Saturday, 28 November 2009

Not a Remake: In Defense of the Twilight Saga

Disclaimer: This is a pretty long post. I needed somewhere to air these views. I would love it if people read this, and massively appreciate anyone who does. Please do leave me your thoughts and comments.

I would like to state something very clear from the outset – I’m a fan of Twilight. I don’t think the books are well-written (far from it), nor do I think the films are good, never mind brilliant. But it’s a franchise I enjoy. I have no problem at all with anyone who thinks that The Twilight Saga is the worst thing to happen to recent pop culture. I do, however, have a problem with the utter vitriol with which some reviewers, critics, commentators and bloggers treat the franchise, and, in turn, more specifically, its fans.

I come at this topic specifically as someone in the horror community. Naturally, the horror community pretty much hates Twilight and all it stands for. What seems to be consistently ignored – even though debates about it always seem around – is that Twilight isn’t a horror movie. Yes, it features really lame excuses for ‘vampires’, cute looking werewolves and the most pathetic heroine ever committed to page or celluloid, but the inclusion of ‘vampires’ and ‘werewolves’ does not a horror movie make. This saga has never been marketed as a horror franchise. I do not mean to say that I don’t think horror sites should provide coverage of the films, but it seems useless to me to bitch and whine about these films because they’re horror-lite, when they’re not trying to or supposed to be anything more than that. The Twilight Saga is an epic romance (whether or not you buy into that romance is another matter). It’s a flight of fancy. It’s not horror.

What I find really odious about some of the coverage of this saga – and not just from the horror community – is some of the nastiness that creeps into it. I would be tempted to assume that an age- and gender-gap figures largely in this, but I don’t think that’s the case. Men, women, girls and boys across the board hate the saga. While I dare risk to say that some of the nastier comments come from men, I guess it’s to be expected – these are films aimed firmly at teenage girls. Men - young, middle-aged or old - aren’t really going to get Twilight, are they? Why would they? But men, whatever age, are awesome enough to remind themselves that hey! maybe a certain kind of teenage girl likes this sort of thing? If only.

I know, I know, I’m generalising. For the sake of my current argument, let me continue generalising for a moment. One of the most common complaints I’ve read in regard to the latest instalment, New Moon, concerns the amount of time the two male leads spend shirtless. Aw, poor you. You had to sit through one film which decided to linger over the male chest for once? You don’t mind so much when it’s chicks running around in tiny skirts or tank tops, right? I don’t mind the shirtlessness being criticized because a commentator thinks Robert Pattinson/Taylor Lautner/Second Werewolf to the Left isn’t attractive enough. That’s fine. What gets my goat is the utter hypocrisy of some reviewers who feel the need to bemoan the camera’s lingering shots of Taylor Lautner’s chest simply because they’re there because teenage girls will enjoy it. God forbid a teenage girl should be allowed a little decent eye candy, instead of the parade of T&A normally found in any Hollywood film.

Like, I say, this assumes that the reviewer/commentator is male, and I don’t want for a second to say that this sort of hypocrisy is present in all coverage of Twilight, be it by male or female writers. There are plenty of other minutiae that I could whinge about that are prevalent in the coverage of Twilight, but to be perfectly honest, it seems too petty to counter-argue them. My main point of irritation concerns the way in which fans of Twilight are treated in said coverage, particularly the teenage girls who so predominantly make its audience. A reviewer recently decided to review New Moon in a comedic fashion. Now, while I think some of his snark was spot-on, but tone was not. Firstly, he did something a great deal of reviewers and commentators seem to do – they assume that all Twilight fans take it absolutely seriously and are fully invested in the story and the characters. Well, sorry to break it to you, but we’re not. None of the Twilight fans I know – both online and offline – are fans who take it seriously. We each have certain characters we love, or aspects of the story we enjoy, but we sure as hell don’t believe that this is the love story to end all love stories. Yes, there are those crazy fans who believe Stephanie Meyer can write a better story than Stephen King, or who think that buying Edward Cullen underwear is cool, but every object of fan attention has its crazies. They might not get the same level of attention, but they’re there.

The second thing this reviewer did, and this is where my main concern lies, is, completely insult the girls who love this saga. Let me quote something for you which, although written jokingly, is quite indicative of a broader treatment of Twilight fans. Of Robert Pattinson: “the stuff fat 14 year old girls dream of” (Latino Review). Another review, more serious, says of a copy of the book: “noting in my own head that within the hour it would likely be scooped up by some pimply, braces-wearing seventh grade girl” (BloodyDisgusting). Now then. Let’s just take a look at this, shall we? What remote relevance does that fact that any of these girls who like Twilight being fat, pimply, or braces-wearing really have to do with the film? That's right, none. Words cannot begin to express how pissed off it makes me feel to read comments like this. As though teenage girls don’t have enough problems with the images of women they see on the cinema screen, they have to see them enforced in commentary of the things they love? If there’s one way in which I will defend Bella Swan – and trust me, I cannot stand Bella Swan – it’s that she’s not perfect-looking in the slightest. She looks great, yes, but she dresses kinda boringly and doesn’t wear much make up, she drives a pickup truck and trips over stuff. I’m far from being a fan of Kristen Stewart – lord knows I think she does a terrible job with terrible material in these films – but I would choose her as Bella a thousand times over, rather than a bland, flawless model-turned-actress picked up by a middle-aged, cynical movie producer from a construction line of countless equally as bland, flawless actresses.

But again, this, major though it is, is even beside the point. It’s the hypocrisy once more. “Let’s make fun of these girls because they’re probably not great looking and they’re daring to take a flight of fancy into a melodramatic romance with some pretty leads! But I’ll tell you what we definitely won’t do – let’s not make fun of ourselves because we’re probably not that great looking and we’re always taking flights of fancy into action movies with pretty leads!” To hell with that! If guys – again, I’m generalising, but this is honestly the impression I get – can imagine themselves action heroes who get the hot girl (who’s probably lost half her clothes during the course of the film), then why the hell can’t teenage girls imagine themselves as the object of desire for mysterious hot guys? The debate as to whether or not they are hot is, in this respect, irrelevant in my opinion.

The way this becomes relevant relates to the primary criticism of the saga itself, which would be a far, far more useful way to review the films. We’ve established almost everything about the films suck, yes? Well, what sucks more, is the completely unhealthy relationships between Bella, Edward and Jacob. More so in the books than in the films (so far), Edward and Jacob behave as unreasonable and dangerously possessive partners to Bella. As much as the feminist in me wishes the problem were due to the crappiness of the male leads, it really isn’t – the problem is Bella herself, and the way in which she responds to both of them, as well as other characters in the film. She’s simultaneously selfish and submissive; while she ignores and mistreats the people who clearly care for her, she hates herself for not being good enough or deserving enough of either Edward or Jacob. That Bella was written by a woman is an absolute embarrassment, in my opinion, and that is something that should be discussed and criticised – and in some places it is – not the fans who enjoy Twilight as the fantasy it is.

There’s a hypocrisy in coverage of the Twilight Saga that’s especially pertinent to horror fans, in my view. So, Twilight and New Moon are crappy films – the acting’s awful, the effects aren’t great, it’s kinda cheap looking and the dialogue is laughable. Yeah, well, guess what? We’re horror fans, for cryin’ out loud. Have you seen Friday the 13th?! That’s as badly acted and written as Twilight, and it certainly looks cheaper – never mind the countless trashy, awful films we all know and love: and rightly so. I do not understand how a horror fan can criticise a Twilight fan based on any of its physically crappy aspects – I don’t mean the story, here. Surely as horror fans, we can appreciate the love for something a little under-par? Having a passion for – uh-oh! – something generally disliked and mistrusted by the majority? Twilight might be insanely popular, but this is primarily amongst teenage girls or ‘Twimoms’. Otherwise, I think it’s become the popular thing to just hate on Twilight for the sake of it, but regardless, an opinion is an opinion and Twilight is an easy target that deserves its beatings. I think it’s fashionable to dislike Twilight. When it comes to judgements of taste and value, however, if you ask me, Twilight fans are in the same boat as horror fans – maybe not the best of shipmates, but I would’ve thought some tiny sense of understanding would be afforded them.

Writers are absolutely right to dislike, hate or criticise the Twilight Saga. There’s a lot to dislike and a lot to criticise. However, as a horror fan and a Twilight fan, as a rationalist and a dreamer, I would say one thing – leave those girls alone, huh?

Friday, 27 November 2009

Not a Remake: Short Film Review: The Return, Elli Raynai

The Return is a short film with a lot of ambition. It tells the tale of a teenager who runs away from home only to return – transformed. As a meditation on revenge and guilt, the film makes a lovely twist on the zombie genre. Personally, however, the one thing it truly strives for – exciting VFX – is the one thing that lets it down most.

This short has a great concept and a strong script to go with it and Raynai directs the action wonderfully. These strengths are only somewhat undermined by the shaky acting, but in a film of this budget such a weakness is only to be expected and does not distract too much from the concept.

So, the visual effects. I should qualify my thoughts on this aspect of the film by pointing out that I have issues with the over use of digital effects in horror (or any genre). The visual effects used in The Return are far from terrible, however, I dislike the extent to which they’re used. The practical make-up effects used in The Return are wonderful, and it seems a shame that more make-up effects weren’t used in place of the digital effects. Personally, I’d rather see slightly cheap-looking make-up effects on a zombie, than nice-looking digital ones. Instead of thinking ‘oh my god, he’s a zombie!’ in this film, I found myself thinking ‘huh, check out those digital effects’. This may be due to my own aversion to the pervasive use of computer-generated effects, but my point is thus: make up is actually there, a digital effect isn’t. I’m far more likely to believe in a less-than-perfect make-up effect than a less-than-perfect digital effect.

The Return shows a lot of potential, but a reliance on digital effects won’t, in my opinion, allow that potential to shine.

For more information on the film, check out the website: http://www.willhereturn.com/

Thursday, 26 November 2009

News: Remaking Remakes

Long time no-bloggy, I know, and this won't be an especially long post, but this piece of news is just too ridiculous not to post.

Bloody-Disgusting reports today that Dimension Films is planning on remaking The Amityville Horror. Getting a sense of deja-vu? Yeah, The Amityville Horror, that was remade in 2005 by Platinum Dunes. I honestly cannot fathom what could have changed so much in five years to merit re-doing the story. Along with the recent news that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre will be remade (again) - this time in 3D! - I'm starting to wonder if Hollywood horror has really, really lost its mind now.

The news about Chainsaw annoys me more than anything, because I do love that film (I would say franchise, but let's be honest - it's only #2 I love as much), primarily due to the suggestion of 3D being used. Now, I'm a big fan of 3D. I think it worked brilliantly in The Final Destination - because that's a silly gimmicky film making good use of a silly, gimmicky technology. I think it's used brilliantly in a film like Pixar's Up, because its judicious use makes for a wonderful enhancement of their already beautiful images. In the same way that the suggestion of the Hellraiser remake being in 3D annoys the hell out of me, Chainsaw just does not need it. Just because a film has a guy wielding a chainsaw in it, does not mean it's necessary to make that chainsaw fly out of the screen at your audience. What the first remake* completely failed to recreate was the sense of violent dread of the original film - Chainsaw is extremely violent, and extremely disturbing, but extremely gory, it sure as hell ain't. Another remake using 3D - surely the ultimate in visual artifice - is only moving further and further away from what made the original so, so successful.

As much as I'd love to think that re-remaking Chainsaw and Amityville is due to a dislike for the Platnium Dunes versions, I don't believe for a second there's any sort of dedication to the original films nor integrity of artistry involved here. Stories will just get watered down until there's nothing left, and what will they remake then? Maybe Hollywood will get back to searching out original ideas and not a quick buck.

*I almost used the phrase 'original remake' here. Original remake? Why did I even write that? These days, that's the most oxymoronic phrase I can imagine!