washingtonpost.com movies editor
Friday, November 20, 2009 1:00 PM
Washingtonpost.com's Jen Chaney took your questions about "New Moon," the latest film installment in the "Twilight" series, and discusses why the teen vampires-and-werewolves saga has become such a phenomenon.
Jen Chaney: Okay, I'm going to start this chat with a little bit of honesty, simply because I think candor is in short supply these days.
I wasn't technically supposed to be your host today. A Twilight blogger had planned to join us but had to cancel at the last minute. So you've got me, Jen Chaney.
What do I know about Twilight? I've read the first book and seen both movies. I've witnessed the fandom first-hand, both when Twilight made its Comic-Con debut last year and during a Fair Oaks mall appearance last fall when Bella (Kristen Stewart) herself sent suburban Virginians into a massive tizzy inside a Hot Topic.
I will tell you upfront: I am not an expert on Stephenie Meyer or the entire franchise. But I am eager to talk about the movies and the fandom. Because, weird as it may sound, I am an enormous fan of fandom.
All right, enough caveats. Let the vampire discussion commence!
Allentown, Pa.: FilmThreat.com's review summarizes my feelings on the Twilight hoopla nicely:
"As you can see, 'New Moon' is not for me. It seems like it should be. I'm a fan of supernatural stories. I was once a brooding teenager who dreamed of gothic romance. But I absolutely hate what Stephanie Meyer has done. She's reversed everything that Joss Whedon did for female empowerment. She's taken all the sex out of the sexy vampire. She's boiled the 'inner demons' metaphor down to nothing, and dressed it with a slightly condescending and bigoted sauce. If you liked the books and the first movie, you will probably love 'New Moon.' It's going to make a ton of money and Stephanie Meyer is going to continue to be lauded and rewarded. I know that there will always be bubblegum pop for tweens but this is so much worse than the Backstreet Boys. This is, to borrow a phrase from the source material, a lion in lambskin. It's intellectually and socially detrimental to both literature and cinema, simultaneously. The fact that so many girls will see this movie and drink up the messages like poisoned Kool-Aid depresses the hell out of me. But there's nothing I can do about it. You've already picked your team."
washingtonpost.com: Also from the same review: "I felt like I was attending a Barely Legal Chippendales show with my young cousin and horny aunt. I've been more comfortable staring directly into a stripper's backside."
Jen Chaney: This review is pretty funny. The Chippendales thing is spot-on. Taylor Lautner is shirtless for the entire movie. I hadn't realized that once you transform into a werewolf, you have to walk around in the freezing rain without a shirt from that point forward. But then, I am basing my werewolf knowledge largely on "An American Werewolf in London" and "Teen Wolf." So that could be part of the problem.
At the risk of coming across as enormously wishy-washy, I totally see both sides of the feminism debate that surrounds "Twilight." Bella does come across as passive and boy-obsessed and oddly eager to take abuse. At the same time, though, I think that a lot of teenage girls genuinely are like that. I know that there were definitely elements of that in my own behavior when I was that age, much as I might like to deny it.
I think that's both the strength and weakness of Meyer's writing -- she hits the preteen/teen experience pretty much on the head, in all its shallowness and self-absorption and, yes, willingness to suffer through anything for "Love." So it's not very deep. But if you're 13 -- or an older woman who sort of wants to reconnect with being 13 -- it has its appeal.
Personally, I don't buy that all the young girls who watch "Twilight" will grow up to be abused spouses or even see Bella's behavior as an example of how to be. I think they just get off on the romance of the story.
But perhaps I am being naive. You tell me.
Washington, D.C.: If they were completely original properties, divorced the books, what would you think of the movies on their own merits?
Jen Chaney: Good question.
I don't think they are particularly great movies. I think the second one ups the game in terms of effects and cinematography -- the scene in Italy where Bella races through the sea of people in red capes is particularly striking.
But story-wise, I liked the first movie more. Maybe I was more grounded in the narrative, having read that book beforehand. But it just felt much more cohesive. "New Moon" was all over the place to me, and too many of the scenes -- see: Lautner ripping his shirt off so he can wipe blood from Bella's forehead -- were just laughable.
Actually, I found myself thinking about John Hughes movies a bit during this second one. The whole beginning is like a bizarro "16 Candles" -- EVERYONE remembers Bella's birthday -- and the love triangle (friend vs. hot, dangerous guy) is very "Pretty in Pink" to me. Except, you know, with more blood and teeth and weird stuff about the Volturi.
Teen Wolf!: Does Lautner lead Forks High to the basketball finals?
Jen Chaney: Yes, along with help from his good buddy Stiles and the cute, reliable love of his life (though he doesn't know it yet) Boof!
Washington, D.C.: Rumor has it that it did $24 million off the midnight showings. This is a school night, parents allow kids to skip school at will nowadays? Or, are 20-somethings actually supporting this?
Jen Chaney: Oh, I think 20-, 30- and 50-somethings are supporting this. Which is not to say that some parents didn't let their kids stay up late so they could go as well.
Yes, a lot of the fans are young girls, and people in the media -- myself included -- tend to lump them all into that category. But the age range here is certainly broader than the span in your average middle school. At the screening I attended the other night, I saw plenty of twenty-somethings, as well as older adults. And no, I don't think they were all there with their kids.
Washington, DC: I can't explain why I love the movies and books. The writing is horrible (although the story itself is interesting), some of the plot points (esp. in books 3 and 4) make me either nauseous ("imprinting" for those familiar) or roll my eyes.
And yet... I can't let it go. I watch, read, discuss, etc. I want to be rid of it, but I can't. What is it about this? Any theories?
Jen Chaney: At the risk of sounding like a psychologist, I think I'd need to know something more about you to answer that question.
I understand obsessed. I am (obviously) obsessed with "Lost." During my youth, I was obsessed with everything from "The Wizard of Oz" to "E.T." to (sigh) Duran Duran.
My generalized guess is that there is an element of fantasy escapism here that is really appealing to people. And there may be a joining-the-crowd element as well.
If you got into the books, then realized a close friend also was secretly reading them as well, I bet you started chattering about them like crazy. Then "Twilight" became something the two of you always talked about, which made you share things you saw on the Internet with your friend, which made you want to find even more Twilight-related things on the Internet, which then made you join a Twilight Facebook group and ... well, you see where this is going. Next thing you know, your whole life has gone by.
A Thought Experiment...: Jen,
What would be the reaction of the public in general if a large portion of the fan base for a hypothetical movie was a bunch of 40-year old men fawning over 17 year-old girls (especially shirtless ones)? I have to imagine that Dateline and/or Chris Hansen would be involved at some point.
Jen Chaney: Ha! That's a great, great point.
I don't know if all of the older female fans necessarily fawn over the boys, although some of them most definitely do.
But let's not kid ourselves. There are certainly men out there who probably do exactly that. It's just not as well-publicized. I am sure some 35-year-old out there in cublicle land probably has some of the "Gossip Girls" as his screen server, and may well be gazing at them this very moment.
Which, of course, seems creepy. But a 35-year-old woman with a Robert Pattinson screen saver? Less creepy somehow. Why is that? Total double standard.
Cranston, RI: I've felt all along that the appeal of the Twilight series is adolescent wish-fulfillment--the gorgeous vampire recognizes the stunning beauty and wonder in the introverted out-of-towner girl, so anonymous and disregarded that her only character trait is klutziness. No shame there--Harry Potter, Cinderella, and King Arthur all were Ugly Ducklings, and they turned out all right. But I've wondered--would the book have had the same impact if the heroine had been fat? Gawky? Homely?--and yet the beloved of exquisite Edward? What do you think?
Jen Chaney: I think the book could have had the same impact if Bella were fat or homely. In fact, I think she describes herself as plain and tomboyish, in the books, doesn't she?
But as a movie? Nope, Hollywood would never cast a less-than-beautiful girl in that role. I think Stewart is pretty, but in a believable way. Like, she looks like someone that could conceivably be a neighbor or someone you pass on the way to your locker. And as
, her acting shows improvement in this one.
But let's face it, the girl isn't dowdy. This is a love story. And in Hollywood, those tend to star beautiful girls. Or beautiful girls that are allegedly "ugly" but clearly still look radiant behind their nerd glasses and frumpy clothes.
Team Edwar, DE: I loved Monica Hesse's article yesterday. I am a thirtysomething, happily married, professional woman who usually reads Philip Roth or Margaret Atwood for my fiction, and yet I LOVE these books. It's fun to remember what it felt like to be a ridiculously emotional 15- year-old again. The first movie was utter crap, and I fully expect that the second one will be, and I DON'T CARE. I'll be seeing it this weekend. Edward + Bella 4-Ever!
Jen Chaney: I loved Monica's story, too. And when it comes to the very intelligent, literary-minded, adult subset of fans, maybe that's just it: we secretly desire crap. At least once in a while.
I mean, it's tiring only reading National Book Award finalists and novels with layers of subtext and insight into the human condition. Sometimes you just want delicious piffle. It's okay to admit it.
Hamilton, Va.: I let my 12-year-old son go last night but he had to go to school today and take his test. I haven't talked to him yet but am sure he liked it. I liked the books, enjoyed the 1st movie, and will see this one at some point.
Jen Chaney: When you talk to him, ask him how he did on that test!
It's interesting to hear that a boy really wanted to go opening night since, again, all we stereotyping media types tend to assume this is strictly a girl thing.
What does your son like about the books/movies? Do you guys talk about them together?
Fairfax, Va.: I am a mid twenties female who loves the "Twilight" series as well. I do not think they are great literary works or have great characters but there was just something about the story that is very addicting. I pretty much like all vampire stories from Dracula to Buffy to Angel to Anita Blake and the Sookie Stackhouse series ("True Blood").
I like all the latter better than Twilight but they were not as addicting but more entertaining for the long haul. It is just really hard to explain. I do not consider myself obsessed but I will be seeing the movie this weekend with great anticipation. I kinda compare it to soap operas. So bad but yet entertaining.
Jen Chaney: Soap opera is a good analogy for sure.
And that's pure escapism that becomes very addictive.
One thing I will say for "New Moon": it ends in a way that, if you're into the romance, does make you want more.
Re: Total double standard: I think the older-man scenario seems creepier because society still has a power imbalance between the genders, and the older-woman scenario doesn't seem as much like an abuse of power. That's my theory, anyway.
Jen Chaney: Exactly right.
Well, we explained that inconsistency very succinctly. Next up: we solve the equal-pay-for-equal-work conundrum!
Bethesda, Md.: " I am sure some 35-year-old out there in cublicle land probably has some of the "Gossip Girls" as his screen server, and may well be gazing at them this very moment."
I'm not gazing at them this very moment, I'm reading your chat!
Jen Chaney: I stand corrected.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is a man who obviously has his priorities straight.
New Orelans: I am a 50-something male who had never heard of this Twilight thing before yesterday's article in the Post. A quick survey of the females (in their 30s & 40s)I work with revealed that all knew of it, as well as did their daughters. About half were going to see New Moon with their sisters, daughters or combination of both. My daughters in their 20s are going on Sunday. (To an over-21 theater so they don't have to put up with screaming 15-year-olds.)
As my younger daughter put it, it is about the romance, who cares about the werewolfs and vampires. She said it is the BIG thing in the general female community of all ages for the next month or so...
Wow! And I missed this all!
Jen Chaney: Well, now that you have some idea of what the craze is about, you can have long talks with your daughters in which you analyze the merits of siding with Team Edward or Team Jacob. I am sure you can't wait!
It is indeed "the big thing." You pretty much can't escape Twilight right now, although somehow you managed to do it for longer than most of us could. Kudos, my friend.
Maryland: Do you see any similarities between "Twilight" and "Titanic," particularly since that movie also had many young teenage girls as fans? "Titanic" seemed manipulative to me, like an attempt to program the audience's emotional responses. That's what I've always resented about action movies, where the manipulation involves pitting pure good against pure evil. Do you see any such manipulation going on with "Twilight"? I guess I prefer movies where the characters have to earn the audience's emotional responses.
Jen Chaney: Interesting question, and a connection I hadn't considered. But a valid one in some ways.
First, I must 'fess up: I really liked "Titanic." And I also feel the same sort of "Twilight" shame about it that Monica Hesse described in her article yesterday. I know it's manipulative, I know the characters are pretty one-dimensional. But so help me, did I bawl when poor Leo let go of Kate's hand and drifted off into the abyss.
With "Twilight," I would say that, for much of the audience, these characters already have earned emotional responses via the books. If you haven't read them and you see the movies without that background knowledge, I think it is harder to care about what happens to them.
And to expand on that point, there is definitely manipulation in the movies based on the fandom that exists. I mean, when Robert Pattinson enters the film by walking across a parking lot, in slow-motion, while wind whips through his Banana Republic button-down, it's hard not to realize you're being manipulated.
I think the Twilight loyalists love that, though. It's almost as if Chris Weitz knows that's what they want, and by delivering it to them, he's implying that he gets it.
I have to admit that I got a kick out of the screams that erupted at the Uptown during that moment (and others). There's something genuinely joyful in watching people go nuts over a movie or TV show or other piece of pop culture, even when it's not something I particularly love. I am fascinated by people's fervor.
Arlington, Va.: If you were Robert Pattinson's agent, what role would you recommend he take next? He has to play a serial killer or a mental patient (I'm thinking Brad Pitt in "13 Monkeys" here) to avoid being typecast for the rest of his career, right?
Jen Chaney: Actually, I wouldn't go serial killer. I think Pattinson could benefit from starring in a comedy.
In some of his interviews, and when I met him at Comic-Con last year, I sensed a wryness in him that clearly has not been tapped in the "Twilight" movies. (He's too busy brooding, like, super-intensely, to be funny.)
But a comedy -- something in which he even makes fun of himself a little, but not in a "Scary Movie 4" kind of way -- could be a good move.
New Orelans: I called younger daughter. She is a Team Edward gal and her older sister is a Team Jacob gal. My wife is not on a team but says Edward is "handsome and cute, very cute."
So I guess will have to mediate when we are all together at Christmas!
Breaks my heart I have missed so much! (ha!ha!)
Jen Chaney: I love it!
"Hi, honey. Quick question for you: Team Edward or Team Jacob? Edward? Okay. Nope, that's all I needed. Love you!"
And don't kid yourself: this Thanksgiving, families may well be torn asunder by Team Edward/Team Jacob arguments.
("If you don't like Edward and refuse to embrace his passionate ways, then fine! I refuse to eat your pumpkin pie!")
Which one is Edward and which is Jacob?: I'm a dude. My wife isn't even into this stuff (thank god), but some of the older ladies at work are, which is how I found out about it in the first place, before the Burger King Commercials...
That said is Edward the Vampire and Jacob the Wereworlf, or Vice-Versa? I'm getting the vibe that Edward (assuming the vampire) is the Jack to Jacob's Sawyer, competeing over the love of Bella's Kate?
Who is Dakota Fanning in "Lost" terms? Is she more of a Sun or a Juliet, perhjaps a Penny?
Jen Chaney: Oh, bless you for trying to bring this all back to "Lost." That's the kind of thinking we need more of in this great land of ours.
To answer your question: Edward is the vampire and Jacob -- spoiler alert, kinda -- is the werewolf. And the Jack/Sawyer analogy is sort of right, except that Jack and Sawyer are more complicated characters so I'm hesitant to say Jack is exactly like Jacob. For starters, Jack wears shirts with much greater frequency. (Jacob is more like Sawyer in this regard.)
But he is "the decent guy," while Edward is more "the bad guy." But Edward is much more intense and brooding and kinda weird sometimes. Put it this way: Edward's a Morrissey song, whereas Sawyer's all Foghat.
As for Dakota, she's barely in the movie so I am hesitant to compare her to anyone just yet.
Gburg: Gotta say, I'm 35 male, married 1 kid. I did enjoy the first movie. A bit slow, but it kind of worked.
My wife got me to read the second book last month when we were on vacation.
The brooding that goes on is spot on. I swear for 3/4 of the book she just sits around thinking how much she "loves" Edward, but then there is the werewolf guy Jacob, who she has affection for ... loves like a brother.
"Gag me with a Spoon"
I felt like stabbing myself ...
Jen Chaney: Well, surely you earned points for trying to read it, and for enjoying the first one.
I was thinking while watching "New Moon" the other night that there is no way my husband could have tolerated it. He leaves the room after two perfectly entertaining moments in an episode of "Glee." He wouldn't last two seconds in "Twilight"-land.
And with that said, I must sign off. It's been a pleasure discussing Edward, Jacob and all the rest. And remember, with "New Moon" madness now officially sweeping the nation this weekend, things could get a little intense at the cineplex. So Cullen-lovers, let's be careful out there.
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