Twilight: Quality eclipsedWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | email@example.com
Last fall, I wrote a column for Toledo Free Press in which I asked my fellow geeks if we could ease off on the hatred expressed toward “Twilight” fans. I got a lot of responses to that column, mainly from admirers of the books, thanking me for my support.
I hope those same fans will not begrudge me on writing this column on the movies themselves — why they’re not nearly as good as they could be, and how they could be better.
It cannot be denied that the films based on Stephenie Meyer’s series have been panned by critics, by and large. The first film garnered a mere 50 percent approval rate on critic consensus site RottenTomatoes.com. The sequel “New Moon” could only muster half that.
This has nothing to do with the original books, either — even the critics who claimed that they admired the original Meyer work found plenty of reasons to grumble and complain about the film versions. And those who hated the books, well, we can guess their reaction.
That lackluster response extends to the general populace, as well. The pop culture landscape is filled with people who either adore the “Twilight” movies or adore tirelessly ripping them to pieces.
But, hey, all art has its detractors, right? And despite the critics’ drubbing, both of the first two movies have done amazingly well at the box office, right? So, it’s clear that the fans themselves are loving them, right? So, what’s the problem?
“Is it high art? No. But it’s not trying to be.”
So said Melissa Rosenberg, screenwriter for the “Twilight” films, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. Over the course of the article, Rosenberg — a writer whose previous credit was working on the much-celebrated Showtime series “Dexter” — seems almost apologetic about her role in the pop-culture phenomenon.
Asked about the critical response to the films, Rosenberg responded, “It sinks in a lot more than the praise. It speaks to the inner demons that say I’m a hack anyway. I have to not listen to it.
“You’re not wondering if the fans will show up. They will,” she added.
But, see, that might be the problem. When you act like you know that a specific group of fans will support you no matter what you do, it really doesn’t inspire you to work harder and try to make something great. The impression Rosenberg’s remarks give is, “Hey, no matter what, the gullibles will show up, so what do we care if it’s any good?”
It doesn’t have to be like that. A movie doesn’t have to be “high art” to be great. I firmly believe that with a little more care and effort, it is fully possible for any kind of movie to satisfy its core fan base, and also appeal to a much larger audience. For an example of that, you only have to look to the series that “Twilight” is constantly compared to: “Harry Potter.”
J.K. Rowling’s books may have been written with a young adult audience in mind, but the richness of their narrative and characters, and her endlessly entertaining writing style, made them beloved to individuals of all ages. The movie versions of Rowling’s work have been well-received by critics certainly been better than “Twilight,” and the general populace has embraced them to an amazing degree.
There are plenty of prime examples from pop culture of works that held remarkable appeal for their so-called “intended audience,” and yet reached far beyond that audience. These are the works that endure over time. “Lord of the Rings.” “Star Wars.” “Star Trek.” Pixar’s movies. The best Disney animated films. “The Wizard of Oz.” All classics. All will be watched for generations to come.
“Twilight” clearly doesn’t belong in that category. The devotion of a rabid fan base is bolstering the enterprise right now. But in the long run, the quality of the movies will matter. A hit makes you money now. A classic makes you money for 50 years. The “Twilight” films are, clearly, hits. But classics? Certainly not. And if Rosenberg’s attitude is shared by others working on the series, that may be an indication of why.
You’re certainly not a hack, Melissa. But maybe you would be well served to listen to criticism every now and again.
E-mail Jeff at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com.