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Friday, November 25, 2011

(Published in City Express, The New Indian Express, dated 26 November, 2011, retrieved from

Cast: Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner

Director: Bill Condon

Rating: 2 stars

By the time the director’s name flashed ahead of the end credits, my legs were crossed so firmly and my uterus was screaming “Not available” so loudly that I misread his surname. Long story.

You see, two hours earlier, I’d sat down in the midst of a crowd that was about a decade younger than I, and I couldn’t help wondering what the hell I was doing at the premiere of the fourth edition of a franchise that proudly labels itself “vampire romance fantasy”.

All I knew about vampires and werewolves was how to kill them – the first with a stake through the heart (my mother told me when I was six), and the latter with a silver bullet (my uncle told me when I was seven).  All I knew about the vampires of The Twilight Saga is that they shimmer and sparkle in the sun (a friend told me last year), and that you ward them off with garlic (that was one of the questions at Sathyam Cinemas’ trivia contest; I didn’t win.)

Before I sat down to write this, I tried to research the series to sound a little more authoritative, but aside from wondering how long a 100-year-old vampire that looks 17 has to attend high school in order to graduate, my only takeaway is that there’s this chick who likes other-worldly, dangerous creatures, and chooses the more viable option of the two.

But the movie seems to have very little to do with the choice of partner 18-year-old Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) makes, with the blessings of her cop pop (Billy Burke) and mom-who’s-giving-a-minor-league-player-home-runs (Sarah Clarke). It has strong political messages about abstinence and abortion. I mean, forget awareness campaigns – you want your teen kids to stay off sex, just take them to this movie.

First, there’s a wedding invitation. Aww. Then, Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) goes bounding off into the forest, changing into a werewolf along the way. He does this rather often, which begs the question, “Where does he pick up his branded jeans and close-fitting tees after casting off his clothes every time he turns into a wolf?!” For a movie with so much nudity, the filmmakers ought to have spared a thought for the hormones of an audience that largely comprises teen girls.

The dude can’t take the thought of losing the love of his life to Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). But he shows up anyway, and the vampire groom’s kind enough to give his human bride a few moments alone in the forest with a werewolf. No naughty-naughty; we follow the bro code here.

The wedding and reception stretch on, with a bunch of meant-to-be-funny-because-they’re-not-very-funny-but-they’re-simply-not-very-funny toasts eating through the reels. And then some vampire cousins face off with werewolf friends, before the newlyweds traipse off on a no-expenses-spared Brazilian honeymoon, which culminates in a gorgeous island gifted to Edward by his foster father Carlisle Cullen (Peter Facinelli).

After losing his virginity on the much-anticipated first night at the cost of his wife’s flawless skin and the bedroom furniture’s durability, Edward decides to abstain and play chess.

But his wife’s too horny. So they try it again – several times. Never mind the contraception, they say, because there’s no historical record of vampires and humans making babies. Really, now? Well, whaddyaknow, she’s preggers. And the foetus/baby/it – nomenclature becomes a subplot by itself – is growing really fast, and breaking Bella’s bones, and making her drink blood that Edward thoughtfully serves up in a milkshake container.

For some reason, this makes the werewolves want to kill Bella, and it falls to Jacob to save her. After an interlude that turns into something of a talking-animal-movie, where there’s talk of Alpha and other constituents of the Greek alphabet as well as an evidently important grandfather, Jacob has to choose between his kind and his love. 

However, this werewolf seems to have more of a hold on the situation than the vampires. They’re busy researching the internet to predict the fate of the bun in Bella’s oven, but since they only come up with Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare, one must imagine their brains are not quite as sharp as their teeth.

The dialogues trawl through transpositions of idiom in the creature world – “You’ve got my flank?”, “It wants something to sink its teeth into”, “You’re not going to have too many restful nights” – aided ably by bizarre vocabulary, such as “imprint” for “mark out for mating”, and contextual humour – “They say the first year of marriage is the hardest”.

This beautifully-shot movie has its moments. The opening scene of a flashback – the terror of Elsa Lanchester at the sight of Boris Karloff in The Bride of Frankenstein – may appear to be kitsch of the lowest order to some; but to others who delight in pseudo-intellectuality, as I do, or rate Bill Condon, as I do, it comes across as a marvellous in-joke: a salute to James Whale, an apology to the discerning monster buff, a jibe at Twilighters.

As if to heckle the high morals it has embraced all through, what with suggesting sex across species is a bad idea, the movie has a dubious lesson for boys too – if you can’t win Momma, gun for the daughter. What vampire romance isn’t boosted by incest and paedophilia? Of course, it helps if no one ages beyond a point.

However, one wonders why the movie has to be broken up into two parts, when it could have been a lot shorter than it was, and when the most intriguing sub-plots – the encounters with the sinister Volturi, the feud between a pack of werewolves and a branch of the vampire family – are trailers to the second part. There appears to be no good reason other than to milk this cash cow dry.

The Verdict: If you had the time and inclination to read the books, you probably do to watch the movies; otherwise, only go if you crave strange lessons in anatomy, and disturbing images of blood consumption and childbirth.


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