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Archive for November 18th, 2012

The Defence of Twilight

Today I witnessed the end of an era, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2, the final installment of a movie franchise that has taken more than $2.5billion and counting. A controversial series that has acolytes and detractors in equal measure. Whether it be Transformers, Star Wars or any number of super hero movies there has always been a trend towards boys/men when it comes to big budget event movies. I’m not sure if Twilight is the first movie of its type or scale to be aimed at teenage girls (and their moms) but it is certainly the most successful and the one that everyone has an opinion on. For this reason if for no other, it has a place and a relevance in today’s cinema. As a thirty something male I should be so far out of the demographic to be able to give and balanced view on the matter, but I may not be for two reasons. Firstly there are a lot of people of a similar age to me and whose opinion I would normally trust who are happy to dismiss the movies without even seeing them. Secondly I have to confess I actually quite like the movies. Back to the people who dismiss the movies, it is reminiscent of something that happened in the late 90’s, I read and loved Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. The books were not on my radar and I would not have considered reading them even if they were, until I heard that people were burning them. I took the point of view that anything that can cause such passionate hatred must be worth reading, it was. So I came to Twilight from a similar angle, the films were not being burnt but the vitriol that they were creating in people who hadn’t seen them was of near biblical proportions. I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. On top of all this, Catherine Hardwicke, the director of the first film is a good director whose work I have enjoyed in the past.

It is not by chance that I mentioned Transformers at the top of this article, as that is the touchstone of the comparison. Looking at the target demographic, Twilight is a good mirror of Transformers and however you look at it, it is hard to argue with the opinion that Twilight are better and less cynical films. Michael Bay’s franchise started with a surprisingly good film but went downhill from there. I have heard people accuse the films of being, sexist, misogynist, raciest, but worse than that they have been dull. Twilight on the other hand prides itself on its morality and empowerment. From a sexual point of view it gives mixed messages, but morally, it portrays ideals of truth, justice and honesty. All this is insignificant in comparison to how enjoyable the movies are, many people refuse to give twilight a fair chance, but to be honest all but the dull first sequel New Moon are actually decent films. Things took an upturn as the franchise reached a pinnacle with its third film, Eclipse directed by David Slade who had previously made Hard Candy and the bloody vampire film 30 Days of Night.

Criticism of the cast is unfounded and unfair, both Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson have proved in other roles that they can act, I would even go as for as to say they are perfectly cast here. The great thing about the cast though, is the supporting cast, the latest film features the always brilliant: Michael Sheen, Dakota Fanning and Lee Pace and the delightful MyAnna Buring. All five films feature Nikki Reed who had never lived up to the promise shown in Thirteen and Lords of Dogtown but is undoubtedly talented. Anna Kendrick is always watchable but a little wasted here. Billy Burke is always dependable and often provides a great straight man for the comic moments. I struggle to defend the wooden Taylor Lautner, but you have to respect the kid, when it was suggested his character would be recast to reflect the developing and growing character he hit the gym and reportedly gained 30 pounds of muscle and was retained.

It isn’t perfect, I have a problem with the effect the movies have had on vampire movies. I have been a huge fan of vampire movies ever since I saw Christopher Lee as Dracula in Dracula: Prince of Darkness when I was ten or eleven years old. The problem with Twilight is the imitators that they have tried to cash in, diluting the genre. The films are also often slavishly loyal to the books leaving the odd flat moment that may work on the page but not the screen. Having said all that it does handle body horror quite well in Breaking Dawn: Part 1 in its depiction of a vampire pregnancy, all kept within the constraints of the target demographic and the essential 12A certificate. Writing in The Observer, Mark Kermode, a self confessed fan of the series suggests the film should have been offered it to David Cronenberg but praises the “safe pair of hands” Bill Condon as doing “his best to keep things on the right side of respectable, although I struggle to remember another 12A certificate film being quite this twisted”. it is also worth remembering that the stories are teenage romances before they are action or horror stories and as such they need a certain amount of moody and moping teens. I often hear the same people complain about this side of the movies celebrate similar ideas when framed within a real world set indie movie.

I have previously speculated on the gender politics of the movies with Bella constantly needing the protection of a man (be it vampire or wolf) but that was earlier in the series. As the plot has developed although physically week, Bella has proven to be the strongest character in the story, before metamorphosing literally the strongest. As all the questions are answered the story arc reaches its conclusion it has proved to be a solid series of films. Plot holes are minimal and the characters actions were largely within character making the story believable within the fantasy parameters it has set itself. In the same article I mentioned before Mark Kermode claims to have “had a lot more fun watching and arguing about the Twilight movies than I ever had with the Star Wars saga”, whilst as a Star Wars fan I disagree with him, it is a well thought-out and grounded opinion I respect unlike if anyone had suggested Transformers was better than Star Wars. He also makes the point that without Twilight The Hunger Games would not have been made. I don’t know how Suzanne Collins’s came to write the Hunger Games novels but wouldn’t be surprised if she is one of the legion of writers inspired by the success of Stephenie Meyer and J.K. Rowling.

But fans of these books/movies don’t get too excited the housewives haven’t taken over Hollywood yet. The Hunger Games’ budget is estimated to be around $78million. This is a big increase on the $37million (estimated) for the first Twilight movie but a lot less than the $125million (estimated) of the first Harry Potter and the monumental $150million (estimated) spent on the first Transformers movie. Are studios scared of investing too much money in an action adventure fantasy/sci-fi film whose main character is a teenage girl? Probably, it isn’t that long ago that we had the $180million (estimated) disaster of The Golden Compass that underperformed (to use the industry euphemism) in the UK and North American markets. As a matter of interest, it was directed by Chris Weitz the man responsible for New Moon the weakest (but most profitable) twilight movie.

Ultimately most of the things that are wrong with the Twilight Saga can trace its roots back to the source novel but I find it hard to criticise Stephenie Meyer as like Harry Potter, the books have got kids reading, that can’t be a bad thing. They aren’t classics that I will revisit the way I do with Star Wars but they an important moment in the evolution of cinema and they are more fun and more entertaining than most of Michael Bay’s output for the past decade. Anyone who hasn’t seen the films take a look before you rush to judgment.  

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