October 14, 2012

Twilight: Artists as Creators

Twilight, pp. 129-131.

Fittingly, Chapter 7 begins with Bella lying to avoid having to interact with her father. Instead, she goes upstairs and listens to a CD endlessly so she can't think. Yes, a CD. In 2005. Cripes, I had an mp3 player in 2005. Again, Bella is weirdly out of date on her technology, and it's even more absurd since she grew up in a major Imperial city. Meyer writes the scene awkwardly in order to carefully avoid naming the CD (*snicker*) or the band. I suppose it's better that way, since she would undoubtedly have Bella listening to Soul Asylum or the Smashing Pumpkins.

I don't know exactly what it is that Bella doesn't want to think about, but whatever it is, it's so bad that she's willing to listen to a CD (*snicker*) over and over again until she starts liking the music. That music, in turn, is so terrible that it makes her fall asleep and dream about Jacob.

"Jacob? What's wrong?" I asked. His face was frightened as he yanked with all his strength against my resistance; I didn't want to go into the dark.

"Run, Bella; you have to run!" he whispered, terrified.

"This way, Bella!" I recognised Mike's voice calling out of the gloomy heart of the trees, but I couldn't see him

"Why?" I asked, still pulling against Jacob's grasp, desperate now to find the sun.

But Jacob let go of my hand and yelped, suddenly shaking, falling to the dim forest floor. He twitched on the ground as I watched in horror.

"Jacob!" I screamed. But he was gone. In his place was a large red-brown wolf with black eyes.

Being pulled around by men...that's our Bella!

This dream is more of what Meyer learned in her creative writing courses at BYU. For those unfamiliar with what Meyer is doing here, it's called "foreshadowing", a technique in which the writer sketches out the rest of the plot in a couple of pages, clearly revealing everything that's going to happen right out of the gate so uninterested readers can skip to the end. Apparently, Jacob's explaining that his tribe of American Indians are werewolves isn't good enough for Meyer. She wants to make sure we idiot readers "get" that Jacob is a werewolf. I guess we can be thankful that she doesn't hit us over the head with Edward's vampirism again. Right?

And then Edward stepped out from the trees, his skin faintly glowing, his eyes black and dangerous. He held up one hand and beckoned me to come to him. The wolf growled at my feet.

I took a step forward, toward Edward. He smiled then, and his teeth were sharp, pointed.

Everything must be explained! No presumption of attention span will be made!

And why is the wolf growling at her feet? Is she standing on a steak? Maybe her feet smell like cat.

The wolf launched himself across the space between me and the vampire, fangs aiming for the jugular.

See, the vampires and werewolves don't like each other. Remember how Jake said that like 5 pages ago? You do? Because I want to make sure we're all on the same page here.

Now I've got it! This novel is Underworld fanfiction! Maybe I should start blogging fanfics.

Once again, Bella uses her direct line to the author to discover where Jacob is attacking. He leaps through the air, yet Bella knows not only that he's going for the neck but that he's going for the jugular vein. And really, "launched himself across the space between me and the vampire"? Go ahead, try to write a predicate more awkward. It cannot be done.

"No!" I screamed, wrenching upright out of my bed.

I know I keep going on about this, but this novel continues to amaze me with its bad writing, the way Meyer simultaneously fails in two different directions at once. Last week I pointed out the laziness of using your own experiences in place of research. But now, Meyer doesn't rely on her own experiences of waking up from a nightmare but instead gives us the old "sitting bolt upright in bed" cliche. Has she ever done that? No, she hasn't. No-one has. At least, no-one who wasn't being filmed by a hack director. I have at least one nightmare a week that wakes me up, and never once have I sat bolt upright. Neither have you. It's a movie trope, the lazy screenwriter's shorthand for "this character is troubled".

Meyer is such a lazy author that not only does she use a well-worn trope in place of character development, but it's a movie trope used because it's visually striking. Hello, Steffy? Movie tropes don't work in print. Again (and a small part of me dies every time I have to say this) the Twilight film is an improvement since it excises this entire sequence. And if it had been included, I don't think Bella would've sat bolt upright after awaking from her nightmare.

Twilight is not a good film, but I daresay it's a respectable effort considering the constraints under which it was made. The only way to make the film any good would've been to give it the Jaws treatment: Keep the character names and the basic premise and jettison everything else. The problem is, with the overwhelming influence of fanboys on the success of licensed films these days, that isn't an option. (And fangirls. We really need a unisex term for this!) So the filmmakers couldn't change too much, or the Twihards would revolt. Meyer is also successful enough that she was able to demand and get script approval, so the filmmakers always had her looking over their collective shoulder, shaking her head with disapproval every time they tried to make Edward more interesting or Bella less despicable.

I maintain a deep-seated loathing of people who give way, way too much credit to people who create a certain property. For these people, because Meyer is a good author (ignoring for the moment the fact that she isn't), she gets to have a say in how a film produced from her work is made, despite having no experience at all in the world of filmmaking. But it's her work, so somehow she knows what's best for it.

Now, I'm not saying that people who adapt other people's work don't have at least a creative obligation to respect that work. When I see an adaptation that's clearly just cashing in on recognition of the licensed property, I don't like it. Take the Michael Bay Transformers. Apart from the fact that it's a stinky shit-stain on the underpants of humanity, it's also a terrible adaptation of the Transformers. I'll never forget my seething rage when Starscream expresses complete loyalty to Megatron. In the original Transformers, Starscream was Megatron's constantly scheming underling. He tried to usurp Megatron at every turn and was killed by Megatron moments after declaring himself leader of the Decepticons. Now, Bay had any number of Decepticons to exhibit total loyalty to Megatron, and he chose out of the whole slate of characters the one whose entire character was not being loyal to Megatron. It was symptomatic of the larger problem that Bay clearly didn't know or care about the mythos he was working in. He wanted to give our Imperial military a vigourous handjob that had giant robots in it, and he used the Transformers name to accomplish that. This is also one of the myriad of reasons for my enduring hatred of the film Starship Troopers. Whatever you think of its merits as a film, it's contemptible because it utterly betrays the book (which isn't even that good), in fact having the completely opposite message. Jaws may have tossed out most of its source material, but it doesn't completely betray it; the film is still about a shark that terrorises a small island community. It doesn't expect you to sympathise with the shark and cheer when it eats someone.

"But Carl Eusebius, you magnificent bastard!" I hear you saying. "You just wrote a hagiography of Blade Runner, which completely betrays its source material by having a contradictory message! In the novel, the androids are bad because they're inhuman, while the film portrays them sympathetically and thinks they're equal to biological humans!" You're correct, my Firefly fanfic-writing friend! But the difference is that Blade Runner wasn't made to cash in on the novel's fame. The novel didn't have any fame. In fact, nearly everyone who's read the novel (including yours truly) did so because of the film, not the other way round. I wouldn't know who Philip K. Dick was without Blade Runner, and I'm hardly alone in that. And because Dick was a true artist and not a hack capitalising on the zeitgeist, he liked Blade Runner (well, the script, as he died before it was released), even while recognising that it had significantly changed his work. Dick was happy the film was good and didn't get all butthurt that it wasn't slavishly faithful to his work.* If you're not riding the source material's coattails, then you have more freedom to change things. On the other hand, if, like Twilight, your adaptation is being made to capitalise on the success of the source material, you have an obligation to at least not be a complete betrayal of that material.

But you shouldn't have to be a slave to it. Different media require different approaches. So a decent Twilight film would've kept some character names and the premise: A high-school girl falls in love with a vampire. That's it. From there, you could've made a female-centred version of Fright Night, and who wouldn't want that? Edward would be evil, scary, and threatening, while Bella would be naive, innocent, and vulnerable. But over the course of the film, she would get stronger and smarter, and she would lose her innocence. The end of the film would have her rescuing Mike from the vampire's clutches and killing Edward despite her earlier love for him, and, like Sarah Connor, she would come through the experience stronger but sadder, a better person but less happy for it.

But we don't get that. Instead, we get Meyer mother-henning her creation, and everyone smiling and nodding their approval. She's The Creator, after all. Nobody has the right to interfere with her creation, and so any chance Twilight had to be good is lost, like tears in rain.


* Dick also turned down $400,000 to write a novelisation of Blade Runner. (Yes, a novelisation of a film based on a novel. I love the entertainment industry!) He insisted on a reprint of the original book, not a dumbed down cash-in. This from a man who was once so poor he was reduced to eating cat food. That's some artistic integrity, right there.

1 comment:

  1. According to Myers, what she was listening to was Linkin Park.