Every time I get really sick, I end up watching something I otherwise would have avoided.
This tendency is born of a desire for easily-digestible entertainment in my physically diminished state.
Last time I was sick, I watched the entire first season of the cartoon Transformers: Prime (and later went follow the show obsessively to its conclusion two seasons later, but that’s a topic for another blog post).
This time, it was the last three movies of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga that I’d yet to see: Eclipse, Breaking Dawn pt. 1, and Breaking Dawn pt. 2.
I’d previously watched the first two films – Twilight and New Moon – years ago at the behest of Twihard friends, and swore I’d never watch another. After all, there was just so much to dislike:
- Edward’s behaviour toward Bella was stalker-ish and controlling
- Bella, as a character, was dull as a spoon, possessing no interesting qualities nor being an active (as opposed to passive) participant in her own story
- Edward was way too old to be in a romantic relationship with Bella
- Neither Bella’s mother nor Edward’s had jobs (unlike both of their fathers)
- As a whole, the story glamourized unhealthy romance for its target audience of impressionable young girls.
Maybe it was the Advil Cold + Sinus at play, but as I watched the final three movies, I found they weren’t all bad. Indeed, there were a number of elements of the Twilight Saga that found quite enjoyable, both as a consumer of stories and a creator of them:
Something old, something new
The last major reinterpretation of vampire folklore, to my knowledge, was Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles, which began with Interview With a Vampire, published in 1976 and re-popularized in 1994 following a film adaptation starring Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise.
The paranormal (e.g. witches, vampires, fairies, zombies, etc.) is an important facet of our collective human culture. Every ethnicity from every era has had and still has its own monsters and mythology.
Stories of these otherworldly creatures are constantly being reinvented, recycled, and retold, seeming to recapture public interest in cycles of 10-20 years.
With Twilight, Stephenie Meyer definitely presented the right monster at the right time.
I’ve got the power
If memory serves, in Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles, older vampires were stronger and more capable than younger ones, but overall, all vamps possess them same special abilities.
In Twilight, many of the vampires have their own unique power, such as Alice’s ability to see the future, or Edward’s reading of minds, or Jasper controlling emotions.
Stories with these sorts of ensemble casts in which everyone has a different special power are always enjoyable, for they invite the audience to choose which among the possible powers they would most like to possess, and to insert themselves into the story in the process.
A role for First Nations
A really interesting element of The Twilight Saga is its inclusion of the Quileute First Nations people as the werewolves.
Not being Quileute myself, or First Nations at all for that matter, I don’t know if this inclusion is viewed as positive by them or not. But it seems like most of the stories I’ve read or watched that portray First Nations people heroically have taken place in a historical setting (e.g. The Last of the Mohicans).
Despite Twilight being a paranormal story and not based on genuine Quileute myths, it was nice to see so many First Nations actors in a movies playing present-day, positive roles.
A focus on family
I like how the Cullen coven of vampires styles itself as a family, not just to keep up appearances, but in their behaviour towards each other as well. I’m so used to the traditional vampire being a dark, brooding loner, who, while he may briefly team up with other vamps, ultimately leads a long, solitary existence.
More impressively, though, is that Bella maintains her relationship with her father, Charlie, throughout the entire story.
So often in YA, parents are unsympathetic and don’t last the first few scenes (assuming they appear at all), as they’re seen as detrimental to the youth hero(ine) having a self-determining adventure.
Even though Charlie didn’t play an active role in Bella’s character arc, he was portrayed as caring deeply for his daughter and wanting to help her in any way he could. This is a good reminder to teen readers that most parents aren’t the enemy.
The government remains standing
One of my biggest dislikes about YA fiction is how a ragtag band of idealists will help foment revolution, overthrow a corrupt governing body, and then the story ends.
That is the point where I wish the story would start. I’m always curious to know how the new world order will actually function, given the idealists usually have little to no experience in leading a society and helping it thrive.
At the end of Breaking Dawn pt. 2, the Volturi – essentially the international government of vampires – has not been put down. While a few of the more hotheaded vampires want to attempt it, for the majority of them, it’s enough that they’ve overcome the charges the Volturi held against them.
Rather than incite rebellion, they’re happy to just live their quiet, insignificant lives while the government goes on about its despotic and despicable ways. Kind of like in real life.
I’m of the opinion that every story, no matter how terrible as a whole, has at least one redeeming quality that can be instructive to writers.
What do you think? Was there anything you liked about Twilight? What did you hate about it? (dislikes can be instructive as well).
Related post: Writing for Prime Time
(Image source #1, #2, and #3)
9 thoughts on “What’s Good About Twilight: Observations from a non-Twihard with a head-cold”
Am I allowed to answer, having not read or watched any of them? Obviously I’m not the target audience, but I think it’s cool when something emerges in pop culture that gives fans a reason to get excited, bond, become part of a community with shared awareness and understanding, etc. It’s something Twilight fans will be able to look back on fondly and have cool memories of meeting like-minded people. So good for them. It’s better than the blank nothing that would otherwise take its place in the zeitgeist.
I think you’re on to something here, Eric. I find fan culture so fascinating, in particular the fact that all the craziness that can be found therein, at its essence, is all for love of the story. There’s something really beautiful and also so very human about that – that a story can touch people so profoundly that they want to become part of it and carry it inside of themselves always. Even though I don’t subscribe to the core themes of Twilight, the impact it’s had on people is something I’m sure every writer dreams of achieving.
As an adult, I enjoyed the Twilight books and (except for the so-drawn-out-its-boring battle scene at the end of the last movie) the movies. But as an aunt to a tween girl whose parents had just gone through a divorce (and on top of that, my ex-sister-in-law, her mother, is abusive), I was concerned that she would think that the way Edward, Bella, and Jacob acted towards each other was not only acceptable, but the ideal. I was particularly alarmed by Bella’s 3 month shutdown, then her near suicidal reckless behaviour, after Edward left in the 2nd book – and Edward’s suicide attempt. I warned my brother about that, but its pretty much impossible to stop a kid with divorced parents from reading or watching something. When I found out that my niece had watched the movie I talked to her about break ups, what feelings and actions are normal and what is not, and that if she ever has an extreme response to a breakup she needs to get help.
I guess, in a way, that’s a positive thing. If it wasn’t for twilight, I likely would not have discussed that topic with my niece until she was going through her first breakup. But since we seem to be in an era of laissez-faire parenting, most people probably didnt have those discussions with their kids. I shudder to think of an entire generation of girls who hold Edward’s stalking, Jacob’s possessiveness, and Bella’s behaviour in general as the ideals of romantic love.
On the other hand, as a Christian, I liked Edward’s determination to protect (or at least not be responsible for corrupting) Bella’s immortal soul. I can’t remember if that was explained in the movies. The possible long term impacts of our choices on the core of our being, on who we are, is rarely explored so openly in the books I read (mainly scifi and fantasy – Twilight is fantasy IMO)
Now about that fight sequence: I hope every film school uses it as an example of how NOT to do a battle sequence with a large cast …
There were parts of the movies also that had me cringing at the thought of how impressionable young girls might perceive/interpret them. With respect to that, I remain fervently anti-Twilight. It’s one thing to write controversial subject matter for adults; quite another to do so for youth who are likely reading without someone like you to analyze the themes and messages critically. I’m really glad that you did that, and yes, I suppose sometimes it takes a questionable occurrence to stimulate the conversations we should already be having.
As for the fight sequence, I’m a pretty un-discerning audience when it comes to such things. I’m not sure what about it you found so poorly done.
I’m not sure what to say. I gobbled up the books but I honestly don’t remember why. I had a newborn at the time and needed something to read while nursing him and I got so hooked it was unreal. I loved the first movie. Its indie charm, its perfect direction, its focus on the characters and the details. I hated all the rest. To me, they were sloppy and rushed and had no soul.
I think there’s a real value to easily consumable entertainment. Sometimes it’s more entertaining to read a book or watch a movie you know is bad than a good one that requires your commitment and attention.
I remember seeing in the documentary Miss Representation how the first Twilight movie was directed by a woman (Catherine Harwicke) on an uber-low budget because the film studios didn’t believe that stories for girls and women would make money. After it made the box office killing that it did, Catherine was booted out of the franchise in favour of male directors for the remaining four films. Interesting that you only liked the first one. Was it the choice of director, or the fact that the follow-up films were rushed to production to keep the gravy train a-flowing?
Sometimes, it’s also more entertaining to watch or read something bad in search of that ~one~ thing about it that’s good – the one (perhaps quite small, but still present) redeeming quality. I believe that every terrible work has it in there somewhere. Finding it becomes like a game.
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