With the release of “Breaking Dawn: Part 2” in theaters this past weekend, the “Twilight” film saga draws to a close. Depending on your view of the “Twilight” series, this was either a sad day (because there will be no more “Twilight” films) or a day of relief (because there will be no more “Twilight” films).
The “Twilight” films, and the original young adult novels that inspired them, have been an interesting cultural phenomenon. The films released so far have earned an impressive $2 billion+ at the box office worldwide, and they have inspired equally passionate groups of haters and fans. Personally, the series never really captured my interest, but I don’t have anything against those who enjoyed it (though I will confess to good-naturedly teasing some friends of mine that are fans of the films). ;) Since the film series recently ended, I thought it would be interesting to reflect back on what’s made it so popular and what impact it has had on pop culture (and how long that impact will last).
There’s no doubt “Twilight” has left a major impression on the entertainment industry. The popularity of the books and films have inspired numerous copycats in the “paranormal romance” genre and led to an influx of vampire-themed media. Yet what made “Twilight” stand out? The concept of “Twilight” itself isn’t too ground-breaking. The “Romeo and Juliet”-esque, forbidden love plot device is well-used in film and literature, and the idea of portraying vampires as more nuanced characters than classic villains like Dracula isn’t new to “Twilight” author Stephenie Meyer. I think the reason the “Twilight” series really caught on is that it combined these two themes — forbidden love and mysterious, otherworldly creatures — and targeted the story to young adults.
I’ve never read the “Twilight” novels, and I’ve only seen a couple of the films (not necessarily by choice), ;) so I’m probably not the best person to critique the series. However, I think the reason it didn’t really work for me is that the films gloss over some interesting philosophical themes they could have delved into more deeply.
Bella Swan — the series’ protagonist, who falls in love with a vampire named Edward Cullen and eventually becomes a vampire herself — seemed a little one-dimensional to me. Her whole life appears to revolve around Edward and how much she wants to be a vampire so she can be with him. The movies never really seem to acknowledge what she’d lose by becoming an immortal vampire — she’ll lose a chance to have a “normal” life or career; she’ll eventually lose all her family and friends, who will age normally; and by losing her humanity, the essence of who she is and her personality will be changed forever.
I’m not necessarily saying I wouldn’t have had Bella turn into a vampire in the end; I just think the story might have been better if it had reflected on some of those themes. The story isn’t as deep as another famous dark, ill-fated romance, Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre,” which is one of my favorite novels. Jane Eyre is a much stronger protagonist, and the struggles and challenges she must overcome give the story a lot more emotional heft. While “The Hunger Games,” another popular, recent young adult novel, has a love triangle similar to “Twilight,” it’s a more powerful narrative, as well.
I also felt the “Twilight” films took themselves just a little bit too seriously. There’s a lot of drama but not much humor, at least in the films I saw. Additionally, you could make the argument that by romanticizing vampires and turning them into more benign, sophisticated creatures, you take away from what made more classic vampire stories, like Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” so interesting and suspenseful. Vampires just aren’t as scary or dangerous anymore.
It will be interesting to see if “Twilight” continues on in popularity, or if it gradually fades from the spotlight now that the film series is over. I suspect it won’t have the enduring popularity of film sagas like “Indiana Jones” or “Star Wars,” but that will depend on whether it captures the imaginations of the next generation of fans, or if it turns out to be more of a product of its time.
Like I said earlier, I have nothing against “Twilight” fans and their devotion to the series. I have plenty of film franchises I devotedly follow and look forward to the next chapter. I went to see “The Avengers” on opening night, and the crowd there was just as giddy and excited as “Twilight” fans on the opening night of one of their films. But I have to admit, it will be kind of nice to not hear so much about “Twilight” in the entertainment news media for a while. Or about sparkly vampires. ;)