28 February 2012


Look, I know that there's a ton of enmity towards the entire Twilight series. I absolutely understand it, even though I have loved ones whose opinions I trust telling me that the books are completely different than the movies and that I should give them a chance. I may even do that at some point, though I'm not planning to in the short-run.

I watched Breaking Dawn, Part 1 with the Rifftrax commentary over the previous weekend, purchasing the Rifftrax almost as soon as it was posted to the website. As far as a review goes, I enjoyed the Rifftrax to Breaking Dawn more than the Rifftrax for the previous three Twilight-series films. The callbacks that Mike, Kevin, and Bill referred to were good, and this movie had much more pretension to it than the previous three. I believe the pretension, and its overall grandiosity, came as a result of the decision to split the book into two parts... there really is zero subplot in the movie, so each and every plot point needs to be belabored as much as humanly possible, to tease out the storyline from about forty-five minutes of content to an hour and fifty-seven(!) minutes of content. The fact that Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor "Abduction" Lautner chew the majority of the screen throughout the film also tends to lead itself rather easily to riffs. The greatest example of the poor acting quotient is the collection of faces Kristen Stewart makes prior to her onscreen wedding... in the Rifftrax preview, it was ably skewered as a set of constipation faces. I would suggest fans to purchase this Rifftrax, especially if they have already seen movies one through three.

I wanted to dig deeper than this. So, here's the caveat: my challenge with this post is that I want to be respectful to those who like the books, especially since I am sure that many of them also support works and authors (and directors and musicians) that I also enjoy, and immersing yourself in art is always going to be beneficial. So, I'm not trying to bash or trash Stephenie Meyers or her works, just to explain why I am not the biggest fan.

To begin with, bad acting in a movie is going to turn people off from reading the book. The girl portrayed on the screen has very few redeeming qualities... to be truthful, there are two that I can possibly pinpoint... she seems as if she can be intelligent and she seems very dedicated. Of course, I can point to counterexamples of each, namely that it took forever for her to connect Edward --> vampire, and she managed to string along Jacob as a backup plan. From asking my Twilight source, in the books Bella doesn't exactly even have her looks to fall back on. The biggest and most important question I have with this series is, "Why Bella?" What makes her such a fun person to not only want to be around, but to spend large segments of your life with? On top of that, why should I, as the viewer/reader, care? This is a main character that I have zero interest in. It's not to say that books or stories are ruined with a bad main character, but a lot has to go right around the bad main character for the story to be successful. People familiar with MSTings may know the next term; Bella as portrayed on the screen is very close to the classic definition of a Mary Sue character. The only thing that possibly pulls her out of that consideration is that she's not idealized in the beginning. However, throughout the "saga", it is almost as if the author is telling us, "You HAVE to be interested in her because I am!" I may be contrarian half the time (and contrarian to being contrarian the other half), but for me to invest time and intelligence I need a corresponding return of reasons to continue investing. Why should I like her? How can I relate to her? Why should I care about her struggles? Fair warning: without answers, this leads to "So what?"

Another issue I'm nonplussed by is that they took archetypical creatures (vampires and werewolves) and completely changed the rules surrounding them. I daresay that this is just as large an issue as the Mary Sue above. In literature, cliches and stereotypes actually serve a very important role; they provide your reader with context that you don't have to busily backstory (and waste precious page space with overlong explanations) AND they also help to connect your book with the reader... "Hey, vampires, I like them!" Sharing experiences with the author helps to connect the reader.

---Quick aside: experience-sharing and filling cyphers seems to have driven the two most popular book series of the previous decade and a half. Harry Potter was not only having daring adventures, but kids could literally imagine themselves having his adventures. Same with Bella Swan, though to be frank she appeals to half of the population far easier than the other half, and the deliberate under-information as to her character makes it easier for many girls to place themselves in Bella's shoes.

Anyway, to continue the cliche examination, in Twilight, the cliches have been stood on their heads. Vampires can come out at daytime? The only reason they don't is because... they sparkle?! That takes a major limiting factor to a vampire's power and changes it from a handicap or a hurdle that must be overcome into a minor setback. Remember, why would we even care about Bella if not for her struggle, and if you take away reasons to generate struggle and conflict, that's a one-sentence explanation compared to multiple chapters of drama. Here though too, it takes something that could be a strength... a person's familiarity with a cliche, and turns it into something that will put people off. The werewolf rules got even more blurred, when their only limit to their power was having to be in either insanely-huge dog form or tearing their clothes. Full moons don't matter, nor does a werewolf's bite.

This leads into the next point. Previously-established rules are very lightly regarded in this universe. I do not know whether or not it was movie #3 or movie #4 that raised the issue of "imprinting" for werewolves... as if they were tiny ducklings(!), but it was brought to the forefront on Breaking Dawn. Jacob, after never having imprinted on Bella, imprints on the baby that comes out of Bella. They also implied in this movie that imprinting is something that is well-known and integral to a werewolf. Again, "!!!" regarding the busting of cliches above. However, that also puts the plot of movies 2 and 3 into a prism that I cared not to look at... why the holy heck did Jacob even attempt to pursue Bella romantically if he never imprinted on her? He had to know even from a young age about this "peculiarity" of "werewolves", right? Why waste all this energy on someone who not only has a boyfriend but that you also know you didn't immediately take to, and who you know you will have to relegate to a more minimal role when the imprinting happens on another person? (Yeah, yeah, "teenage angst"...) Maybe I'm reading the whole process incorrectly, but that becomes another one of the main issues with the storyline as written... if the writer can't adequately explain what's going on, that's not a failure of the reader. This is not a coded message, this is pretty central to the existence of one of the two mythical creatures the author altered from whole cloth.

Judging from the movies alone, there's very little subplot to engage your brain in other ways. Not all books need it, but it makes a very linear storyline. Subplot generates additional struggle, allows for other characters to take a brief amount of spotlight, and helps to allow tension to build in the main storyline and to give your readers a break from the otherwise unrelenting main characters. I recall one of the movies, don't remember which one, giving Jasper some backstory... and that was pretty much it. Movies are hurt by actors with too much screentime, and I daresay that it works for books too... even the most well-written characters become grating when a reader is stuck with them for too long a stretch.

There is also a sense of urgency and grandiosity that really puts me off of the whole story. I love how the movies breathlessly present Bella's options of "Edward or Jacob?" as if it will change the entire world. I will even grant that it will slightly change Bella's world, as well as Jacob's or Edward's. However, it seems that almost every other character in the whole story is caught up in this dual choice. Why?? Really, seriously, why?? Why should they care or even give it more than an iota of attention? I haven't exactly watched any of the movies repeatedly, so I really can't pick up a legitimate reason that these twenty characters are caught up in the central conceit of the story. The most ironic part is that the movie presents Bella's mother and father as absolute living (well, book-residing) proof that if you don't get your choice of soulmate right in the first try, the world does not end. For those who tell me that this IS the plot and therefore is extremely important, I would then respond by saying "QED."

For fans of the books, I'm sure that I may not have given the story enough of a chance. I may subject myself to the books at a later date, and at that point I can talk more intelligently about where the books' failures (and/or successes) take place, but the reasons above and more that remain unsaid adequately explain why I am unwilling to expend effort reading these books. I hope you understand, Twilight fans, this isn't about your judgment or lack thereof. It's about my inability to connect with a story that changes rules, presents unappealing main characters in situations I can't relate to, and doesn't provide any other more interesting struggles to overcome. No hard feelings?

Postscript: Watching Breaking Dawn, Part 1, then watching The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas the evening afterward, may have informed some of the above rant. I'm sure that it likely states quite a bit about me that I care more about analyzing Breaking Dawn rather than pondering the message contained in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.