Friday, November 20, 2009

What Is the Point of Reviewing New Moon?

I've spent a lot of time reading reviews of The Twilight Saga: New Moon.* For the most part, they all contain the same opinions of the movie, and I'm not remotely surprised by any of the reviews. In fact, I could have predicted the exact response of the critics, who for the vast majority fall far outside the fan demographic by nature of their sex and/or age. I will claim that without having seen so much more than the handful of trailers and clips circulating the interwebs, I could at this very second write a review of this movie that would probably sound a lot like those of the professionals out there, and not just because I've been reading the reviews ad nauseum.

I could have written these reviews six months ago.

The reason I could have written these reviews without even seeing the movie? I've read the book.

I go into this post admitting that a) I've read all of the Twilight books except Breaking Dawn (couldn't manage to finish it), the first two installments more than once, and b) I saw the Twilight movie in the theater and on DVD. I consider myself a realistic fan. I understand the appeal of the books and movies, but I fully acknowledge their flaws. I didn't drink the Koolaide and do not excuse the problems of the movies simply because RPatz is soooo hotttt or the issues of the books because the first one was good and therefore I must blindly accept the three that follow without expectations. But I do admit they have an appeal not unlike J.R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood crack. (That's another post - why girls and woman have responded so positively to the Twilight series.)

From the very second that Summit Entertainment determined to make buckets of cash off the best-selling books, anyone with a brain could have told them what kind of reviews the movies would receive. And nothing - NOTHING - they might try to avert critic-dispensed disaster would have solved the problem. They could have hired Steven Spielberg to direct. They could have thrown Lord of the Rings Trilogy-level CGI budgets at it. They could have cast Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt as the leads. Wouldn't have made a bit of difference

Because the movie is based on a book series that doesn't necessarily lend itself to visual interpretation without significant changes to the plot and the characters.

Anyone - even fans - who expected anything more than what the movie very-competently offers up is freakin' crazy.  The book New Moon was about the severe depression that Bella enters after Edward leaves her. That's it. 400-plus pages of Bella in a self-pitying funk. The best aspect of the book was Stephenie Meyer's ability to capture and show Bella's nearly-incapacitating despair and sorrow over losing Edward. But how do you translate that to film without it being immensely boring? And who wants to watch two solid hours of someone sitting around moping for months on end?

Well, okay, millions of fans of the book do as evidenced by the insane box office take of Twilight and the sold-out shows of New Moon. And that's all very cool. The fans get to have more of what they love and the movie creators make oodles of money, so it ends up being a win-win as far as I can tell. And I'm sure the powers at Summit aren't crying buckets over the dismal reviews because they're too busy reading the black ink on their profit statements. Nor are the fans contemplating cliff diving because New Moon won't be sweeping the Oscars next winter. They're too busy waiting in line to buy tickets for their second and third viewing and setting up Eclipse count down widgets on their webpages.

But I have to ask - why bother reviewing this movie? Why bother publishing a critical evaluation when it's a given that anyone who is not a fan of the books will NOT LIKE THIS MOVIE? For me, the exercise of non-fans reviewing New Moon is about the same as having an English-speaking person watch a movie in Swahili (with no subtitles) and then offering a review to English speaking people wherein they criticize the movie because they couldn't understand a single word spoken. Duh.

Granted, with all of the hype the movie has gotten there is no way on Earth that critics would admit that they have no hope of liking the movie and that they already know their opinion will have little affect on box office thus they're just going to give it a pass and leave it for the fans to enjoy. I give credit to the handful of reviewers who have admitted up front that this movie is critic-proof so what they say is virtually pointless. With the media domination New Moon has received, critics who don't review the movie are missing the chance to offer their two cents about the Party of the Century.

Doesn't matter to them that it's a sleep over pajama party where M&Ms, popcorn and Red Bull are the main course dishes and the entertainment consists of flipping through the latest issues of  CosmoGirl and Teen Vogue, giving each other elaborate mani/pedis, comparing cell phone texting features, and a Channing Tatum movie marathon. The average movie critic has absolutely no hope of enjoying him(!)self but he can't pass up an opportunity to slam those who might.

I do have to give credit to some astute reviewers who are owning up to the situation honestly. Specifically, I give props to reviews like this one by Clay Cane, who admits flat out that the movie works for fans - which is a very specific subset of humans - but otherwise fails. And he does so without insulting the target audience, which I vastly appreciate. Because my real issue is not that critics are slamming New Moon. See above: I admit I can't imagine it making a very good movie based on the source material.

I take issue with the critics and commentators on pop culture who are using New Moon as a stick with which to beat up on both teenagers and women. The fact that the movie has been universally described as "bad" yet still will make so much coin seems to validate the assertion that young women (and their mothers) have no sense of taste, are fairly simple-minded and easily pleased, and wouldn't know quality if it put its shirt back on and smacked them across the face. For liking New Moon - and showing up in droves for the movie - all women and girls are dumbed down to the lowest common denominator, the equivalent of those guys who buy a brand of beer simply because a hot babe in a bikini told them to via a football game half-time commercial. Doesn't matter if the story itself is two hours of watching paint dry, the female fans will be dazzled by sparkly things and the site of a perfectly formed male torso.

As I recall, the second Transformer movie was not well-received by the critics, yet it managed to pull in a respectable box office haul. I'm not about to reread all of those reviews, but I can't remember critics using this poor quality/huge commercial success paradox to beat up on all of the fanboys who must have shown up in droves to see the movie. The intelligence of viewers wasn't called into question, nor was it universally implied that people who went to see this movie only did so because Megan Fox's wardrobe budget was significantly reduced. Well, okay, the guy from the Vancouver Voice called it like he saw it.

My point is that critics - and the media - seem to feel no compunction about slamming teen girls (and their mothers) for liking something they've deemed cultural trash. Where do they get off with such hypocrisy?

Because the fanbase of this series is both young and female, critics arrived at the theaters with a chip the size of Pike's Peak on their shoulders. Of course the movie would be bad. Of course the plot would be silly and the characters stupid. I mean, just look at what kinds of people liked the book? What can you expect from something aimed at them?  

New Moon was doomed because expectations were so low based on the demographics of fans, and the law of self-fulfilling prophecy was at full throttle. Imagine if all critics who sat down to review the Lord of the Rings trilogy or the Harry Potter movies did so with lowered expectations simply because the original fans of the books were geeks and fringe elements or kids? Best they would have managed was a "what a pleasant surprise - I expected crap since culturally superior people like me don't read stuff like that."

No, the Twilight series - books and movies - will not stand the test of time to become the classics read in the English literature classes or studied in the film appreciation courses of the twenty-second century. But right now they satisfy a need of a certain demographic the same way movies have always fulfilled the needs the men-who-are-still-little-boys have for car chases that could never happen in real life and watching things get blowed up. Since its inception, Hollywood has been filling the fantasy needs of men without those needs ever being questioned no matter how shallow or ridiculous. Why can't teenage girls' needs be afforded the same respect as critics give those who simply cannot get enough of torture-porn or superhero reboots? If the movie is bad, fine. But at least pretend to have an open mind.

I will predict this right here and right now, then come back to check to see how spot on I was after the Eclipse movie is released next summer. Assuming that the movie makers have remained as faithful to the book Eclipse as they have with the New Moon adaptation, critics WILL NOT like the movie at all. They will find the plot random and convoluted. They will find the character of Bella dull and self-absorbed, Edward to have become a whimpy doormat and Jacob a bullying jerk, the love triangle between the three forced and silly. The acting will not have gotten any better, the special effects will be called sub-par, and even if it clocks in at a tight 90 minutes including pre-film trailers, the pacing will be questioned and the whole thing called overlong. I've read the book, remember.

And the critics will continue to marvel that such tripe (their words) could appeal to anyone and despair that this is what teen girls find quality entertainment. They will warn everyone that if you're a fan of the books you will like the movie and if you aren't a fan, you won't.


* The reason I've read so many reviews? I'm still looking for one that at least seems unbiased - something written by a person familiar with the source material, not pre-disposed to hating it on principle, yet who will honestly shine a light on the good and the bad. I have a feeling I'm the only person on the planet who'll be able to meet my specific needs.

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