It’s had its share of detractors and naysayers, but Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga has become a bona fide cultural phenomenon, a popular and lucrative franchise that has raked in over $2 billion at the box office and spurred a renewed obsession with vampires and werewolves. Unfortunately for its fans, however, the series will draw to a close this weekend with the release of its final chapter, Breaking Dawn, Part 2. As such, we thought it would be a good time to hunker down and examine what it is, exactly, that makes the series such a hit. To that end, we’ve commissioned two dedicated RT staffers — one fan and one neophyte — to trade observations on The Twilight Saga. Today, we bring you part two of the discussion, which focuses on the second installment, New Moon:
Cat: Well, so much for picking up where it left off. I was expecting a little more of the redhead wanting to kill Bella — instead, we got a few nightmares and an underwater pseudo-chase scene. But I must say, thank god someone figured out how to white balance the camera for this film.
Jeff: Amen on the white balance — whatever its other flaws might be (and they are numerous), at least New Moon looks like a real movie instead of improperly developed footage. And while I wouldn’t go so far as to say new director Chris Weitz did great work here, compared with what Catherine Hardwicke did on the first movie, he’s Orson freaking Welles — in addition to the lighting, New Moon is more sensitively directed, with fewer painfully obvious shots, less stuttering and lip-biting from Kristen Stewart, and less cheesy slo-mo. Of course, there’s still way too much of all that stuff for my taste, but baby steps. Baby steps.
C: Long gone are any redeeming qualities Bella exhibited in the first movie. Her whininess due to the fact that she is now older than Edward is pathetic and she needs an attitude adjustment. Let the “I want to turn into a vampire” obsession begin, because that’s the underlying theme to this film; she no longer wants to age. To make things worse, after Jasper goes after the poor pitiful lead during her birthday celebration with the Cullens, Edward breaks up with her. Here starts the spiral of madness that ensues and makes it unbearable to watch most of the remainder of New Moon.
J: I can’t really disagree with any of this, although I have to admit that as obnoxious as the whole “keep young and beautiful” thing might be, there’s some honesty in there — women are subject to so much pressure when it comes to their appearance that I think it might actually be reasonable to assume aging is one of the first things a teenage girl might worry about after falling in obsessed, abstinent love with a vampire who will always look like he’s the Hollywood equivalent of 17. It would have been nice if New Moon had dealt with that more sensitively than simply giving Bella a nightmare about seeing herself as her grandmother, but this is the franchise that gave us dialogue like “So you’re a werewolf.”
C: Let’s begin with how she keels over wanting to die after the break up in the woods, but fear not, a shirtless man — I mean werewolf — finds her and brings her home. OK, not weird at all. Then we endure months upon endless months of her staring out the window, and let’s not forget about the night terrors. Oh, those night terrors — how they irked me. How could her father let them go on for so long? She clearly needs some therapy.
J: This is one area where I feel like it might have helped if I had read the Twilight series before I started watching the movies, because even though I don’t think Stephenie Meyer is a very good writer, I have to believe she fleshed out Bella’s dad more believably in the books. I mean, here he’s just a terrible, terrible excuse for a father — in the first movie, he lets Bella take off for parts unknown without more than a couple of words in protest, and here, he spends three months sleeping on the couch listening to her scream every night. And then when he finally manages to string together a few words of advice, the best he can manage is basically “You should date Jacob.”
C: Finally she manages to get out of bed to mess with Jacob’s head — I mean, hang out with Jacob. But after discovering that being reckless means she gets to see Edward come to her in a psychic ghost bubble, that becomes her one mission: be as reckless as possible. Jacob’s feelings are just a casualty of Bella’s own self-destruction, which is unfortunate, because getting to have a little more Taylor Lautner in this film was one of its few high points. Jake is so much more interesting and multi-dimensional compared to Edward — I like that he questions Bella’s motives and challenges her. Finally, someone is trying to whip this girl into shape.
J: I completely agree. One of my main problems with this series thus far is that every single character is a moron with an irrational fixation on the biggest moron of them all, but setting all that aside, I really thought Lautner was a nice surprise here, and a real breath of fresh air for a movie that desperately needed it. I still don’t understand why anyone would ever want to talk to Bella, let alone be her friend or boyfriend, but for a brief sliver of this film’s horrifically bloated running time, I wasn’t annoyed; it wasn’t particularly interesting, but watching Bella and Jacob rebuild motorbikes in his garage was at least normal. It’s stuff like that that builds relationships in high school — or at least it did way back when I was a melodramatic teen. Maybe kids these days really do fall in love while walking past desk fans in slow motion.
C: When the time comes for Jake’s transition and he disappears, Bella falls back into a funk, completely abandoned again. Instead of just making new friends she wallows for a bit and finally confronts Jake. Again, with a lack of any dignity, the first thing she says to him is: “You cut your hair…and got a tattoo?” Where is the pissed off teenager who’s been abandoned twice now?
J: This is getting at the heart of what I dislike about the character of Bella — and again, why I’m willing to cut Stewart a lot of slack with her performance. Teenage girls aren’t the most empathetic creatures on the planet, but Bella is really just a selfish little idiot — she’s awful to her friends, awful to her parents, and awful to anyone who makes the mistake of falling for her. Anytime she opens her mouth, you can be pretty certain she’s going to say something about herself — what she wants, how she feels, or some other facet of her inscrutable Bellaness. She’s so fixated on herself that even when Jacob tells her to go away, and warns her she’ll be physically harmed if she comes back to his home, she refuses to leave him alone.
I’m thinking too much about this because it’s my job for these columns, but even as a passive viewer, how can anyone identify with Bella, or help being perpetually annoyed by her behavior?
C: Aside from Lautner’s refreshing performance, the introduction of the vampire council, aka the Volturi, was the only other highlight to this film. It’s here, when Bella saves Edward from exposing himself to meet his true death — oops, wrong vampire franchise — that we find out she is immune to all of their powers. Now things are getting interesting…
J: Yeah, I was at least grateful that something was really happening during this segment, although I mostly perked up when I noticed that Christopher Heyerdahl, who plays the delightfully skeevy Swede in AMC’s Hell on Wheels series, was one of the Volturi. Beyond that, I think I was mostly annoyed that it took two hours to arrive at a conflict more meaningful than “Boo hoo, my boyfriend broke up with me and left town.” And lest I offend Twihards here, let me be clear: I’m not saying love isn’t worth everything, I’m just saying neither movie ever makes a believable case for Bella and Edward as a couple. If you want to build a franchise around characters who never do anything more meaningful than staring at each other, you’d better hire the greatest actors of their generation.
C:I suppose I will have to withdraw my statement that Bella’s feelings for Edward are simply puppy love, since the otherwise gutless Bella offers herself up to be killed instead of Edward, but I’d rather chalk that up to pure stupidity. As for the poll the Cullens took regarding Bella becoming one of them, I’ll just say she needs to become a vampire if this franchise has any hopes of staying interesting.
J: I don’t know — this girl has had a death wish all along, so I thought her offering herself up in Edward’s stead was just another in a long line of boneheaded decisions that the movies don’t even bother trying to explain. Why does she want to be a vampire? Why is she so willing to leave her family behind? What did her parents ever do to her that would make it so easy to join the ranks of the undead just so she can spend forever with her high school boyfriend? She’s disturbed. If I were the Cullens, I’d be afraid of turning her into a vampire.
C: As for Eclipse, please let there be a big, if not better, action sequence — and more Anna Kendrick, stat!
J: I’d settle for a shortened running time, but I think I’m going to come up snake eyes on that roll.
Written by Jeff Giles and Catherine Pricci