Sunday, December 07, 2008

Twilight (Catherine Hardwicke, 2008)

How'd it suck badly? Let me count the ways:

1) It runs for a hundred and twenty minutes, about a hundred and nineteen too long.

2) It's a vampire movie without fangs, crucifixes, stakes, beds recycled from used coffins, and spontaneous daylight combustion--in short, all the paraphernalia that marks a classic vampire movie. Watching it is like watching a Western without horses, or a comedy without a sense of humor.

3) Its effects are less than special--when a vampire climbs a tree, he looks like a chipmunk being pulled up by string; when running to the top of a hill he looks like he's being hoovered up the incline. And speed lines! Like in a Mutt and Jeff cartoon! If I wanted to suggest inhuman swiftness or supernatural agility, I'd take my cue from Gerardo de Leon, to name one master filmmaker able to work in the horror genre (see the duel between Ronald Remy and Eddie Fernandez).

4) A little romance goes a long long way; this picture heaps great steaming piles of the stuff with a shovel.

5) It features a lead actress whose idea of portraying adolescent female lust is to flutter her eyelids, twitch her head, and stutter like Eric Idle on a bad day. Sounds perfectly fine if someone had dropped an ice cube down her undies, but no--watching her antics, the word 'lust' does not immediately come to mind.

6) Its dialogue plays as if conceived and written by the living dead. People in this picture don't react the way normal humans react, don't ask questions or think the way ordinary folks ask or think. When saved from a sudden traffic accident the first thing our heroine Bella says to her rescuer isn't "Thank you!" it's "how did you get over to me so fast?" Yes she'd be curious, but eventually, when the initial shock wears off; meantime she should just be happy her ass isn't pancaked between two four-wheel drive vehicles.

Later, she learns from the object of her not-too-particular desire that he's a vampire--this after hearing news in the past two days about fatal animal attacks on the local folk. I don't know about her, but the moment I hear the word 'vampire'--don't care if it's a cute boy or Dick Cheney himself--I'd immediately ask: "were you responsible for those attacks?!" Keeping stake and crucifix carefully close at hand, of course.

Granted, we're talking vampires and their groupies here, but c'mon--you need to conform to normal behavior in a narrative film, or at least account for the flagrant lack of ("I was raised by apes;" "I'm an extraterrestrial;" "I'm a moron what lived in a cave").

7) Did anyone notice vampire guy's hair? It looks as if it had crawled to the top of his head back in 1918 and died there, and he hadn't bothered to wash ever since (reportedly the actor in an interview admitted leaving his 'do untouched for the duration of the shoot). Maybe the girl is a good actress after all--can't imagine her coming close without being knocked backwards by the stench, or at least wrinkling her nose.

8) It features a dismemberment scene which, while horrifying to contemplate in theory, in practice happens in the background and with little comment or emphasis, as if the filmmakers were embarrassed to admit to what's going on. Whitewashed atrocities--now that's something fairly new.

9) It isn't just a steaming pile of, it's a steaming racist pile of. Bella meets everyone from a Native American to an Asian American, and who does she choose to date? The Caucasian-American with Nordic cheeks and questionable follicle hygiene. Not just that; when exposed to sunlight, her boy toy's beautifully pale skin shimmers--God's gift to women, in a star-spangled package (talk about Master Race).

The movie does feature one black man, who plays for the enemy team (to be fair, at one point he does prove helpful). But no one bothers (or seems particularly eager) to point out that this black vampire is also involved in at least two previous killings (see above, re: whitewashed atrocities).

Have not read the book and on the basis of this am not especially eager to, but from what I've heard, all of the author's characters are white, and it was Hardwicke who chose to cast some of them from different ethnic groups. Problem is, Hardwicke only exacerbated the problem, not helped solve it (or was that her intention?). What Bella badly needs (and so do we, to ease our fears of subtexted racism) is a pair of black lips (or other appendages) sinking deep into her lily-white neck (or other highly sensitive areas). If Edward and his family had dark skin, I submit, it would have made their alienation from society that much more dramatic, romantic, taboo-breaking, even sensible. Not to mention downright sexy.

10) It's written by an actively practicing Mormon--which, truth to tell, is neither here nor there. I'm not particularly eager to condemn an entire religion on the basis of one work of art (can you imagine judging the Roman Catholic faith on the basis of specific passages in the Bible, sans context (Matthew 27:25 "His blood be on us, and on our children")?). Lino Brocka was a Mormon.

So--condemning a movie for being a Mormon propagandist tract? Can't do it. Bad enough it's emotionally purplish, romantically embarrassing, somewhat racist, badly written, acted and, most of all, hairstyled, but. Can't. Quite. Take. That. Last. Step.

I do think that as an introduction to the faith's artistic potential it's hardly the ideal picture; see instead Lino Brocka's Insiang (1976) or Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang (You Were Judged and Found Wanting, 1974) for a sample of what a Mormon filmmaker (okay, Filipino Mormon filmmaker) is really capable of.

11) Did I mention the hair?


Quentin Tarantado said...

I think you spent more effort on Interview with a Vampire. At least your opening lines are funnier (let me quote from memory, I can't find your original review online): I watched the movie and I couldn't believe my eyes. I rushed home and read the first page, and I still couldn't believe my eyes. The book, if at all possible, was worse than the movie.
Immortal lines, brother. Immortal lines.

Noel Vera said...

Foof, can't hit a home run every time. I like to think I've written a more nuanced appreciation of the Mormon faith.

Noel Vera said...

Oh, you mean this intro:

When I saw the film of 'Interview With The Vampire,' I was floored. I literally could not get the movie out of my mind. I said to myself: I had to read the book. The very next day, I hooked myself a copy, and read it. I couldn't believe it; I was devastated. The book, if anything, was even worse than the movie.

Javier said...

Hi Noel.

Thanks so much for your fantastic blog.
I would like to ask you a question about Mario O'Hara's filmography. Could you please give me an e-mail address or any other contact.

Noel Vera said...

Javier, do you have facebook? You can send me a message there.