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The Year in TV: Part 1

The Vampire Diary

Did we send a single, 25-year-old Twilight newbie to watch all of the movies in a row? Yes, yes we did.

It was raining in Los Angeles last Thursday morning. The drops fell as steadily as they ever do here, but even walking through an open-air mall, I was glad. Rarely does the weather pull me into movie theaters anymore, but considering I was about to spend the next 12 hours in one, I preferred it to be dreary out. Oh, especially if those 12 hours were reserved for all five Twilight movies.

I’m not unfamiliar with movie-watching stunts, and when my editors figured out that the opening of Breaking Dawn — Part 2 would be accompanied by a marathon of the first four films, my fate was sealed. The idea, like others have had in the past week or so, is that I’d lose my Twilight virginity, but I’d do it all at once. All five movies, in succession, to see just how quickly one can become a Twi-hard.

The mall was mostly empty when I got there at 11:30 a.m., and the only other people on the slick paths were trying to sell me beauty products. The theater reserved for the marathon was on the lower floor of the AMC at the shopping center’s west end. Before going down the escalator, I exchanged half my ticket for a fancy lanyard that would act as my pass for the rest of the day. Overlaid on a dark background of all the movies’ posters was a clear piece of thin plastic listing the start time for each movie. Below was the slogan for the day’s events: “I survived five immortal films.” That seemed a bit optimistic.

I walked inside and surveyed the crowd. There were four other men. The theater was a little less than half full, and I took my seat in the last row of the front section. I hadn’t left much time before the start of the first movie, and within a few minutes, a featurette with three actors I’d never seen before popped onto the screen. The lights went down shortly after, and as the opening titles started, so did the cheers. They sounded more like something from a rock concert than the squeal of teenage girls, but they were there, and they were loud. There was no going back.

Twilight

Aside from the deer being chased through the forest and the voice-over about dying in the place of someone you love, Twilight starts like most teen movies. Bella is a 17-year-old girl who lives in Phoenix with her mom and stepdad. His job as a minor league baseball player means a lot of travel, and they’ve decided that it’s best for Bella to spend some time living with her dad in Washington. Charlie, as she calls him, is the police chief in a town of about 3,000 called Forks, and, if you can imagine, he just doesn’t get teenage girls. (“Your hair’s longer.” “I cut it since the last time I saw you.” “Oh.”)

I’ve seen this movie before, but if there’s any indication of how little I remember, it came about two minutes in, when Taylor Lautner shows up as the long-haired, 15-year-old Jacob, who doesn’t yet look like 2004 Barry Bonds. I know of the Edward-Jacob situation, but my understanding was that it came much later. We were about 1/300th of the way in, and I was already confused.

Anyway, Jacob’s dad is a friend of Charlie’s, and sells him a beat-up old truck that Bella drives to school. All the kids (including Anna Kendrick! Who knew Anna Kendrick was in these movies? Besides every girl in the world under 15?) are surprisingly friendly, and soon Bella’s at lunch learning what’s up in Forks. That’s about when the vampires come in.

The Cullens are all foster-siblings who look 30, are extremely pale, and date each other. Only the last one seems to be an issue during Anna Kendrick’s rundown. As I went to jot the details of the love rectangle (“Hulk with blonde,” “Short-haired brunette with Blondward Scissorhands“), the entire theater screamed. “That’s Edward Culllen,” Anna Kendrick said as Robert Pattinson walked into the cafeteria. “He’s totally gorgeous, obviously.” Obviously.

Standard romantic movie tropes follow. The mysterious boy acts as though he doesn’t like the girl only because he really likes the girl. Except this time, liking the girl is a product both of craving her blood and not being able to read her mind. Before admitting any of this, Edward manages to stop a careering car with one hand just as it’s about to crush Bella in a parking lot. Being the observant girl she is, this raises a few questions. Eventually, after a few more run-ins and some deep Googling, Bella has an epiphany ending with Pattinson in Peter Murphy makeup and sucking her blood — Edward Cullen is a vampire.

He admits as much during a scene in the forest that included enough blatant sexual overtones to make me a little embarrassed to be in the company of others. Along with lines about her scent being a drug, there’s more lip-quivering going on than I thought possible. Until that point, aside from the blatancy of the red lips and the pale complexion, I hadn’t seen much of the widely recognized notion that these movies are about virginity. No worries, though. I get it now.

Because a movie needs some semblance of conflict beyond lip pouts, a group of rogue vampires starts terrorizing the townsfolk and eventually confronts the Cullens following a family game of vampire baseball in which they all dress like the cast of Eight Men Out. One of the vampires decides that he needs Bella’s blood, and an interstate pursuit begins. It all ends with the dude getting ripped limb-from-limb and burned in a ballet studio, but let’s not forget the real problem at hand here: Bella and Edward are in love, but just how are they going to end up together?

New Moon

The first suspicious look I noticed came at about 2 p.m., just before the second movie was about to start. I’d just settled back into my seat after grabbing lunch during the half-hour break when I caught two girls in my row peeking at me before turning to each other and giggling. Apparently, a 25-year-old man can’t enjoy a Twilight marathon by himself anymore.

I’d been surprisingly unoffended by the first movie, and I figured whatever my thoughts were the first time I’d seen it were likely a product of being 21 and reacting like I thought I was supposed to. For a few minutes, I let myself think that this entire exercise wouldn’t be as bad as I’d feared.

Then the second movie started.

New Moon opens on Bella’s 18th birthday, about which she spends the entire first 20 minutes freaking out because she’s now one year older than Edward and oh no he doesn’t age and he’s not going to love her when she’s old and wrinkly and he’s still 17 and why won’t he just change her into a vampire already so they can be together for eternity. I get that they’re in love, and everything happening between 18-year-olds is the most important thing that will ever happen to anyone, but they can never seem to just chill. It doesn’t seem healthy.

The whole mortal/immortal problem comes to a head at Bella’s birthday party at Casa de Cullen, where a paper cut sends a drop of her blood to the floor and Blondward Scissorhands into a murderous frenzy. The resulting chaos is enough for Edward to conclude that Bella just isn’t safe around him, and that the family has to leave town.

Bella is obviously crestfallen, and what follows is about 80 percent her lying in bed screaming and 20 percent her sitting in a chair as a Lykke Li song plays and the seasons slowly change. Again, there just isn’t a lot of chilling going on.

Eventually, Bella (sort of) digs out of this depression and learns that if she puts herself in danger, a weird Obi-Wan Cullen thing happens where Edward creepily floats alongside and tells her to take it easy. This leads to some time with motorcycles: First she’s on the back of one with a (possibly murderous) stranger, and then later she’s convincing Jacob to work on a couple of old bikes for her. And the Jacob-Edward feud begins!

I found myself torn between Teams Edward and Jacob as the movie went on. Jacob’s got it pretty tough here. Not only is he dealing with the perilous spot of being emotionally available for a girl while she’s getting over a breakup, he’s doing it while learning that he’s actually a werewolf who’s been battling that other dude’s kind for centuries. Being relegated to both the friend and werewolf zones can be a lot for a 16-year-old kid.

Jacob does his best to prove that he’s really the down-home sort of guy Bella belongs with. Mostly because, well … she doesn’t have to become a soulless demon for him. It all falls on deaf ears, though, and in one last-ditch effort to see Obi-Wan Cullen, Bella dives off a cliff into the ocean. Thinking she’s dead, and carrying on the very not-subtle Romeo and Juliet references throughout this installment, Edward tries to convince a group of elder vampires to kill him. Then there’s a stolen Ferrari, and Wesley from 30 Rock, a clock tower in Italy, Demon Dakota Fanning (possibly redundant), and Robert Pattinson’s really weird chest hair. In order to escape destruction at the hands of the Volturi (creepy elder vampires led by Wesley) and keep their secrets hidden, Pattinson promises to turn Bella into a vampire. No one dies, and Pattinson, who is supposedly 108 years old, asks Bella to marry him.

The credits rolled, and I stumbled, disoriented, out of the theater like Bella staggering through the forest. It wasn’t one of the five worst movies I’ve ever seen, but it was one of the 10 worst, and the thought of six more hours had become more horrifying than Demon Dakota Fanning. For the record, Demon Dakota Fanning is fucking terrifying. Hollywood’ll do that to a child actor who’s in the game too long.

Eclipse

If Kristen Stewart’s night terrors didn’t suffice, the break between movies two and three presented a scenario surreal enough to last me a while. When riding the escalator from the lower floor to the main lobby at the Century City AMC, the angle of the theater’s two-story glass windows makes it so that only a small portion of a large display of actor photos lining the upper portion of the back wall is visible in the reflection. The most prominent photo in that small section is of Halle Berry accepting her Oscar. Riding up to get a cup of coffee, I was looking at it when I noticed a woman in sunglasses on the descending escalator next to me. It was Halle Berry. And in that moment, I was sure that Twilight had somehow taken me to another dimension. One in which Academy Award winners could be conjured from thin air to silently mock me during my quest.

The first thing I noticed when Eclipse started was how much better the movie looked. The CGI’d werewolves never got any better, but the first few scenes looked much crisper than those of the movie’s predecessors. Because Pattinson was back in town spending most of his time re-asking Bella to marry him, the action in Part 3 shifted from his intense brooding to an enemy army of newly turned vampires. I think we can all agree that a werewolf-vampire alliance against an army of man-eating demons is more agreeable than watching Count Sulk-ula’s fangs quiver, and it wasn’t long before I was enjoying myself. When Lautner drove up to relieve Pattinson of his shift on Bella’s security detail, I laughed along with everyone else when Edward asked whether he owned a shirt.

Of the things that surprised me about the Twilight movies, how much I laughed surprised me most. Much of the comedy was unintentional, but enough of it was with purpose. The best piece of casting probably goes to Bella’s dad, whose flat affect was ideal when the mood needed lightening — which, if you can imagine, was always.

There weren’t many surprises in the lead-up to the Final Showdown: Blondward Scissorhands was actually a Confederate soldier who’d previously created his own vampire army; Edward refuses to have sex with Bella because they’re not married, he was born in 1900, and that’s just how they got down in ye olden times; and the opposition army was actually put together by Bryce Dallas Howard, who plays the vampire girlfriend of the dude who wanted to eat Bella in the first movie. Follow? OK, great.

All this leads up to the night before the climactic final battle, when Bella and Edward are sharing a tent at the top of a mountain (I cannot explain why). Freezing, because it’s snowing and they’re at the top of a mountain, Bella has Jacob and his 108-degree body temperature crawl into her sleeping bag. This leads to what is both the most awkward and possibly best scene of the first three movies — Edward and Jacob in a tent, discussing Bella, her future, and their respective feelings for her. As I watched, I felt the emotional investment growing, and I could tell that I’d been compromised. The next morning, when Jacob learned that Bella and Edward were getting married and she kissed Jacob, I had to stop myself from having an audible response. For the past five hours, all I’ve seen is this guy there for her when she’s needed it most, and when the only decent thing is for her to cut him loose, this is how she’s going to do him? Oh, and there was a battle scene where a bunch of vampires were eviscerated by werewolves and other vampires. But she kissed Jacob! So not OK.

Breaking Dawn — Part 1

We’ll get to weddings, speedboats, sex, and chess, but first, let’s take a minute to talk about demon babies. Well … OK, maybe we should get the other stuff out of the way.

For the final two installments of TwilightBreaking Dawn Parts 1 and 2 — Summit was looking for a big-name director to bring it home (the other three directors: Catherine Hardwicke, Chris Weitz, and David Slade). A few names were floated, and eventually they landed Bill Condon of Dreamgirls fame. I can only assume they went with the first person who’d made a movie they’d heard of and would say yes, but the upgrade was evident from the start. Bella and Edward’s wedding was easily the best part of the series so far, thanks in large part to Charlie. The look on his face as he walked Bella down the aisle, and the comedic chops in his speech later on, gave the whole situation the right combination of gravity and levity. I was laughing. I was a little choked up. The whole thing made me wonder if they were pumping something through the vents into the theater. (This is again where I mention that I’ve been compromised and probably have no authority to see this with clear eyes.)

Jacob shows up and there’s a bit of drama, but the wedding ends without bloodshed, and Bella and Edward jaunt down to Brazil for their honeymoon. This is where most of my questions come in. First, where do the Cullens get all this money? Does being a doctor in rural Washington bring in the type of cash it takes to own an island getaway off the coast of Brazil? Where did Edward learn how to drive a speedboat? Is he James Bond? Is James Bond a vampire? Wouldn’t that make a lot of sense?

They arrive at the island paradise and finally, after about 400 minutes of trembling lips, deep gazes, and blatant euphemisms, there will be sex! Well, after K-Stew spends an hour getting ready. And they skinny dip in the moonlight. Then there’s sex! What happens on camera is all pretty tame, but we soon learn how it really went down. A broken bed and two horrified housekeepers later, Bella ends up with a few bruises — an unsurprising hazard while getting down with someone who can throw entire trees and stop careering cars with one hand — and Edward decides that they’re done doing it until Bella gets turned into a vampire. Obviously, the best way to deal with these types of urges is to play a lot of chess.

And now comes the demon baby. Apparently, a result of the little sex the two had is a devilish spawn growing inside Bella at an alarming rate. The reaction from just about everyone is, “Umm … how did this happen?” The reaction of the wise, native housekeeper is simply, “Death.” That seems to be how it’s going to go for most of the movie. For some reason (I tried to wait out the explanation before running to the bathroom, but those 180-ounce Diet Cokes do a number on the bladder), the werewolves want the demon baby dead. Meanwhile, the demon baby is too strong for Bella’s body, and it’s slowly killing her. I have no idea how much meth would be required to make a normal-looking human appear as awful as K-Stew looked during this whole ordeal, but I’m assuming it would be more than someone could carry alone. At one point Jacob wisecracks that maybe Bella should start drinking blood. And she does! And it works! Demon baby appeased! Sort of. It was still touch-and-go for a while, and as Bella’s bones started to break, it was time to get that thing out.

It needs to be understood that the end of this movie is one of the more horrifying things I’ve ever seen. (Warning: This gets bad.) Things go from Alien (demon C-section followed by Edward gnawing a baby out of his wife’s abdomen) to Pulp Fiction (needle full of vampire venom to the heart of a lifeless Bella) in about five minutes. Everything about the scene — from the shot of everyone standing over her, to the sickening screams, to the splashing of the blood — was disturbing beyond explanation, all topped off by Pattinson holding his newborn daughter with his wife’s blood covering his face while she lies lifeless on the table. At one point, I actually let out an “Oh my god,” most likely in the heat of the stomach-chomping. I can’t be sure. I’ve tried to forget as much about it as I can. When Bella’s newly red eyes shot open and the movie ended, I sat quietly in my seat for another 10 minutes. There are things we can’t unsee.

Breaking Dawn — Part 2

My phone had died about halfway through movie no. 4, so when the final half-hour break came before the finale, I was left with nothing but my thoughts and the three-song rotation I’d heard 50 times that day. Before last week, I had no idea who Youngblood Hawke was, but now I hate them and their music with every bit of my being. I didn’t have a clock, but it was easy to tell we were getting closer by the volume of people in the theater. The numbers had grown over the course of the day, and by now, it was almost full. Another lone male viewer had joined my row, and by movie five, he seemed as interested as I’d become.

The knock on Breaking Dawn — Part 2 is similar to the issue people take with the others in the series: that it lacked appeal for those unfamiliar with the story. Lucky for me, I was about as familiar as someone can get in one day, and when the finale reached its ultimate battle, I was all-in. How that battle comes about is of only minor importance, mostly because it’s an amalgamation of every other conflict in the first five movies. Wesley from 30 Rock and Demon Dakota Fanning bear down on the Cullens when they hear about a child vampire, which apparently are forbidden because they can’t be controlled. When they come to find that the child is actually half-vampire, half-human, a few still want to have it out anyway.

There’s no sense in spoiling it for those who haven’t seen the movie, but we’ll just say that the final battle, while not Helm’s Deep, is pretty impressive. If I’ve ever seen more decapitations in one sitting, I’d have to spend some time thinking about when. More notable than the death toll was that I was affected by the demise of each character with whom I’d become familiar. Again, no spoilers, but seeing casualty no. 1′s head roll across the snow was not something I was ready for.

I found myself happy for those who got happy endings. In the fourth movie, Jacob ends up saving the demon baby’s life when he “imprints” on her. According to werewolf law, no werewolf can harm anyone another has imprinted on. And although this means Renesmee (I’d hate to see the other entries in the Big Book of Demon Baby Names) is spared, it also means that the 18-year-old werewolf is in love with an infant. It’s not nearly as creepy as it sounds. The result is Bella, Edward, Jacob, and the demon baby all becoming one big, monster family.

Maybe it was the lack of clock or that I’d become delirious from all the poorly rendered werewolves and time in the forest, but the last movie hadn’t seemed two hours long. As others have said, the final installment was clearly the best, but I’m not sure that would’ve mattered. Aside from my issues with New Moon, rarely had there been a moment all day when I felt like this was some sort of punishment. The appeal of the story had become clear sometime earlier in the day, and as the credits rolled and a shot of each actor from the series accompanied his or her name, I think I was as happy as anyone else to see the characters from earlier in the day. Applause came with most of them, but none louder than for Pattinson. I had to agree. After some early time on Team Jacob, it was hard not to be on Edward’s side by the end of it all. They really were soulless mates, and there’s just no messing with that.

Filed Under: Movies, Twilight

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Robert Mays is a staff writer at Grantland.

Archive @ realrobertmays