Friday, November 20, 2009

“Words… cannot… describe…” – Seeing The Twilight Saga: New Moon: 12:01 AM

I suppose it was destiny that I should end up seeing The Twilight Saga: New Moon with six 9th grade girls who are avid (and that’s putting it lightly) Twilight fans: Paula, Meghan, Olivia, Bianca, Gabby, and Rebecca. Last year they were in my 8th grade American history class, and during our spring-term coverage of American film history, we were brainstorming the criteria that might constitute a “classic” film, and Meghan bravely raised her hand and asked me whether or not I thought Twilight (2008) was destined to be called a classic. I was nervous, realizing that I was going to incur the wrath of the fans if I said that I didn’t think it was. So I suggested we think of it this way: Will Twilight be mentioned in a film history text ten years from now? I said that it might well be mentioned – as a popular cultural phenomenon, but not as a “classic” film. This rubbed some noses the wrong way, but later during the course, Meghan conceded that I was probably right.

Then, yesterday, it was Rebecca’s birthday celebration, her sainted mother had agreed to take her and friends to the first showing, they had an extra ticket, I got invited, and how could I turn down a chance to be part of the movie event of the year?

Thus, serendipitously, at 12:01 AM this morning, I found myself sitting in a movie theater, heated by the mounting fever of fervent fans, with the girls listed above (and the aforementioned sainted mother).

Shrieks from hundreds of fans, in love with Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) or Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) – or both – broke out as soon as the first preview disclaimer appeared on the screen. Startled shrieks broke out when Pattinson appeared in the first preview – for a film called Remember Me in which Pattinson plays a mere mortal, but in the same sort of sullen, slouching, mumbling manner he plays Edward in The Twilight Saga.

Previews over, you could feel a palpable thrum of ardent anticipation.

12:01 AM.

The image of a full moon darkens with shadow and reveals the title: New Moon. More shrieks are elicited by Pattinson’s first appearance – in a dream sequence in which Bella sees an old woman who turns out to be herself – but this doesn’t lessen the shrieks aroused by Edward’s first appearance in the flesh, so to speak, when he walks across the school parking lot toward Bella (Kristen Stewart) in gratuitous slow-motion.

Taylor Lautner fans shriek when the buffed up actor, who plays a Native American who is a werewolf, shows off his mountain range of muscles. In fact, he and his other Native American werewolf chums go around shirtless for most of the movie. I guess, somehow, it’s easier for them when their uncontrolled anger transforms them into werewolves – though we never see them running around as wolves with shorts, so I don’t know what the problem is. I guess the shirtless thing is just to show off their muscles.

The passionate Edward/Pattinson fans find this installment of the saga somewhat frustrating because, early in the story, Edward leaves - to protect her, telling Bella he will never see her again. You see, she wants him to turn her into a vamp so they can be blood-suckers together, but he wants to prevent this – and he wants to keep her safe from other vampires. Bella’s birthday party chez Cullen turned problematic when Bella got a paper cut and stupidly held up her finger and said, “Oh, paper cut,” and the sight of blood caused a sort of Cullen-family vampire frenzy.

So lovey-dovey Pattinson is off screen for most of the film! I was disappointed too, for some reason. This leaves Bella to develop a thing for Jacob, but just when things are heating up, Jacob starts acting like Edward did, all, you don’t know the truth about me and, like, I’m not good for you. Holy monsters, what’s wrong with all the dudes in Forks, Washington?

But it all comes clear to Bella when she is threatened by one of the Shirtless (seems that when the boys get angry, they “Hulk” into werewolves) and Jacob needs to change into a werewolf too to fight him off – by means of awkward CGI, helped somewhat by chilling sound effects. Shocking revelation! It’s like, and I quote, “The wolf’s out of the bag!”

Now, what’s a girl gonna do? Torn between two lovers – and both of them have monster issues. This is when the film bogs down – though there’s a thrilling pursuit of the bad vamp Victoria (Rachelle Lefevre) by the boyz in th’ pack (who just love ripping vampires to shreds). So it’s all, like, don’t you love me, Bella? And, Edward, Edward, come back. But the pace picks up when Ed’s “sister” Alice (Ashley Green) appears out of nowhere (as vampires do) and tells Bella that Edward has decided to end his immortality in the only way immortality can be ended – by being ripped apart by the Volturi (don’t make me explain) who live in Italy.

So when Bella and Alice fly off to Italy on Virgin Air (I kid you not), the story goes all Angels and Demons on us but there’s fun in seeing Dakota Fanning and Michael Sheen play vamps (Fanning is actually more convincing than Sheen).

2:20 AM, or thereabouts, it’s over (the film is longish and in need of tighter editing and the actors must have been directed to think about their lines for a long time before saying them).

I need to rush home, get some sleep, and get up at 5:30, but I linger with the girls to get their feedback.

Rebecca says, “It was perfect. It followed the book perfectly.” (I have a beef with this. The big fans, starting with The Lord of the Rings, feel that the movie should follow the books religiously; they want a cinematic copy of the books. But I don’t agree. I think a film is a separate entity, and the director should have the freedom to capture the essence of the novel by means of his or her own artistic vision. I allow directors full freedom to do this with any of my favorite books.) Olivia says, “It was more of a Hollywood movie than the first one, while at the same time it remained faithful to the book.” Says Gabby, “It was… good.” Meghan says, “It’s my favorite movie of all time.” Bianca's smile is too wide for her to form words. Paula, one of the school’s resident Twilight gurus who was one of the first to start reading the books back when she was in the 6th grade, comes up to me, face all flushed with rapture, and says, “Words… cannot… describe… how I feel.”


FilmDr said...

You are a brave man, Hokahey. Some subjects are just too intense. After all of the hype, I don't know if I can bring myself to see the movie.

Hokahey said...

Thanks, FilmDr. These kills were very excited because here was this faithful rendition of the beloved book, but it was slow, probably trying too hard to include everything. Twilight was edited more tightly and had a faster pace.

But it was worth being brave to see the girls' excitement at school - because they had seen IT. Some of us used to get that obsessive about seeing Star Wars.

Craig said...

I suppose it was destiny that I should end up seeing The Twilight Saga: New Moon with six 9th grade girls who are avid (and that’s putting it lightly) Twilight fans:

My God, man! That's a more hair-raising mission than Operation Kino. I'm glad you made it out alive.

Hokahey said...

Thanks for the concern, Craig. I must admit I felt a little out of place as I stood in a densely packed column - waiting to enter the theater - amidst mostly girls with Twilight t-shirts on or dressed like Bella. (Some of them had designed their own t-shirts.) I also felt a little uncomfortable when I laughed at any point in the movie that was definitely NOT the appropriate time for a real fan to laugh. But I felt a sense of protection being with a group of fervent fans.

Craig said...

So when Bella and Alice fly off to Italy on Virgin Air (I kid you not),

The problem with Virgin Air is it's always a one-way trip. (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

Hokahey said...

A welcome witticism, Craig.

Daniel Getahun said...

Really charming record of your experience. I am still shocked that at one point early in 2008 I actually paid attention to the upcoming Twilight movie. Once I picked up on what all the huff was I was long gone, never to look back - except of course in instances like this.

The problem with these audiences is that they are so forgiving. Be a crazy cult following, that's fine, but at the very least demand better films from the story you love!

*says someone who saw each of the last three Star Wars films on opening night...

Hokahey said...

Daniel, thanks for the compliment - and I appreciate your confession. I saw the last three Star Wars movies on opening day - not that I'm a fervent fan, but I love a movie event. It was more exciting going with the fans.

All by itself, New Moon is not a great movie, and I would have been very disappointed if I had seen it on my own. But the company I saw it with energized the experience. They talked to the screen. They squealed. They cried in ecstasy. If I see Eclipse next year, I must see it with these girls.

You're right about the fans being very forgiving. When I saw that the movie was a little slow, I was really worried that my fan students would be disappointed, but I was relieved when I saw that they were not.

For them, it's just BEING with the characters; it doesn't so much matter what they do. That's how my wife (as much a Star Trek fan as these girls are into their Twilight) felt about the recent ST movie - which she saw about five times. She just wanted to BE with the characters.

Jake said...

You know, Twilight (the phenom, not the films on their own aesthetic(-less) terms) I think could make for an interesting class. Despite the strawmanning by its detractors establishing fans as addled tweens who are being taught to feel worthless without a man and to accept stalking as a form of romance, I believe that the average teen lass can differentiate between fiction and reality, just as young boys adamantly maintain (rightly) that playing Call of Duty doesn't make one necessarily want to go out and shoot a bunch of people.

I reviewed this myself and, while I continue to hate this series, its characters, its themes and its aesthetics (though this is definitely an improvement of Hardwicke's queasy, slick visuals), and I came across just this side of snarky. But I made sure to distance the film from its fans, because I find the furor over the series to be fascinating.

Let's be clear: it isn't just young teen girls buying into this. Grown women, even self-described feminists, have professed a love of the story. I think this speaks to the massive dearth of literature and cinema that caters to women. I mean, I'm a fat, pale geek. There is a small mountain worth of film reels dedicated to me and people like me, all saying that all I need is to keep throwing out Star Wars references until I land the most beautiful girl in the world. The fat nerds in these movies are usually not even nice, save for a scene or two that makes them appealing. Why, then, should some be up in arms that the supposed hearthrob (is it proper to call something without a beating heart that?) and the admittedly weak and codependent female are exaggerations?

I'm glad you mentioned Star Wars, because those who would dismiss this franchise, as well as the questions it raises about how starved women might be for a pop icon to latch onto, should take a good hard look at the box office returns for the Star Wars prequels that everyone hated so much but kept paying to see.

Besides, I'm still in college and have trouble enough with the ladies as is. I don't need to set bridges ablaze when I come to them :)

Hokahey said...

Jake - Thanks for your very interesting and honest comments.

I'm with you. I have no criticism of fans like these. I have never been a crazed fan. Although I saw most of the Star Wars movies on opening day, I never did anything like camping out in line to attend the first showing. I stood in line for hours to see Star Trek: The Motion Picture with my wife, a big ST fan - but I can't call myself a big ST fan. But I understand the passion, and I like to be around it. I feel the same passion for movies in general.

The girls I saw Twilight with were an interesting bunch. They are all A students - very smart, they read a lot, and even though they might not have boy friends now, I'm sure they will one day. I totally respect having a full-fledged passion for something.