Friday, 27 April 2012

2 Weeks of Movies - Twilight: Breaking Dawn part 1, and a rant about Twilight in general

 I didn't get a chance to post yesterday's movie review last night, so I've made up for it with an extra long one today, containing bonus ranting about Twilight in general. Remember, all my comments are very subjective and I do know this, but if you disagree I will feed you to the vampire baby. Just saying. Think of all those little needle teeth, chomp chomping, little pudgy baby fingers curling round your thumb as it chomp chomps its way through your neck (which would probably take at least a week). Got nightmares yet? Good.

Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part 1 - 4/10

(Beware: here be many, many spoilers for all the films, as well as some fairly big Buffy spoilers too. So if you haven’t watched Buffy, look away now – although, shame on you, you really should! In fact, go watch it now.)

This is part 4, part 1, of the Twilight franchise. Unfortunately movie makers seem to be obsessed with the idea of splitting books into two films at the moment, whether they really need it or not. Harry Potter ? – maybe... so they could do justice to the end of such a long-running movie phenomenon. Although when I think of the two films they do just blur together into one in my head. The Hobbit? – that remains to be seen, but I’m worried that what could have been one really amazing film will become two slightly dragged out and watered down films. Twilight: Breaking Dawn? Completely unnecessary, but hey, it does keep the cash cow’s milk a’flowing. And meanwhile, we get to enjoy Bella and Edward’s not-so-forbidden romance a little longer. Yay?

So, to get started, I’ll explain that I have somewhat different views from most about this generation’s marmite craze. People seem to either love Twilight to the point of terrifying obsession, or to hate it with a fiery passion, condemning it as the worst story in the history of stories ever. Really? It’s quite a mediocre little thing to inspire such heights of passion on either side. My view tends to rest pretty squarely along the lines of ‘meh.’ (With the exception of the first movie, which I still insist is unintentional comedy gold.)

Perhaps this is because I really like supernatural and vampire stories. To me, there’s nothing new at all about Twilight (well, ok, the glittering thing), and so nothing really new to hate or blame Stephanie Meyer for. Love affair between mortal and vampire – done so many times I can’t be bothered to reel off a list. And yes, it’s been done well and badly, and certainly worse than Twilight. Lovesick angsty vampires have always irritated me, but I’m hardly gonna blame Stephanie Meyer for that one am I? When others were swooning, I wanted Angel to die Die DIE a horrible fiery tormented death in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (joy at the end of season 2! Depressed resignation in season 3). Spike, on the other hand, I liked. Well, all the other Buffy vamps are good, particularly Drusilla and Darla. Jerry from Fright Night is also a great vampire. Dracula, what can I say? Classic and terrifying. I even like most of Anne Rice’s creations.

Twilight vampires certainly rest on the prissier side of this, but there’s actually nothing inherently wrong with that. I prefer my vampires bloodthirsty and evil, but of course there is always room for different interpretations in an overly-saturated genre (Nowadays, it’s gone the other way, and a bad vampire is actually a breath of fresh air). And teen fiction is certainly the place for it. Teen stories are full of forbidden love, growing up and finding yourself, exploring moral ambiguities, and, yes, angst. Angst may be teeth-grindingly annoying for an adult, but remember how moody you were when you were a teenager? It’s actually very important for at least some teen fiction to explore this. Teens also seem to respond well to stories that explore real world issues in fantasy or science fiction terms. The most asininely stupid criticism of Twilight that I’ve heard is that it’s just a love story with vampires thrown in. Er... of course it is. Plenty of writers do this. In fact, it’s what science fiction is all about. It shows us real world issues or situations through a different lens. Avatar is just Pocahontas or Dances with Wolves with aliens. Take space out of Star Wars and you’d probably have a World War II film. Almost every episode of Buffy is a very clever comment on some aspect of a teenager’s or young adult’s life, dressed up with vampires, witches and pointy stakes. Not all stories do this, but plenty do, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with them.

And, to put the cherry on my playing-devil’s-advocate cake, the Twilight series is phenomenally successful with its intended audience. You can criticise all you like, but if you’re not a 13-18 year old girl then you have to remember that it’s not meant for you. By all means, rant about why you personally don’t like it (I know I intend to), but trying to paint it as the worst thing ever to be made is a little silly. 14 year old girls might think the same about a Batman movie, or Tron, or the Halo games, or Game of Thrones. Most of the world thinks the same about Warhammer books. But they sure are all popular with their audiences.

Good, now that’s out of the way I can give my personal view of the Twilight movies (the books, as always, are a separate case entirely). They’re really not great, but they’re not soul-destroyingly bad either. Come on now. In the first film, the acting was pretty poor, but this does seem to have improved as the series has gone on. The characters are all a little flat and annoying, and that doesn’t really change. It’s hard to get behind Edward and Bella when you spend the entire film wanting them to die horribly, I grant you. However, the music is spot on; it suits the mood perfectly and really complements the film. The camerawork is good, some of the shots of the scenery and locations are gorgeous, and it’s actually an inspiring example of how to use locations to really bring a story to life. The wildness of the scenery, so close to civilisation and yet like another world, the dense mystery of the forests, the mist hanging between the trees, the huge sweeping emptiness, so lonely but so heartbreakingly beautiful – could you actually ask for a better setting for this story? Of course, when all you can find to praise about a movie is the setting... yeah, not good.

Some viewers may have been disappointed by the lack of action in these films, but that would be to miss the point of what the films are actually about. In terms of actually telling the story they want to tell, the pacing is pretty much spot on. It has a very slow build, but romance stories generally do. This isn’t horror or action, people, it’s gothic romance. It needs to be slow and almost torturously moody. Of course, this is all let down by a pretty awful story. No arguing with that one. And I can’t deny that the Twilight phenomena as a whole is immensely fun to make fun of.

However, whereas the first film sits pretty comfortably in ‘so cheesy it’s hilarious’ (it’s the slow-mo that cracks me up. And the glittering of course. And the ‘you smell’ scene that is slightly unfortunately over-acted), the other films just skirt between cringeworthy and boring. I can quite happily add the first movie to my list of cheese-fests, but I would never sit through the others more than once. I’m afraid I have to say the same for Breaking Dawn Part 1. It was mildly interesting; it moved the story along; it had some more nice music and beautiful forests. It also slightly bizarrely and bemusingly jumped the vampire shark and introduced... wait for it, baby vampire! Awwww... wait, no. Ew!

Edward was his usual annoying self and Bella was her usual insipid self. Not so much a problem with the acting as with the characters. In fact, if there’s a prize for acting insipid and still managing to not be the most slap-able person in the room, Kristin Stewart should win it. (Hint - the 'most slap-able' trophy goes to Edward every time). There was also a moment of hope towards the end of the film that Bella would die, but we all know that’s never going to happen. There’s never any real danger or difficulties to deal with in the Twilight world. Fights are tame, no-one dies, Bella gets the guy, even when the guy leaves it’s because he’s just so in love with Bella that he can’t stand screwing up her life, and the aforementioned screwing up Bella’s life consists of making her super strong, super fast, immortal, and really really pretty. And now the one consequence of marrying a dead guy, that she will never be able to have kids, has also been thrown to the wind. Cos, you know, baby vampire! Why not (sigh). And this is my main problem with Twilight. It’s that there are never any real trials or consequences to deal with. It’s pure wish fulfilment, plain and simple. This is why Bella has been accused of being a Mary Sue, and I have to agree with this. Now, I do get the place for wish-fulfilment fantasy, but I just personally don’t like it. It’s not... meaty enough.  

In summary, then, was Breaking Dawn dreadful? No. Was it good? No. Final Assessment? Meh. It’s pretty simple actually. If you like Twilight, you’ll probably enjoy it. If you don’t, don’t bother.

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