The Twilight Experiment: Interlude

Sunday. I have nothing to read. Correction: I have stuff to read, some of it is even quite intelligent, but I don’t have Eclipse. And since I fear that starting another book at this point might endanger the experiment as a whole, I shall resist Iain Banks and Guy Gavriel Kay and Jasper Fforde (I didn’t say that all of it was intelligent).

Still bored, though. So what better way to pass the time until the bookstores open on Monday than to watch Twilight on YouTube?

Okay, yes, I see your point. But I’m not going to do that. Or that. Sorry.

Where was I? Yes. I had seen Twilight: New Moon in the cinema and my experiences can be summed up with “all that glitters is not gold” – sometimes it’s a vampire. The movie looked great in terms of production values, and some of the actors appear to be theoretically capable of acting, but all in all it was a large pile of horse dung.

On the other hand, I can say that now that I have read New Moon, the movie seems to be a marvel of consistency. So I wonder, what will the adaptation of Twilight be like? Can Kristen Steward be any less appealing? Vampires glitter and they are not gold… so what are they?

Armed with a cup of tea and some cookies I sit down in front of my computer and type “twilight movie” into the YouTube search thingummy. The top result is in good quality and seems to be subtitled in Norwegian, which no doubt would increase the entertainment value of what I’m about to do, but I somehow manage to resist. The next one looks better, so there I go.

Twilight, just like the other three books, is written from a first-person perspective. Usually that’s Bella, and when it isn’t it’s Jacob, which is possibly worse. While they have ignored the first-person style of the book in the adaptation of New Moon, Twilight is in parts narrated by Bella. This wouldn’t be a problem if someone hadn’t told Kristen Stewart to do the voiceovers in her “depressed” voice. Because that’s the only modus operandi that Bella knows. Or maybe that’s just what Kristen Stewart sounds like all the time. What do I know? One way or the other the result is so drab that the opening sequence of Twilight is enough to put you to sleep, despite the nice music.

Yeah, you heard me right: Nice music. As with New Moon, there is one thing that I can’t really fault this movie for, and that’s production values. The images are nice and crisp, the sets look good (too good you might say, but I’ll get to that in a minute), and the score by the shamelessly talented Carter Burwell is quite nice. That doesn’t save it, of course. You can make a movie that has a sterling story but mediocre visuals and it can still be good, but sadly that trick doesn’t work the other way round.

Back to the story. Bella has arrived in Forks. She is wearing a pretty trousers/vest/shirt combination in blue and brown which makes her look like she belongs. Yeah, sounds weird, doesn’t it? Looked weird, too. I didn’t notice at first; my only thought was that something looks strange about the image. But then I realized that she is dressed to match her room. I believe that’s called out-of-control-costume-design. Someone should be shot for that.

Next up: Jacob Black. The filmmakers have pulled a reverse Harry Potter on us and included our favourite werewolf in more scenes, in anticipation of the bigger part that his character will play in the other movies. Unfortunately I hate his guts, so I’m not happy about it. (It would have been nice to see some more Dobby, though.) So Jacob comes, delivers some exceedingly wooden dialogue, and leaves. And Bella goes to school.

Here we meet the Cullens. If one thing is clear from the very first moment that we see them, it is that Bella is destined to be part of this family, because they clearly shop at the same oufitters interior designers. Yes, you guessed right, they are dressed to match the school cafeteria. Which presents some problems in a school environment. Do they change clothes between classes? What to they do on day trips? Questions, questions, so few answers.

But at least the arrival of the Cullens takes some of the focus away from Bella’s new friends, who seem to be trying to rival Jacob in the disciplines of wooden acting and supreme idiocy. To make up for the lack of likability the producers have cast a black and an Asian dude, which is not a problem, technically speaking, but I can hear a tiny voice in the back of my head that whispers: they only did it to get a bigger target audience. Also the black dude is hardly in the movie and the Asian dude is… eh… strange.

Moving on. Biology: the first, tragic meeting where Edward will learn that Bella is the one. Robert Pattinson is supposed to look sick and appalled once he gets a whiff of Eau De Bella, but instead he just looks sick throughout the entire scene. Must be his face. I grudgingly have to admit that Mr. Pattinson is probably a good actor, but I still wonder why the hell they thought it would be a good idea to cast someone as the Adonis-like Edward Cullen who looks like he was run over by a steamroller when he was two and then again when he was five. Well… they also thought the rest of the male Cullens were attractive, so maybe they’ve got taste issues.

Twilight deviates from the story of the book in several instances, and the results are mixed at best. Jacob pops up four times instead of two, and that is definitely a Bad Thing. We also get to see a bit more of Victoria and her buddies, which I think was included a) to introduce the characters earlier and b) to make the movie more violent and thus more appealing to the male demographic (if I’ve ever seen a lost cause then this would be it). Since the book functions (for a given value of “function”) without them showing up every five minutes, I think those extra scenes are just wasted screen time. Just think of all those wasted minutes that we could have spent watching Bella mope a bit more. Victoria and the others also seem to be big fans of parkour.

More things were changed or added. The scene in the greenhouse, which starts out pleasantly enough and devolves into incoherent babble, is all new. We get so see Bella’s mother, a character that is not featured in the book at all except at the end. More wasted screen time and the actress annoys the fuck out of me. But again I can hear a studio executive whisper in my ear:

The audience is stupid, how will they know that that’s her mum at the end?

Gee, exec dude, I don’t know… maybe because Bella says so?

Well, Verena, as you can see Edward is visible in the background of that shot, that will mean that the brains of all the female audience members will be on the blink again and you know that no straight guy will ever go see this movie of his own volition, so they can’t clear the matter up later.

Oh, I’m sorry, exec dude. I guess you’re right.

Right. Sorry. There are two more scenes that were drastically altered from what happens in the book, and I think I need to point those out for reasons of weird. The bookstore scene, which is already plenty strange in the novel, gets another coating of bad in the movie. In the novel Bella doesn’t even get to the bookstore, because she can’t find one and instead decides to wander off into the more disreputable areas of town because that sounded like such a great idea when Stephenie suggested it. And then she almost gets raped, Edward shows and rescues her and we all live happily ever after. In the movie she googles a bookstore, which is run by a very mysterious Native American person, because only mysterious Native American people may sell books about mysterious Native American legends, goes there, almost gets raped on the way back, Edward shows, etc etc, and then she googles the entire vampire thing at home anyway after she’s bought a book on the matter. Maybe she can’t read and needs to find pretty pictures to understand.

Finally, there’s the meadow scene, which is one of the few scenes that I halfway enjoyed in the book. Okay… that’s stretching it. But what happens in the movie is that the scriptwriter realizes that she has already spent too much time on Victoria and Bella’s mum and that bloody greenhouse and now needs to wrap several badly-needed character moments between Bella and Edward into one very strange scene. And I don’t really see why Bella needs to see right now what Eddie looks like in the sunlight, it’s not like he suddenly turned pretty or something. At least in the book he sort of makes fun of the whole sparkly issue.

And the running. The running. Argh! It just doesn’t work. It’s like that dreadful motorcycle sequence in X-Men. It’s atrocious beyond description. It’s… really bad green screen. Stuff like that only works in slow motion or not at all, filmmakers should have learned that by now. It’s all the more horrible since the overall effects used in Twilight are well-done. Good production values, remember?

Okay… moving on. Bella visits Edward’s family, a scene which just for once has seriously good acting by Robert Pattinson in it. I guess, statistically speaking, they have to get it right at least some of the time. The filmmakers are very considerate, however: they think of all those poor people who might, theoretically, only tune into the movie in this scene and thus think that it might actually be good. To prevent permanent misunderstandings, Edward and Bella go to his room and play Crouching Tiger, Hidden Vampire. For any of you who haven’t seen the movie and think that I have just made a really dirty sex joke: I wish. What happens in reality is that Edward and Bella re-enact that tree jumping scene from the above-mentioned movie with shocking accuracy. It doesn’t in any way contribute to me taking this movie seriously, just in case any of you were wondering.

Next up is a bit of pointless drivel between Charlie and Bella, more Victoria, a music montage (music good, montage bad) and… the baseball scene. Now, this is difficult for me to say, especially seeing that the baseball scene in the book was one of the more painful literary experiences of my life, but this scene is actually fun. It doesn’t have much dialogue and even less Edward, which both help, I guess, and so does the score by Burwell. It’s two minutes of movie. Two minutes of a movie that otherwise feels like it’s several days long and you’re watching it while sitting on a bed of rusty nails, and maybe the contrast makes the scene feel better than it is, but it really impressed me. It also forms the beginning of the end, which is a good thing, because the appearance of James and his subsequent vow to have Bella over for dinner cause the plot to get tighter. The end is nigh, and it’s a good feeling. Soon the pain will be over.

Just twenty-odd minutes remain. The book offers a lot of unnecessary complications at this point, plus a speech by Alice which I presume they wanted to save for the third movie, and the screenwriter has made the right choice and cut all of that out. We are left with a vague sense of relief and Bella’s simple and utterly stupid decision to go off and face James alone. But at least in the movie Edward isn’t, like, ten steps away from her, and this makes her decision a little more coherent. Just a little, mind you, because she could still tell Alice, who can sort of see the future. (That might have come in handy.)

Bella goes to meet James. Almost gets killed. Edward to the rescue in the last possible second. She’s already bitten. Carlisle tells Eddie to suck the venom out if he really doesn’t want Bells to be a vamp (perfectly understandable, seeing that he’d have to put up with her for eternity in that case). Then the movie loses me again. Edward sucks out the venom, has trouble stopping, almost kills Bella… and Carlisle just sits there, right next to him, and lets him continue slurping. One would think that it wouldn’t be too much trouble to reach out and pull Eddie away, right? Or maybe Carlisle wants to get rid of Bella just as much as I do, always a possibility worth considering. But let’s say that’s not th case, so why doesn’t he do anything?

Nevermind. Try as Carlisle might, Bella survives the scene, which is really a shame, because that will mean more movies. She wakes up in the hospital and mum is there. Luckily we know who she is, so there is no confusion about that, but we do wonder why anyone still lets Edward anywhere close to Bella, given the story they have thought up to explain all her wounds. Either they believe him, in which case he’s responsible for a whole truckload of shit happening to their precious Bella, or they don’t, in which case he likely as not pushed her down the stairs himself. Nothing makes sense, unless you believe that they all want to get rid of her too.

Not an unreasonable assumption, if you ask me.

Final scene and the next-to-last paragraph of this XXL review. The prom. Bella and Edward look very cool in their interior-design-compatible outfits, but just for once I can’t really complain, because that seems to be the point of a themed prom. Our two lovebirds retreat to a pavilion to do some serious dancing, which wouldn’t be worth mentioning if the other three couples already occupying that space didn’t leave immediately after Bella and Edward get there. Either the director didn’t want to waste time on a slightly longer buildup to the romantic dénouement, or Bells has really bad B.O. issues. You decide.

And that’s it, really. Is this a bad movie? Yes. Is it worse than Twilight: New Moon? No, I don’t think so. This one may have more drastic ups and downs in terms of writing as well as special effects, but at least it only has four scenes with Taylor Lautner, and he even keeps his shirt on in all of them. That has to count for something, right? Also, I registered Bella’s mope factor at 8 on a scale from 1 to 10 as opposed to the 34,7 that the sequel manages to field. The movie may be further from the original book that Twilight: New Moon, and not all the alterations make as much sense (in New Moon they positively elevate the movie to a new level of coherency) but all in all, if faced with the choice of having to re-watch either Twilight or Twilight: New Moon, I would put a gun in my mouth and pull the trigger. Or maybe I would watch Twilight… yeah, I probably would. Gun still sounds tempting though.

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He’s already mad, at least let him keep his pants!

So, on Friday we went to watch 2012. (Yes, I’m healthy enough to go to the cinema, so I must also be healthy enough to blog.)

To begin with: I like Roland Emmerich. Not because I see it as my patriotic duty or because he and me were, by some freak accident, born in the same country, but because I think he can be a damn fine director. Note that I say “can be”.

I loved Stargate and The Day After Tomorrow and 10.000 BC and I also have a soft spot for Eight Legged Freaks, which he only produced. But it appears that Roland Emmerich is a man at one with the universe, always intent on balancing things out, and so he gave us The Patriot and Independence Day and Godzilla. Balance. The good and the bad. The man would make one hell of a Buddhist.

Anyway. 2012:

The trailer was, to put it in one word: awesome. It had great music, it had pretty CGI, it had a giraffe. What more can you ask for?

A movie that is good. How about that?

Was 2012 a bad movie? Well… not quite. But it wasn’t good either. To come back to the topic of balance: apparently Roland Emmerich has given up on the idea of making good and bad movies in equal amounts and just thought “what the hell,  I’ll be more efficient if I just make a movie that has an homogeneous mix of good and bad scenes”.

Spiffing idea.

I won’t go into detail on the plot, since I don’t feel up to unravelling that particular gordian knot so soon after recovering from the flu, but let’s look at some specific character moments and motivations, just for kicks.

John Cusack plays Jackson Curtis, the man of a thousand coincidences. Not only does he either accidentally meet or already know all the major players of this movie (okay, so three of them are his wife and children), his character also constantly gets abused in most horrific ways by the scriptwriter (hey, wait, that’s Mr. Emmerich too.) To say once, and only once, that it would be a terrible coincidence for a little published writer like Jackson Curtis to make it on the ark ships and then for that guy to actually make it on the ark… well that is already pushing the powers of cliché to the breaking point, but Dr. Adrian Helmsley (played by Serenity-Evil-Übervillain Chiwetel Ejiofor) insists on repeating this line as if he had swallowed a broken record player.  Speaking of cliché…

Dr. Adrian Helmsley: Mr. Curtis, there is only one way to save us all. You have to go on a suicide death dive!

Jackson Curtis: Okay. Death is better than staying with my stupid ex-wife, who’s already smooching me although I let her current husband drop into an oversized gearbox five minutes ago.

Dr. Adrian Helmsley: Your sacrifice will be remembered. I have the president’s daughter with me here, because she’s black, like me, and she didn’t have any action scenes so far. She’ll do the remembering for me, because I can only remember one li… What would be the chances of Jackson Curtis, a little known author, ending up on…

President’s Daughter: Shut up. But I do think you’re kind of cute. Also you’re the only black guy in this flick that isn’t somebody’s dad.

Jackson Pollock Curtis: Hey… guys. I already said yes. Anyway… can I take my kid?

Adrian Healy Helmsley: Sure, of course you can…

Everyone (including the drowning Russian chick that the movie is going to forget about after this scene): What?!?

Jackson Samuel: Well, I thought suicide death dives were the perfect thing to build up a better dad-son-relationship kinda thing.

Everyone (including drowned and now zombified Russian chick): Oh, okay.

Michael Jackson and his son dive through endless tunnels.

(V.O. as they dive): Who was stupid enough anyway to build these arks in a way that you can only start up the engine if all the doors are closed?

Adrian Helmsley sneaks away with an embarrassed facial expression while everyone is trying to figure that one out.

Meanwhile under water on the death dive: Holding your air for so long seems impossible, especially since the movie insists on cutting back to the bridge of the ark for extended dialogue sequences, but they make it to the jammed hydraulics chamber. Bits of Gordon, the kid’s stepdad referenced earlier in this scene, are floating in the murky water.

Jackson Five: Gurgle blubber grargh. (Kid hold the flashlight so that I can see what I’m doing.)

Kid: Blubber, shlubber bubble gurgle. (Okay dad. Will do. Am I blue in the face?)

Jackson Curtis: Gurgle. (Yes.)

Kid:… (Has drowned.)

The ark slams into Mount Everest and everybody on board dies. Since the other two arks are full of multimillionaires, politicians, telephone sanitizers and hairdressers, mankind goes extinct.

Yes, anyway. That took a little longer than I thought it would. Back to the real movie.

I could point out other character and plot inconsistencies by the bucketload. Like the Russian chick that seems to be superglued to her boyfriend. At least he tries to ditch her twice in the movie and they always kind of end up together again, or at least in close physical proximity. Or the fact that the Italian prime minister chooses to stay behind with his people and face the coming apocalypse only armed with his faith in God. That’s Berlusconi for you, Roland Emmerich nailed him perfectly. Or… well, there is actually just one more character that I’d like to talk about.

Charlie Frost aka Woody-nobody-ever-gives-me-serious-parts-Harrelson. Now, here’s your classical mad conspiracy theorist. No one is ever going to do that part better than Mel Gibson in Conspiracy Theory, but let’s give Mr. Harrelson points for trying. Nice touches all around. And they even resisted the lure of having a motorcycle-out-racing-the-pyroclastic-explosion-sequence (if you’ve seen the movie you’ll know what I mean).  But, and here’s the thing that really, majorly pissed me off:

They have a character like that, who’s clearly off his rocker, who’s kind of funny and tragic and also a little heroic. And they have to ruin his last scene, his death, by doing a f**king ass crack joke. Seriously. Words fail me. He’s already mad, at least let him keep his pants on when he kicks the bucket.

So *takes deep breath* enough ranting. 2012 is, despite all its flaws, a good movie.

Okay. A mediocre movie. It didn’t make me want to kill myself. Jonas agrees. For all its faults it somehow manages to be decent.

With another composer and a slightly better script it might even have been a good movie. The right ideas are all there. And it even manages to look good, except for everything surrounding the suicide death dive, which is out-of-proportion bad. Come to think of it… a new cut, eliminating that entire useless last minute complication, would probably already save the movie.

This one will never enter even the top 100 of my favourite movies, but it won’t make it into the worst 100 either. I don’t regret seeing it. At least I got a review out of it. And it has a giraffe in a spacesuit. Sweet.