Along with dance movies, these are my true guilty pleasure. I am judged more for having these films in my collection than for any others – it’s okay to love Robot Monster and Plan 9 From Outer Space, but Twilight? That’s a different story.
The saga has suffered much ridicule over the last five years, culminating in guests of website Rifftrax (the same guys behind Mystery Science Theater 3000, which specifically deals with ripping bad movies to shreds) voting the entire franchise the Worst Movie of All Time – beating the likes of The Room, Batman and Robin, Transformers, and Troll 2. This year also saw the final film of the series, Breaking Dawn Part 2, sweeping the board at the Razzies. But is it really deserved?
My decision to have my own Twiathalon was due in part because, as I have said, they are my guilty pleasure – and let me just preface, I am not incapable of recognising its flaws – and because my boyfriend had made me watch The Lord of the Rings trilogy (extended edition) in one sitting, and this was my revenge. I would like to point out that the five films in the Twilight series are still an hour and ten minutes shorter than Peter Jackson’s three movies.
So. First up, Twilight. Directed by Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen), this is a small, muted film – the humble independent beginnings of what would become one of the biggest franchises ever. Hardwicke has, sensibly, altered Stephanie Meyer’s story for the screen, adding extra moments of action and introducing the bad guys early on. For the most part, this film focuses on Bella (Kirsten Stewart) meeting Edward (Robert Pattinson) and learning what he truly is. It’s a film about vampires, that doesn’t even mention the word for the first fifty minutes. Slow, filled with blue tones and haunting music, it is cheesy but self-aware, angsty but unashamedly romantic. It is also by far the best film of the franchise; perhaps because there was no pressure on them, and because of their indie director, Twilight is delicate, meandering, and evocative.
Sadly, Hardwicke declined to continue directing the now insanely popular (and already reviled) series so Chris Weitz – yes, the man behind the deplorable abomination that was The Golden Compass – takes over. New Moon is probably the most faithful representation of any of Meyer’s books, and it is tedious and embarrassingly trite as a result. Instead of focusing on the emotional damage caused by Edward leaving, Weitz creates a page-by-page recreation of what is already a dull book. The soulful tunes of Hardwicke’s film are replaced by a manipulative, clichéd orchestral score that forces emotion out of the viewer through cringe-worthy swells and beats; the atmospheric blue palette is gone, and the focus on actors is abandoned for an over-dependence on CGI. In a moment of horribly ill-conceived “artistry”, Weitz also reveals Bella as the vampire she will one day become – clad in white linen, glittering and frolicking in the woods with her beau. It’s supposed to be beautiful; it’s actually ridiculous. Weitz’ only saving grace is the addition of Michael Sheen as Aro, the power-hungry ancient vampire who ensures the community’s strict laws are kept.
Luckily, Weitz lasts only one film and is one again replaced – anyone doubting the auteur theory need just look at The Twilight Saga to see the influence of the director on the final quality and style of their production. David Slade (30 Days of Night) is at the helm here, and his film is slick, stylish, and dynamic. Fortunately for him, Eclipse is by far the most action-packed and interesting book, and his screenplay includes Meyer’s additional text, The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner, which allows the action to transcend the sleepy town of Forks and move beyond Edward and Bella’s relationship. This is also the only novel that culminates in an actual battle, and the CGI that caused so many laughs in Weitz’ film has been refined here. Eclipse is by far the most accomplished of the franchise; unlike Hardwicke’s small production, this is big budget, action-packed, and utterly professional.
But, naturally, Slade did not stay. The final book, the worst in the saga, is lengthy and in desperate need of editing. It also contains some of the strangest, most uncomfortable plot points, all of which appear to be included to ensure a happy ending for absolutely everyone. As a series, The Twilight Saga seems to get most of its criticism for its narrative, which is entirely due to Meyer’s bizarre decisions. It is telling that the best films of the franchise were the ones that deviated from their source material. Anyway, onto Breaking Dawn. Featuring sex, grotesque pregnancy, and the most violent, disturbing delivery ever, as well as some rather dodgy romance between Jacob (Taylor Lautner) and Bella’s offspring, the question became, how will anyone do this justice when restricted by a 12A rating?
Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) may not have seemed the most obvious choice – it would have been great to see how Slade handled the pregnancy – but generally he succeeds in bringing the difficult final novel to the big screen. Like Weitz, his films remain largely faithful to the books, but unlike Weitz, his adaptations are more accomplished. By this point, the actors are all entirely familiar with their roles – both Lautner and Pattinson seem to be having fun, with performances that have a distinct tongue-in-cheek-ness to them. The most criticised in reviews, Stewart is, as always, completely serious and it is this intensity that doesn’t always translate. The large ensemble gathered in Part 2 is mostly just window dressing, though Lee Pace is charismatic and engaging as ally Garret.
While Bella’s pregnancy is truly revolting, and well realised considering the classification, Condon also makes some dire choices – predominantly the decision to give Bella and Edward’s baby a CGI face. It is stupid and unnecessary, and entirely distracting. Such as shame that a series already mocked and reviled by so many (though it often appears that the people ripping the films to shreds haven’t actually watched any of them) makes such irrational and daft missteps. Breaking from the source material entirely, Condon also gives the viewers the battle that is missing from Meyer’s happily-ever-after tale; this is a necessary, though exasperating, addition.
So there you go. Five Twilight movies, ten hours, one day. Are they really (collectively) the worst film of all time? Absolutely not. What is apparent is the wavering quality throughout – none match Hardwicke’s first film, though Slade comes close. Weitz’ movie is easily the franchise’s lowest point, while Condon does the best he can with the too-long, too-neat, too-confused final novel. Yes, they are cheesy, yes, they are overly romantic, yes, they are Marmite movies. If you like them, the quality doesn’t matter; if you hate them, you probably won’t watch them, no matter what people tell you. As guilty pleasures go, they’re pretty much perfect.