I thought I would never see another blockbuster as bad as The Dark Knight. Hah! That was only because I hadn’t seen Twilight.
Okay, I knew I would probably see as bad, maybe even worse. After all, the law of diminishing returns defines Hollywood, but Christ, it’s truly hard to see how they pull these stunts of screaming mediocrity off. Seriously.
Just take twenty seconds out your day to do this fun exercise. Trust me, you’ve nothing to do that can’t wait. Right, think about the budget of Twilight. I have no idea what it was, but I’m reckoning nothing under 30 million or so – right? THIRTY MILLION. Okay, then we have the talent. I don’t care whether you like any of Catherine Hardwicke’s other movies or not, if she was inept they wouldn’t let her loose with that kind of budget. Hollywood might be a lot of things but they understand money and how to make it (after all, they made it on Twilight and The Dark Knight, didn’t they?), so they’re not going to throw money away on anyone talentless or inept. So, she has to have basic skills. Then there’s the script writer, the acting talent, the cinematographers, the costume designers, the caterers, the film labs, the special effects team: all money, all costs, and all basically assumed to be proficient. In view of this, what then is the alchemy that turns gold (the money-making potential of a film spin-off) into dross?
Like The Dark Knight, I really wanted to see Twilight. I’d had an almost Joaquin Phoenix moment when I first saw Robert Pattinson (when I first saw JP coming out of the caravan in the Gladiator trailer my heart speeded up, my stomach dropped, and the hairs came up on the back of my neck – I’m sure blood also rushed places that are too rude to mention). My Pattinson moment was a ‘not quite, but almost’. Good enough for me. There was also muted colouring, vampires, scary vampires, forbidden love and more good looking boys. What’s not to love? I was on their side. They’d already won me over. I wanted to be awed.
I had never read the book and, like The Dark Knight, I didn’t give a fuck if fangirls in their droves were clustering round it like flies round shit. I don’t go to fan sites, I don’t see fan talk. In fact, unlike The Dark Knight, I had seen precious little twaddle because Twilight hadn’t had a tragic death to push it into the tabloids. So I wasn’t even suffering from the Tim Burton Effect. (Burton once said films can be harmed by too much hype because if it looks as if the wrong type of [or too many] people like the film those that might have enjoyed it assume it isn’t for them.) So when Twilight came through the post to me earlier than I expected I had no fears or prejudices; I couldn’t wait to see it.
On the night, I watched the first fifteen minutes thinking, ‘Story will kick in soon’. Then I watched the next fifteen minutes thinking, ‘Is the story kicking in soon?’ Then I watched the next fifteen minutes thinking, ‘Is it me or does this not actually have a story? Maybe it will pick up when the villains appear.’ That in itself was worrying. Why hadn’t the villains appeared forty-five minutes into the film? (Not sure if it is precisely forty-five mins, ok? I was watching it, not studying it.)
The villains did indeed appear eventually. Sort of. But first we had to have a baseball match in a lightning storm. No, I have no idea why. Although we were told that this was important somehow and it was the only way they could do something, ‘this’ – whatever ‘this’ was – it never was explained. For some utterly incomprehensible reason they stopped the plot, such as it was, and had baseball, then, finally, we get the bad guys. Thank God, now maybe the film will have a point, or a story, or interest, or something. Anything, please God.
Nope. Nope, nope and nope. Although we had the excellent Cam Gigandet, whose work, even in soap operas, is always thoroughly enjoyable, there was no excitement. Nil. None. Nada. Unbelievable. Fucking unbelievable.
I will not be spoilering Twilight to tell you it’s the story of a vampire, the delicious Edward Cullen, who falls in love with the completely unmemorable heroine (I can’t remember either the actress or her character) and…. Well, and nothing basically. That’s it. Sum total. They’re supposed to be star-crossed lovers, but other than Cullen walking out on meeting her at the very beginning because he can’t bear to be near her, there’s no feeling of this. And that particular soul struggle lasts all of four minutes. Assumably he sends off for some Be Near Humans Chewing Gum, chews on that and his addiction is promptly resolved.
His ‘conflict’ had the angst factor of a visit to Kwik-Fit Exhausts. In fact, I’d say a trip to the exhaust-fitting chaps would be more stressing: will they put it on right? Will my car blow up? Will I die of carbon Monoxide poisoning? Will they overcharge me? These are all legitimate worries. There were no worries in Twilight. He wanted her; he had her. They were not friends; then they were friends. His family judged her; oops, they’re not fazed at all, although she is allegedly a threat to them. I would defy anyone to find a more harmonious and conflict-free film outside a Christian bible group’s Sunday outing on home movies.
Bland, bland and more bland. Nothing happened, all the conflicts were resolved literally within minutes of their introduction. It was as if Hollywood had decided children could only take 3.7 minutes of uncertainty before they got stressed or lost interest or started throwing sweets, and Hardwicke had been told to stick religiously to clock-based plotting. Conflict… not too much conflict… hold it, HOLD it… resolution. And repeat…………..
The heroine – a brunette, I remember that – had no character at all, other than annoying body tics. She would shake her head, roll her eyes, do arm flapping. It was like watching Ally McBeal without the jokes. Cullen was reduced to albeit very effective smouldering glances and overly red pouty lips. But her corresponding emotional range of sullen to petulant gave him nothing to work off, and the poor actress seemed to keep repeating herself because there was simply nothing else for her to do. She had the baffling tail-chasing challenge of being Girl In Love With Unattainable Vampire Who Is Completely Attainable Throughout Entire Movie. You try acting that one. No wonder she was ticcing and twitching.
And then there was the vampire ‘dad’. Cullen Senior was the most bizarre thing I’ve seen in a film in a long time. Played by an excellent actor, Peter Facinelli, who is genuinely weird-looking, he was shoved on-stage like some strange creature from Japanese theatre. Actually, not even that. He was more like a not very comfortable rock singer playing starring role in a 1980’s rock video that some twenty-year-old director thought would be cool if he dressed up as “Some guy from, like, Japanese Theatre, man. Awesome.”
I accept, because I want to be kind, that it was ‘explained’ that Edward was ‘adopted’ – yeah, by a boy four years older than him, who appears to be in full face paint and yet no-one notices. The film’s set in what appears to be some rural American backwater and yet no-one has noticed a family where the dad is two weeks older than his ‘family’ (who look like a Dolce & Gabbana ‘cast’ who’ve lost the photo-shoot location and are waiting for someone with an IQ or a clipboard – either will do – to come along and save them) and who wears clown-white, mascara and bright red lipstick to work as a doctor. I’ve never been to America, but even in American films, which show America in the best possible light, nobody would expect an audience to believe ordinary Americans would take the Cullen family at face value. They’d be reported to the authorities so fast they’d be on the first deportation boat to Cuba, or hauled up as “peedeopheels”.
I could have forgiven this screaming anomaly had the vampire ‘family’ been at all threatening, or interesting, or in any way enhanced the film, but all they did was feature as decorative if anorexic wallpaper. They always seemed to be in shot in the background of the school canteen. In fact, it felt as if the whole film took place in the canteen. Or in trees. Canteen. Trees. Canteen. Trees. We’re vampires. We only drink blood. We’re in a fucking canteen. For that matter why are they up trees? Bats don’t even live in trees, if this is supposed to be some kind of cool naturalist allegory. Why trees?
And then there were the odd moments of comic relief: the unexplained and pointless baseball, the running up the mountain. Actually, I can’t get past the Mack Sennett speeded-up, comic running up a mountain while giving her a piggy-back. Who the hell thought that was frightening/sexy/entertaining/awe-inspiring? He ran up a mountain. With her on his back. It was like some bizarre scene out of the obligatory school picnic sequence in a family-friendly Robin Williams comedy. A school bully should have arrived and attempted to steal someone’s lunch money, and then Edward would run up the mountain and the bully would be left comically gaping, until his (fat) Mom arrived and he comically tried to explain. What a laff riot. Or maybe it’s more Eddie Murphy’s gig. In white face.
All of this is very fine and dandy. And all of it would have been entirely forgivable if it had been a remotely engaging movie. Independence Day is one of my favourite popcorn movies. It is jingoistic, ridiculous nonsense. BUT, it is fast, entertaining, full of likeable characters racing against odds in an emotionally-charged story. It’s an incredibly expensive and very well-made B movie. It doesn’t aspire to be anything else. It knows its limitations and plays on them to great effect. It gets it all right. It takes every cliché and pulls it off with great aplomb and style. Its characters have character. Its plot moves. What it doesn’t do is deliver up story archetypes (as in, the vampire) and proceed to completely castrate them. It doesn’t take the plot (like forbidden love) and forget to include the forbidden part – or the love. It takes conflict and then puts another conflict within that conflict, within another conflict, running several threads simultaneously. It doesn’t take potential conflicts (like forbidden love, bad versus good, human versus ‘other’ – I could go on all day) and then completely forget to deliver an actual conflict, providing us instead with tree-jumping, and staring – lots of staring.
Perhaps the very worst crime that Twilight committed – other than a criminal waste of talent and money – is that for a story supposedly centring on forbidden love and unappeasable misallied lusts (the lust for intimacy versus the lust for satiation and self-indulgence) is that there was absolutely no sense of erotic tension. Other than one tiny scene on a bed there was no indication that he or she were tormented or restraining themselves in any way. I’m guessing that the film-makers desire for a low certificate led partly to its joyless, lustless, dry as a bone taste, but did they really need to stifle it entirely? I’ve seen episodes of Smallville, which arguably has a lower age demographic, where the erotic tension between Lex and Clark is palpable – and that’s sub-rosa, not the main thrust and parry of the plot.
What happened? How could so much talent and money be so badly mishandled?
But maybe that’s not the question I should be asking. Maybe I should be asking why does Hollywood think it’s okay to do this? And they do. The bottom line is always money. If Twilight makes a lot of money – and I’m sure it did – then they got it right. End of discussion.
But they didn’t get it right. Twilight is junk. Complete crap. And it’s not often you’ll hear me say that. I like to be kind to creative output. If I know something is going to be crap (Mills & Boon romances, reality TV, tabloid newspapers) I don’t read/watch them. I don’t belong to the school of watch junk then criticise it. It’s the last resort of morons. If it’s so bad, why the hell are you watching it? Unsurprisingly, because that way they get to masturbate their own egos by holding forth on something so uncomplicated an ape could do it. And do it better. It’s easy to be a critic of crap. I don’t do it. If I do watch something that I know is lowest common denominator ‘entertainment’ I don’t then give it bad reviews, or go on fan sites to scream about it. Why would I do that? I thought it would be bad. It was. Nobody made me watch it and I’m certainly not going to moan about my own stupidity. But this? This is different. I expect something of Twilight. Like I expected something of The Dark Knight. There is no excuse when you have the best acting talent and professional directors and scriptwriters – which Twilight had – to turn out dreck. So why?
Because it makes money. We’ve already said that. And I’m sure it’s true; like I keep saying, both Dark Knight and Twilight made oodles of money. But good stuff makes money too, so is it really a valid excuse? In fact, Dark Knight and Twilight were guaranteed to make money. So much money and promotion was invested in them they literally couldn’t fail – other than through natural disaster, like a tsunami washing away the entire Western seaboard of America on opening night, perhaps.
Maybe that’s the answer. Maybe when there’s so much money riding on films like this human terror kicks in and the fear of failure makes every move ultra-guarded. “We can’t do this because the X fans won’t like it, or do that because the Y believers are watching our every move. And don’t forget that time the Z backlash group had last summer’s blockbuster pulled.” Maybe at the very bottom line is a fictitious Ultrafan – the ultimate god of Hollywood. Maybe the fanboy really does run the show. Maybe at heart every Hollywood accountant and executive fears every moron on IMDB baying for their blood. Maybe Twilight is nothing more than the end product of playground bullying, and Twilight and The Dark Knight are exactly what the fans deserve. These movies are the ultimate compliment, and like all compliments from strangers who are currying favour, they are false, fawning and ultimately worthless. Twilight is Hollywood’s gift to Stephenie Meyer’s fans. It’s crap – but they’re loving it. Fuck, it surely doesn’t get any more karmic than that.