Wednesday, July 21, 2010

REVIEW: Twilight Saga: Eclipse

So, a lot of people have been asking me what I think of the Twilight Saga.  In case you've been living in a bomb shelter and are unfamiliar with the pop-culture phenomenon, it's a series of books, now made movies, about a teenage girl's love triangle with a vampire and a werewolf.  What does that have to do with this blog?  Well, the werewolf is Native American.  To be more specific, he's a member of a "pack" of Quileute tribal members who magically transform into wolves and are the natural enemies of "the cold ones" (vampires).  The movies include some Native actors with minor speaking rolls, sooo totally relevant.

There have been three movies made so far.  I've now seen the first (Twilight) and the third (Eclipse).  Both experiences were extremely painful to my eyes, ears, brain, and soul.  My review of Eclipse follows (scroll down to "The Ugly" if you want to skip to the Native parts):

The Good:
Well, since Twilight, the franchise has gotten a new director, and a new casting director.  The directing is... somewhat better?  Specifically, there are fewer just completely awkward moments and transitions.  The casting.. well, ok so they got the casting director from Dances with Wolves because of her experience in finding and hiring real Native American actors.  So Kudos for that.

More hotness: Jacob, the lead Native American character played by Taylor Lautner, has gotten even more muscle-y and basically never wears a shirt in the movie.  The "wolfpack", consisting of real Native actors, are also in better shape since the 2nd movie, New Moon, or so I hear.  They literally are never wearing shirts in the whole movie. (But they're only in like 3 scenes sooo....)

Edward (the lead vamp) never calls the ingenue "Spider Monkey".

Jacob lost that stupid wig from the first movie.

The Bad:
The effects are TERRIBLE.  That crappy stuff you've seen on made-for-the-sy-fy-channel-movies:  NOT EVEN CLOSE to as bad as this movie.  You'd think with all the money they made off the first two, they could have afforded some quality special effects.  I mean the wolves are positively hilarious looking.  And WHY are they the size of HORSES?

The acting:  Ok, Edward, played by Robert Pattinson, is not so bad.  Of the principal characters, he's definitely the best actor, though that isn't saying much.  Bella (the ingenue), played by Kristin Stewart, isn't unwatchable, but she is un-listenable.  I mean, she's got the angsty, awkward, love sick look down to a tee, but her vocal performance is totally one noted.  She stays basically monotone.  The worst part are her voice overs, which, no matter what she is saying, sound like she's on about a gazillion anti-depressants and just barely interested in whatever she is saying.  Jacob, our Quileute hero, played by Taylor Lautner, is just plain atrocious.  I mean... it is terrible.  I can't even explain how bad his acting is, you just have to see it.

The voiceovers:  uhm, so I have a real issue with voiceovers as a device in movies in general.  Usually, with a very few exceptions like Big Fish and American Beauty, voiceovers are a necessary crutch for a terrible script.  The copious use of voiceover means that the scriptwriter and later the director, were too lazy/untalented to come up with a way of portraying on film whatever is being said in voice over.  So, in Eclipse, we have a couple of instances of Bella, in voice over, telling us how she feels about this or that, when we should be able to gleen her feelings from oh.. I don't know... the acting and the action on screen.  A voice over every now and then is fine, if it adds something to a movie, or if it covers a long period of time, but when it is filling in for things like good acting and good directing... bad bad bad.

The Ugly
Alright, you've stuck with me this long, now you finally get to hear what I think of the whole Native American aspect in this film.  Most of these comments apply to the entire series of books and movies...

First off, let me complain about the main Native American character being played by a white guy (who can't act) who said this.  Ok, so there's a long history of non-Native actors playing Natives in movies and here's some of why I have a problem with it.  One, they are taking rolls from talented Native actors.  Two, black face is no longer acceptable, nor is eye taping for yellow face, why is red face?  Three, it makes viewers think that there aren't any talented Native actors.  Now, I could spend an entire blog post on each of those but I won't bore you.

Second, the real Native actors are barely in the movie.  Like, they have about one line each.

Three, and I realize I also put this under good, but the young men Quileutes are never wearing shirts!  What's the problem?  Well this continues a tradition in American pop culture that eroticizes Native men, see romance novels.  Ok, so isn't it a good thing to be consider sexy?  Well, not when that's your only representation.  I need to explain further.  In the story, featuring a love triangle between Edward, Bella, and Jacob, we get a fairly classic Romance-novel theme.  Bella must choose between the refined, controlled, romantic Edward (who is white, btw), and the impulsive, lusty, shirtless Jacob (brown).  In romance fiction, the person of color is almost always portrayed as the impulsive, lusty one.  Native Americans get the whole wild, savage beat too.  So, while it's great to be considered sexy, it's not so great to be though of as impulsive, not in control of your lust (Jacob forces a kiss on Bella until she punches him in the face), and hot-headed.

Fourth, the Native Americans turn into wolves for chrissakes.  Can we say STEREOTYPE?  Look, ok, we are magical forest creatures intimately connected with nature and all, and of course we are animal-like!  We're noble savages!  We imprint on people like ducks...  What the?  Ok, if this was a group of white people who turned into wolves then they'd be cool shapeshifters, but the stereotypes of Native Americans as mythical nature fairies adds another dimension.  We've already been placed in the realm of fiction enough that some Americans forget we really exist.. in like a contemporary way, just look at Peter Pan.  Not only that, but these Natives constantly possess many of the animal attributes of the wolf, like the aforementioned impulsivity and imprinting.  In short, this story paints Native Americans as closer to being animals than human.  It's a slippery slope back to when people of color were considered by scientists to be sub-human, and were treated thus by society.  I know that sounds extreme, but these can be the unconscious connections people make.

Fifth, oh for the love of god for some people this is their only exposure to Native Americans and they think we turn into wolves!  OH THE HUMANITY!

Sixth, the author of the books, Stephanie Meyer, "borrowed" a Quileute legend about "cold ones" and ran with it.  Now, the Quileute are at least enjoying a great deal of tourism, but they also are having to explain to everyone the real legend, and their real culture.  Suffice it to say, they do not have secret council meetings discussing vampires and turning into wolves.

Seventh, Bella gets to be the first ever outsider admitted to a secret Quileute pack council meeting. Why?  Because Jacob wants her to hear the story of how they became enemies of the vampires.  Now... why couldn't he have just told her that?  Why did she have to be the only non-Quileute allowed in on a secret meeting?  Because, Bella is SPECIAL.  She's soooo special that a vampire inexplicably falls in love with her, and other vampires want to kill her.

Eighth, what makes Bella special?  I HAVE NO IDEA.  She's an awkward, hipster-ish, not particularly attractive, not particularly smart, not feisty teenage girl.  She isn't a slayer like Buffy, she isn't a telepath like Sookie, she isn't super attractive and intelligent like Anne Rice characters that draw the attention of Vampires.  There really is NO reason ever given as to why everyone is falling in love with her/or trying to kill her.  This is why I can't call her a heroine.  At least they didn't adopt her into the tribe.


  1. Haha, I love this review Adair!

  2. ok, as a twilight fan, i can clarify pretty much every problem you have with the movie in your "ugly" section.

    1) not much i can say, but taylor lautner was probably chosen because he's appeared in other stuff, and teenage girls think he's hot (proof:

    2) the native guys don't have that many lines because they are not a huge part of the story, not because they're natives. in the second movie actually, the native actors were probably shown more than some of the vampires (edward's family), although still not that much.

    3) edward is refined, controlled, and romantic and jacob is impulsive, lusty, and shirtless because from a story perspective, could it really work any other way? if edward was lusty and impulsive and jacob was refined and controlled, let's face it, bella would never leave edward for jake and the whole love triangle thing would get killed... edward would plow bella with impunity and jacob would quietly jerk off to it in the dark before sulking away like a loser.

    and the native guys are shirtless because they all have nice bodies. any guy with a six pack finds a way to go shirtless whenever it is socially acceptable, no exceptions. hell, edward even tried it for a short time in the second movie, but he is pasty, hairy, his chest is about as developed as mine was when i was 11 (right before i hit puberty), and the makeup department probably got sick of having to paint fake abs on him

    4) i'm not a native american, but as a kid i would sometimes dream of being able to transform into an animal, and wolf was always in my top three, along with lion and eagle. and lions are not found in north america and eagles are undoubtedly the weakest of the three, so i have no problem with the wolf. if you had to choose a combat minded animal to transform into and wolf was not on your list, i don't know what to say to you.

    5) i don't think anyone is that stupid, but i've been wrong before i suppose

    6) in the movie the vampires (even edward's clan of not so bad ones) are portrayed as outsiders and somewhat evil, so the most natural choice for an enemy would be an indigenous group that is trying to protect their land and the people of the area. the movie takes place in washington. is there a better choice for a rival clan given the circumstances?

    7) see 8

    8) bella actually is special as far as the story goes... she is the only one that is immune to the vampires' powers. edward can read every human's mind except hers, and this is probably why he is drawn to her. and jacob probably likes her because to him, she acts like a huge tease.

    lol, so there you go. leave twilight alone! go team jacob!!!

  3. Hello anonymous,

    I appreciate you taking the time to express your opinion, however, you haven't really addressed ALL of my quibbles with the film. Let me take it one at a time again.

    1. You admit yourself that there isn't much you can say about the Native American lead being played by a not Native. Your argument that getting a known actor is also weeking, seeing as movies, particularly ones with an already established fan base (like say ones based on popular novels) can and do use unknown actors. Further, you do not at all address the problem of race-bending/ red-face that I brought up.

    2. I never claimed that the reason the Native Actors had few lines was because they are native. I merely complained that the Native actors got very few lines.

    3. Your argument does not address the problem of stereotyping Native Americans specifically as impulsive etc. There is a long history of this in cinema and literature. The problem reaches beyond the Twilight franchise. I tried to point this out by mentioning the romance novel, in which Native men are frequently portrayed as animalistic, often described as "wild bucks" and "bucking broncos". While I don't pretend to know what it's like to be a man with chiseled abs.. I have known plenty.. and they do wear shirts.

    4. The Natives could turn into eagles for all I care, they're still fitting into the stereotype of being magical and connected with animals. The "wolf" part is not even the point.

    5. I was once asked, by a college student, if there was a fence around my reservation to keep us in.

    6. I would prefer Stephanie Meyer create a fictional indigenous group (perhaps elves?) rather than appropriating (incorrectly) the culture of an actual group of people.

    7. I've missed your point?

    8. Ahhh, well that was never explained in Eclipse.. so I apologize. I still say she's an unintelligent, annoying, boy-crazy, average looking, wants to become a blood sucking creature of the night, little girl that no woman should aspire to be.

    Ok, I'll leave Twilight alone, it's not nearly as bad as some others (cough Dances with Wolves cough)... and of course I'm team Jacob too! (I totally want a pet horse-sized wolf that turns into a chiseled boy toy!)

  4. Good comments, but I always cringe when I see a variation of the term colored people used as you have done.

  5. Your comment on my use of the term "people of color" brings up many good points involving the issues surrounding the inherent arbitrariness of "racial" classification, and the problems with terminology that it causes. Look for a future a blog post on this and more.

  6. Claiming any sort of difference between "colored people" and "people of color" is like claiming a difference between "Indonesian people" and "people of Indonesia".

    One is a more clunky rewording of another.

    As for the wolves, they did look quite unreal. I was reminded a lot of the fakey Aslan from the Narnia movies. I wonder if the the same animation studio did both.

  7. That guy is about as "WHITE" AS oPRAH wINFREY.