Franchise Rewind: Twilight (2008) The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009)

Twilight, 2008 (Kristen Stewart) Summit Entertainment

The Twilight Saga: New Moon, 2009 (Robert Pattinson) Summit Entertainment

“I had an adrenaline rush. It’s very common. You can ‘google’ it.”

Oh man. The chickens have come home to roost. Jo knows not what she hath done, or words and sentiments to that effect. Trends were launched with the success of the first Harry Potter movie, itself a protein spike of Rowling’s first book. After trends came formulas, then whole production packages, and once studio executives smell money, it’s like blood in the water. First came Twilight, then came Percy Jackson, then came Hunger Games. After Hunger Games, there was Divergent and Maze Runner.

Why can’t things be left alone? Why is a movie the ultimate sign of a writer’s success. It’s a bizarre reversal that may grant you hefty residuals, but it’s a losing affair to translate these words to the big screen, and I don’t care what anybody tells me: money does not equal success. So here we are. The Twilight series. Actually, I don’t blame author Stephenie Meyer for what has happened to vampires in recent years. It all goes back to Anne Rice and the romance of vampires, but it’s really Forever Knight and Buffy, the Vampire Slayer (two shows I loved) that started this trend.

I’m not talking about the “sparkly” vampires, but the notion that vampires are not horrible creatures who subsist on blood and spend most of their time in the shadows while transmogrifying into bats, wolves, and other “creatures of the night.” I’m in the middle of a book right now about vampires; again, studly immortals who get erections and have blood-flow. This doesn’t make sense. Nothing about vampires, in and of themselves, makes sense, but this is where we have our magic.

The problem is you can’t have it both ways. You can’t be immortal and beautiful at the same time, because beauty (among other things) requires blood-flow. Anne Rice informs us that what you are at the time you are bitten is what you remain for all eternity—so you’d better make sure you’re hot when you undergo “the change.” My guess is Robert Pattinson’s Edward Cullen stayed out of the sun long before he was turned, but whatever.

We’re not supposed to ask questions. Instead, we’re supposed to revel in the passion and romance between youthful-appearing Edward and wet blanket emo-girl, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart). The first question to drool from your lips is obviously: her? Edward is maybe 90 years old (given that he was turned in 1918) so he’s probably met many interesting and beautiful people, but it’s Bella who turns his head? Bella’s pretty and all, but she’s so boring.

She comes to the small town of Forks to live with her dad, the Chief of Police, Charlie Swan (Billy Burke), because her flakey mom is touring the countryside with her baseball player boyfriend. On her first day of school, she is beset by the friendly faces of a diverse cast all orbiting her and demanding to be her friend. This isn’t the high school I remember. The dreary trip-hop, dulcimer darkwave tones of the music in concert with the overcast Pacific Northwest setting definitely create a mood, and it’s enough to make Bella (and her ONE FACE) seem appealing.

She catches Edward’s eye and immediately gravitates toward him. This might be the one thing that makes sense. In all lore, the commonality between vampires is that they have the power to mesmerize people and put them under a “hypnotic screen.” This would compensate for the fact that they are hideous, grotesque monsters. The conceit becomes one of personal appearance. These vampires have to be beautiful because they’re on a big screen and they want to exploit their beauty to get the teenybopper demographic.

Bella does nothing for me, but Rachelle Lefevre’s (as evil Victoria) curly red locks make me crazy. Consider Max Shrek’s (or Klaus Kinski’s) Nosferatu compared to the Cullens, or Louis and Lestat, or Angel from Buffy. We watched a couple of vampire movies the week I popped in my Twilight Blu-ray (the whole five-movie set for $13!) and it was an interesting comparison. We started with the original Interview with a Vampire movie, which I’ve always enjoyed.

After that, we watched the original Let the Right One In (made for less than $5 million), which was brilliant and possibly the best vampire movie I’ve ever seen, and then we finished the week with Twilight. Here we have “good” vampires represented by the Cullen family, and the “bad” vampires as represented by a trio of nomadic creatures. We also have werewolves, but we’re not supposed to talk about that.

Mysterious Jacob shares a sexual tension with Bella, but he can’t do anything about it because of mysterious Edward. Mysterious Young Men! I wonder if the girls this movie was marketed to actually hate Bella. I wouldn’t know, because I’m an old man. Anyway, there’s a truce in effect between the vampires and other creatures, and clueless Bella has no idea. The “bad” vampires” are responsible for a bunch of killings in the area, threatening the truce.

One of the bad vamps, James, has a thing for Bella and wants to hunt her for sport. Who wouldn’t? In a visually spectacular ballet dance studio climax, Edward’s family kills James, and Victoria vows vengeance. That’s it. That’s the movie. Twilight is roughly two hours of ambience occasionally interrupted with story, kind of like Footloose or Top Gun, but with vampires. Hey! How about dancing jet pilots who are also vampires living in a town where dancing vampires are illegal? Now that’s entertainment!

“Age is just a number, baby.”

You know what’s kind-of ridiculous? Fads. I know it’s an old-fashioned word. We moved from fads to trends in the ’80s. “Trend” is an ’80s word for the ’60s word, “fad.” “An intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, especially one that is short-lived and without basis in the object’s qualities; a craze.” New Moon launched a particularly voracious and short-lived fad: Team Edward or Team Jacob. This did happen.

Watching New Moon, I found myself in that position, debating back and forth the pros and cons of Edward versus Jacob. I think we all agreed that Jacob was our man, but (and this is a big one…whoo!) we also came to the conclusion that Jacob was, frankly, too good for Bella (Kristen Stewart). She deserves neither of these creatures’ affections and attention. We’ll save the rest of that discussion for Eclipse. For now, we have filler. New Moon is filler. Padding.

The book, from what I understand, isn’t so lopsided in its storytelling, but the movie turns into an all-out soap opera. I think the book is enough for the young adult market (as well as the suburban housewife market) to justify the crossover mainstream success in romance novel circles and keep readers satisfied until the next book comes out. Author Stephenie Meyers published the books in quick succession, from 2005-2008.

Oddly, rather than churning out book after book in an ever-expanding universe of Cullen/Vampire or Black/Werewolf book series, she moved on to different stories unlike Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton or Lynsay Sands’ Argeneau series. New Moon begins at a point where Edward (Robert Pattinson) decides he and his kind are a danger to Bella’s continued existence, and it’s the smartest decision he makes throughout the franchise. Bella gets a paper cut and all of his vampire friends and family go nuts over her blood.

This not-so-subtle development troubles Edward so he decides to “take a break” with Bella and put his family into exile. Even though everyone in the known universe loves her (except for a couple of Negative Nancys in the evil vampire community), she’s lonely so she seeks out studly Jacob (Taylor Lautner) with his long hair and chiseled abs. This kind of stuff wouldn’t be out of place in a cheesy romance novel. Bella bonds with Jacob and his isolated tribe of Quileute Native American werewolves, and Jacob (as he is written to do) falls in love with Bella and, once again, we’re left scratching our collective heads and asking, “Her?”

Meanwhile, Victoria (Rachelle Lefevre) vows vengeance against everyone she deems responsible for the death of her lover, so she casts a fairly wide net, and everybody seems to be aware of this, yet Bella is left alone and defenseless. The movie then veers into Romeo and Juliet territory where Edward mistakenly believes Bella has killed herself by jumping off a cliff because of his sister Alice’s admittedly unreliable psychic “visions.”

This gets convoluted in a hurry, particularly when Edward resurfaces and tells Alice to drive Bella to Italy (non-stop from Forks, mind you—must be one of those flying cars!) where they can seek out the Volturi, a vampire government, and their leader, Aro (Michael Sheen) and ask for their protection. The Volturi, I don’t want to believe, have any kind of power or influence over vampires. I don’t understand it with the Argeneau vampires either.

Vampires are immortal and all-powerful. Why would they have need for either a society or a governing body? As a vampire, you have no fears (except for the mythic vulnerabilities) and you would spend your time pretty much walking the earth. So apparently it was a major league faux pas to bring Bella to the Volturi, and they try to kill her. Edward defends her but Bella demands they take her life instead. Come on, Volturi! Do the right thing! Aro extricates a desire from Bella, in her mind, to be turned into a vampire so she can be with Edward for all eternity, or something.

Aro lets them go because Bella is one freaky chick! New Moon ends with Edward essentially proposing to Bella. The third movie in the series, Eclipse, would again underscore the soap opera narrative as the tension between Edward and Jacob escalates in their obsession with Bella “Her?” Swann. Apparently, audiences were not as baffled as I. At a $50 million budget, this first sequel in the Twilight film series earned over $700 million at the box office. Go figure.


David Lawler has written for Film Threat, VHS Rewind, Second Union, and his own blog, Misadventures in BlissVille. Lawler has produced several podcasts including That Twilighty Show About That Zone, Two Davids Walk Into A Bar (with co-host David Anderson), EQ Lawler/Saltz (with Alex Saltz), and Upstairs at Froelich's (with co-host John Froelich).

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