Okay, so, I’d already been expecting crap.
(I mean CRAP.)
My SF-reading friends warned me. Reviews and discussions online warned me. I mean, even non-SF people had told me that Twilight was a bad movie, but when it hit theaters in Korea this December, I decided I would go and see it. It took me until a day or two ago to follow through with that.
And of course, it was crap.
(I mean CRAP.)
As Ben observed to me in chat a few minutes ago, the vampires in this film (and I assume the books) are not vampires.
me: I did go to Twilight last night, though. What a piece of sh*t. I knew it would be, but I had to see it anyway. (It’s only out in cinemas here now, so…)
ben: Yeah. It certainly looked like one.
me: like a piece of sh*t?
ben: My MFA friend Matthew put it nicely…”if it lives forever, has no particular need to drink blood, walks around in the sunlight and glitters, it’s not a vampire, it’s a f*cking elf”
me: LOL yeah. Something like that. The weird thing was, I found some element of my mom in me when I watched it. But you know how moms always say, “Wow! Look at that furniture?” during a murder mystery film? That was me with the Pacific Northwest.
me: “Wow! Look at the English-language bookstore.” and “Wow! Look at the snowy forest. I wish vampire boy would f*ck off so I could look at the pretty trees…”
That’s not surprising, since the author of the series, Stephenie Meyer, has claimed, in various interviews, never to have watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or to have read Dracula, or…
Well, really, what all that translates to is, Stephenie Meyer doesn’t really know anything about the vampire mythology, and isn’t interested in them.
(I mean, come on. I’m not very interested in vampires, but I’ve read at least a baker’s dozen of novels, and seen, easily, dozens of vampire films (good and awful alike), including chunks of several seasons of Buffy even when it was just running on TV. Sorry, but if you don’t read vampire novels or watch vampire films or TV shows, if you’ve never played a Vampire RPG, then you’re not interested in vampires. It’s not a sin, it’s just a descriptor. But you’re bound to write bad vampire books, if that’s the case, just like people who’ve never heard jazz before are bad jazz musicians, just like people who’ve never watched a ballet are bound to be bad ballerinas, and, well, okay, I’m going to take the point as evident.)
The funny thing was, though, that as I watched the film, I kept thinking about how things could, at just any old minute, become much more interesting simply if it were taken over by even a mediocre GM with experience in White Wolf’s World of Darkness games series.
For example, the fact that the Indian kid who Bella used to make mud pies with — he was totally a werewolf, probably an Uktena pack, and totally was on the edge of a Rage fit when he saw Glitterboy. That kid probably could have slashed the living crap out of the whole emo-rock vampire family: if indeed they were vampires, they were obviously a bunch of 12th generation Toreador poseurs, and Dr. Paleface was a hell of a wimpy local Primogen.
Then I was thinking about those geeky kids Bella hung out with at school. Like the Asian dude who met her on the first day — and who was, in every appearance except one –“Look, Bella! A worm!”, I mean, I ask you, what put that line in the script? He’s Asian, he’s not mongoloid! — cooler than vampire-boy. I mean, the kid’s a reporter, a DJ, he’s funny… and he actually knew Bella’s name the instant he met her. He was obviously some kind of Mage, though it’s been so long I can’t remember any of the Mage Orders from Mage: The Ascension (yeah, I’m old-school, I know). Seriously, though: it was so obvious that the almost-car-accident was someone pulling some bad ass techmagic curse crap on the car. (And of course it was a black guy driving. Couldn’t have a blue-eye making that kind of mistake and losing his license!)
Seriously, “Look, a worm, Bella!” That’s the trigger where Bella was supposed to awaken, to realize she was infatuated with a worm — a pale, creepy thing that could regrow itself if cut in half — and those geeks at school are some kind of technomage kids bent on helping the First Nations Werewolf Kids on kicking the crap out of the oh-so-quee fakeassed vampires.
Because, dude, they weren’t vampires at all. Not even Toreadors. They’re some kind of Changeling posers, with a Fae Inferiority complex. “Like, no, dude. I’m not a Fairy. Well, if I were, I’d be a redcap. Or a Sidhe, except that sounds like “she” and I don’t wanna seem girly in all this eye makeup, so, wait, no, um, like, no, see, I’m badass. I drink, er, well, deer blood. And I shimmer in the sunlight. Like that Barbie doll you covered with glitter nail polish when you were seven. What do you mean, vampires hate the sun? Burst into flames? Huh? No, hey, wait, I wanna drink your blood, but, oh, see, my sexy angst? See, I’m so hot for your…. er, blood, Bella!”
I could make more fun of the eye-liner, — I had a great line about comparing how much more he wears even than Bella’s white trash mom — but the bottom line is, if you think of Bella not as some skinny white high school chick in a cheeseball romance movie, but instead as a Player Character in an RPG — a role-playing game — her missteps become obvious. She’s human. She’s alright looking. She has no reason to go out and become a vampire, so until such point as Emo-Vamp-Fairy-Glitter-Boy actually turns her, the real key to adventure in this town is to hang with the more interesting Supernaturals in town.
The Geek Magelings at the school; the Werewolves out on the reservation. Or, hell, I bet Bella could even meet some really interesting Wraiths back home in Phoenix. Dating a vampire? What, did she pick character traits skills like Making Out and Smooching and Applying Makeup and Slow Dancing?
The problem is there’s no adventure for Bella. Bella is not a Player Character in this game. If you’ve never played an RPG, that simply means that she’s not a real character: she’s one of those cardboard cutouts used by the guy running the world, to get the interesting characters to do something. Bella has no skills, no powers, no adventures: she’s a thing to be loved, protected, sexed up, and hunted. The only thing she does is succumb to the romantic lure of her “vampire” boyfriend.
There’s plenty of adventure for her Glitter Emo Fairy boyfriend and his folks, but what’s incongruous is that, seriously, if this were an RPG, the player running the main character, Bella, would do just as well to leave her d10 (her weird RPG-gamer dice) at home, to stay home, in fact, and just get status updates on the character by text message on her cell phone. Bella no weapons at her disposal, no dilemmas beyond the one predetermined for her — how to fall in love with a vampire who somehow already loves you but is trying to avoid you? — and no real choices to make.
This, I imagine, is precisely why so many women who are just a bit older (and wiser) are pointing at Buffy and saying to younger Twilight fans, “Nah, honey, check this out.” Buffy the Vampire Slayer works well as an RPG setup because Buffy’s a character. Willow’s a character. Giles is a character. Angel’s a character. The character with the fewest useful skills (in what is an unmistakable reversal of the Gothic Triangle with the helpless female in danger) is Xander Harris, and even he comes into his own after a while.
Whereas Bella just gets protected, and loved, and pledges herself to a Glitter Fairy after, what, how many weeks of awkward silences and avoidance, and a couple of weird dates? Can you see Bella with a chain gun or a magic spellbook or, hell, even a set of fangs of her own by the time installment two of this series rolls around? No, you can’t. If this were an RPG, the player running Bella would probably drive the red truck off a cliff just so she could go ahead and roll herself up a new character with something interesting going for her besides what’s supposed to be taken as romance.
I know, I know, it’s a chick flick, it’s a romance, right? But if it actually were romantic — if there were something kind of attractive about that love-story plot — I could sort of overlook the trashed-out supernatural stuff. But the romance was amateurish, awkward, badly thought out, and actually downright off-putting, in a bloody drunken car-crash sort of way: I couldn’t stop watching to see whether it could get any worse. It’d be one thing if the vampires were messed-up but the romance plot worked. But the romance plot was all, “Oooh, he’s a total prick and that makes him mysterious! And because he’s mysterious, this must be love! Love! WUVZ!!!”
That said, something in it seems to speak to a lot of young women. The film was certainly popular, and when I was walking out of the theater, some young ladies — that is, college-aged women, I mean — ran to catch the elevator. My holding the door for them spurred them to make conversation, so they asked me what I thought, and I told them the honest truth: “It was TERRIBLE! HORRIBLE! AWFUL!” They laughed, and told me they thought it was prety good, that the vampire was cute, and the romance was interesting. Their English and my Korean precluded any deeper discussion in terms of, like, how the vampire boy acting like a total prick through most of the film made him attractive, or how Bella’s over-the-top melodramatic professions of love to him could be received with anything but a squirm, or the fact that the handling of the vampire stuff was just, er, dumb.
But what did come across was that the film spoke to them, and it spoke to them because of the romance plot more than anything. And that gave me pause, because in Twilight, the romance was all so cardboard and clunky and, well, in the film anyway, so unexamined. (There was none of the anxious, er, “step back and think about this, kiddo” that we saw when this plot was explored by Buffy and Angel.) But those two young women, and many more besides them, seemed to have responded to exactly that in such a positive way.
And I can’t help but think it should give us all pause.
Puzzled, or nervous, or awkward pause.