwicke settled on the takes she did. I would love to see what wasn't used. One of the most entertaining scenes in her adaptation is the aforementioned George of the Jungle scene, though there is a better movie to compare the scene to: The Empire Strikes Back. Remember the scene were Luke, training on Dagobah, carries Yoda on his back as he swings through the upper canopy? That was a good scene. Now imagine Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson doing the same, with Stewart in the Yoda role. That doesn't make for a good scene. That makes for a great scene. I don't know how many hillarious scenes like this are scattered through these films. I was too busy laughing to count. You will be, too. Chris Weitz, director of New Moon, also directed American Pie. Of course that movie was supposed to be funny. The failure here, though, is far funnier than watching a teenager have relations with a pie. Take for instance the appearance of obviously rushed CGI wolves in New Moon. Have you ever played that Zelda game where you turn into a wolf? No? Can you imagine what a wolf in a video game would look like? Well, imagine that running around Kristen Stewart, and her attempting to approximate fear at the sight of it. Yay! Hilarity! Weitz could have used subtlety in introducing the werewolves, keeping an air of menace around them which would be buoyed by fewer unfinished (for the animators' sake, I hope these were unfinished) special effects shots that just make the whole thing more ridiculous. Thankfully, as with most other badly done elements in these films, the shoddy special effects just make the whole thing more endearing. This is not really a cynical point of view. These films have grossed more than you or I ever will, and we are paying to see them. We can do what we want with them. I am offering up laughter and joy as my response.
"But, Nicholas, I have more important movies to watch than this stupid Twilight. I have three Oscar nominees in my Netflix queue!"
Well listen here:
Do you like to go bowling with friends? This is like bowling. How is this like bowling?
The joy of bowling is certainly not in the importance of the game you are playing. Whether you get a 0 or 148, unless you are a professional bowler, your actual bowling game is not going to change the fate of your life or the way you think. You are going to the bowling alley to laugh with your friends at how bad you all are, and point and make fun of the awkward teenagers two lanes down. At some point the lights will go down and create a moody atmosphere, and at some point you will probably hear a song you enjoy. You will probably purchase pizza that is obviously just a Tombstone from the Albertson's down the street that the bowling snack-attendant just warmed up.
How is this different from just renting Twilight and staying home with friends?
It's not different. It's the same thing. There are no cons!
So, I suggest you get on that.
With film three's release imminent, there is talk of a big name director attached to film number four, which is the final film in the series. Friends, let us hope together that this does not happen. With who we have had directing so far, the results are highly entertaining. With a highly-talented hand soiling himself with this material, who knows what we might get.
It is important that we do something about this.