I Watched The Twilight Saga

I’ve got a policy with literary sensations, even those aimed at the YA crowd (one I didn’t give enough credit to until a friend got me to read some Marie Lu). First installments in these series get at least a 100 page read from me, an experiment to see if I find anything interesting enough to continue on with. Novels like Neal Shusterman’s Unwind (2007) and Scythe (2016) were fascinating and I loved them, and Marie Lu’s books Legend (2011) and Warcross (2017) gave me stories that contained typical YA elements while offering me a wild, well-thought out world. 

Before I touched any of those I invented this policy for Twilight (2005), a novel of vampires and horny kids by Stephanie Meyer.

There’s a brilliance to the book that I’ve heard doesn’t continue in the sequels. The lead character, Bella Swan, is a hollow shell. She’s barely described in the text of the story, a vessel for any reader to slip into and envision as themselves since personality and even physical description are absent. I didn’t care for it, but I can see how a young person could find that fun and arousing. 

The films, however, did not appeal to me. I watched the first one on DVD in 2009 with a friend, screwing around on my laptop and barely paying attention. I believe at the time I had labelled Robert Pattinson a “tin-can-headed, talentless sack of shit” and have eaten crow for years as he’s become one of our finest living actors. I similarly dismissed Kristen Stewart, someone I found bland and uninteresting in her delivery at the time and have similarly come to see as a phenomenal performer. I vaguely remember seeing The Twilight Saga: New Moon in theatres, but I hardly remembered it beyond leaving the theatre doors. This whole phenomenon was just not my cup of tea and I ultimately decided not to deal with it further, though I did watch clips later and found the resemblance to X-Men entertaining. 

I’ve got a buddy I watch a lot of movies with, our preferences recently being trashy horror franchise installments. We slammed through the Resident Evil series and a couple of others, but on a suggestion from my girlfriend we decided to hit the Twilight movies. 

I’m so glad we did this.

I’ll state right now that they’re not good. I’d hesitate to call one of them entertaining, but the rest are laden with weird and wonderful silliness that is so wild that I couldn’t help but be disappointed when the final credits rolled and I had no more of this goofy universe to explore. After years of disparaging the films I felt I had to publicly state some things I found wonderful about them.

  • Robert Pattinson is so strange in the first film. He’s caked with makeup (all of the vampires are) and is so bizarre. Acting choices are something that can make or break a performance, and the ones he’s making here are certainly uncharacteristic of these types of stories. The character, Edward Cullen, is a 100 year old vampire that is intrigued by a girl in his high school that stinks and whose mind he can’t read. So he…falls in love with her? I’m not kidding, he is openly disgusted by the scent of her and that’s just so WEIRD.
  • Michael Sheen is so delightful in all of his appearances, but this…wow. He’s wearing the HELL out of that cloak, giggling and simpering across snowy landscapes and Italian castles, and just tearing it up as a complete whackadoo. I think on introduction he’s the only one that truly understands the eerie, disturbing, unsettling bullshit he’s acting in and just goes for it. There’s a quality to his work not unlike that of Ian McDiarmid in the Star Wars prequels, hammy and big enough to fill the whole screen. 
  • Bad wire work and CGI are usually something to enjoy in these types of movies, but holy sweet hot damn it’s better here than almost anywhere else. Pattinson climbing trees like a demon-possessed child, people leaping from cliffs and turning into animals, it’s all just insane. It’s perfected in the final battle, the one from The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 (I love these ridiculous titles). Heads fly across the screen with wanton abandon, blood staining snow while somehow not actually getting on anyone, and wolves falling down cracks in the earth. The whole extravaganza feels like everyone is suddenly a superhero going to battle. You know, except for all the blood. It’s fun and I couldn’t believe it came down to that. 
  • Taylor Lautner is a horrible actor but his shredded abs are onscreen at almost every point. That’s all, I just found it fun that since they couldn’t get a better performance they just went for the sex appeal instead. Not that the character had much going for him; he’s a creepy kid obsessed with a girl from school and later falls in love with her infant daughter. Yup, this story is bizarre and a bit gross.
  • We get performances from Bryce Dallas Howard, Michael Sheen, Kellan Lutz, Dakota Fanning, Anna Kendrick, Rami Malek, Cam Gigandet, Lee Pace, and Joe Anderson. Just…wow.
  • The soundtracks to these are batshit insane. Muse, The Dead Weather, Death Cab for Cutie, Atticus Ross, Paramore, Iron & Wine, Thom Yorke both with and without Radiohead, The Black Keys, Metric, Florence + The Machine, Vampire Weekend, Bruno Mars, Passion Pit, Green Day, and St. Vincent. Oh, and two of the scores are from legendary composers Alexandre Desplat and Howard Shore. Upon learning this my brain broke a little bit because the Desplat score is uncharacteristically boring and Shore’s score sounded nothing like him. 

What you get out of these depends on what you take into them. I approached this series with an air of snobby superiority and was floored by how much weird fun it wound up being. It probably helped to have a girlfriend there to explain the deeper mythology as I watched, which is apparently much more complex, but I honestly just enjoyed what I got. I don’t know if the pandemic is affecting my brain, leaving me desperate for films I haven’t seen, but I’m just pleased that I took the time and effort to give these a go. 

Also apparently director Chris Weitz didn’t want to take time out of his shooting schedule to make time for a cameo for Taylor Swift, who was a big fan of the series and wanted to pop in for a day. He also, apparently, very much regrets this as he could have hung out with Taylor Swift for a bit. Just thought that was a fun bit of trivia (courtesy of a Blank Check Podcast episode from their Patreon feed).

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