Luke-Warm Love Affairby Sarah Dawson / 26.11.2009
Somewhere between the release of Scary Movie 2 and The Watchmen, I made the decision to stop bothering with mainstream cinema. Perhaps my general avoidance of it subsequently has hindered the development of some crucial survival mechanisms in modern culture. Lacking in the ability to comfortably suppress the run-screaming-from-the-cinema-while-shaking-fists-at-the-deities-of-global-capitalism reflex, I was left vulnerable and defenceless under the flickering light of New Moon, the second instalment of the Twilight teen-vampire series. Nailed to my seat by obligation and etiquette, fighting for sanity, what started as nail-chewing nearly ended in me clawing my own face off. I was apoplectic by the credits.
My fault. I should have been better prepared for the ever-swelling vileness of popular culture. Sunk by my own elitist naivete.
Here are the reasons for my in-cinema stress:
How do you review a film that has no interest in actually being a film, merely an excuse for capital generation manifested as an extended telenovella? It’s a “paper-back” film. If it were on paper rather than celluloid, it would be in CNA’s bargain bin.
Admittedly, I haven’t read the actual book series on which the film is based, which certainly aren’t in the bargain bin, but right up at the front of the store as a global best-selling phenomenon. But I object to such narrative franchises on principle. The film is but one cog in a giant corporate enterprise, loosely based around a set of characters and a plot, and for which value is generated by summing the parts. If the film is meaningless without the viewer having read the book, then it seems to follow logically that its only purpose is to prolong the commercial potential of the larger franchise itself. If the film can’t stand on its own, then it’s a crap film. End of story. And, boy, is it hard to overstate its crappiness!
There is an argument that it satisfies fans, and seeks to do nothing more, and that if you’re not a devoted fan, you won’t understand what it’s doing, or even what its about. Too bad. (It certainly doesn’t fuss to rehash much back story.) And undeniably, it has achieved this goal, having clocked a record $72 million in its opening day in the US. Astounding. I’m truly speechless. Surely it’s no legitimate defence to state that a film plays only to its somewhat mushy-brained audience, and does nothing to check in with external reality? But then again, I become increasingly suspicious that the fate of the global economy, in actuality, lies in the hands of teenage girls. And may God help us.
So the story goes like this (suddenly I’m finding it hard to recall, as it all blurs into one long teenage mope): 18 year old Bella (Kristen Stewart) wakes from a dream (involving painfully simplified mirror metaphors) about age and fading beauty. Shame. Then her bloodsucker boyfriend (Robert Pattinson) ups and leaves because he figures that hanging around with vampires may not be so good for her health. Much hair-tearing ensues. Then some montages. Then some likely-used-by-the-OC-first songs on the soundtrack. Then she finds a new boyfriend (Taylor Lautner). More montages. She discovers new boyfriend is a werewolf. More hair-tearing. But she still loves vampire man. Then, in rapid succession: various near-death experiences, brazen product placement for Virgin Atlantic, premonitions, an awkwardly pubescent Dakota Fanning giving the best but briefest performance of the film, some Romeo and Juliet parallels, a proposition of marriage, and a cliff-hanger ending. Credits.
There. Now you don’t have to go see it. Sorry for no spoiler warning. Anything I can do to stem the tide, I will.
And here’s some more to put you off:
Much of the appeal of the film is attributed to the supposed eye-candy. Stewart, though attractive, seems only to be capable of one agonised, slightly bewildered expression. Fortunately neither plot nor characterisation requires anything more from her. Taylor Lautner looks like a TV entertainment wrestler whose face has been attacked by a swarm of bees. Pattinson looks like a paedophile. Altogether their performances are as awkward and removed as the cast of a high school production on the night their slightly older secret crush is in the audience. The fight scenes look like Power Rangers got a bigger budget. The editing was clumsy. It was too long. Important narrative turning points disappeared as quickly into the past as they had entered the present, while gimmicky montages of nothing in particular went on for minute after unnecessary minute. The whole film seemed to keep coming in endless waves of excruciating teenage gawkiness, like the product of some high school video course if it had been taught by the creators of Dirty Dancing and been taken by a class full of Goths and cheerleaders. It was just two very long hours of whinging and cringing.
Just don’t put yourself through it. Don’t.
If you’re into vampires and swooning girls, rather watch Alan Ball’s True Blood series. An offbeat tale of hillbillies, sex, fangs, murder, narcotics, more sex. And an awesome title sequence with much ass and boob. Not the best ever, but definitely worth a few weeknights in.
Disclaimer: If I have offended any fans by this review, I apologise for having seriously misjudged the readership of this magazine.