[29 June 2010]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Their narrative ineptness is matched only by their performance inertness. Reality is routinely avoided for more manipulative teen angst and lover’s triangle trepidation. If it wasn’t for the fact that thousands of unhappy women and a some complicit males have turned Stephenie Meyer’s strangled stabs at writing into a full blown cultural phenomenon, we wouldn’t have to suffer through several cinematic interpretations of her junk genre interpretation of the romance novel. But this is Hollywood after all, a place where franchises are uncovered, established, fostered and then mercilessly squeezed for every last ounce of commercial potential. Not only will Meyer’s four excuses for novels be turned into five, count them five films, but we will have at least one more tome to worry about (the events as seen specifically from Edward’s point of view).
So how does a Twi-hater survive such celluloid swill? How do they find a happy medium between utter boredom and contempt for leisure time wasted and the need to… say… experience these excuses for entertainment with a potential paramour. The answer comes in the form of Rifftrax, the audio only offshoot of the Comedy Central/Sci-Fi Channel classic Mystery Science Theater 3000. Featuring the talents of cast members Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett and designed as a comic complement to the many bloated, big budget helpings of tripe Tinseltown delivers annually, this trio of snark specialists can find wit in even the most worn out and worthless motion picture product. Talking over the dialogue and delivering scathing satiric quips, they take the art of in-theater (or in this case, personal sonic supplement) interruption to genius levels.
The Twilight films definitely need it. At nearly four and a half hours, the first two entries in the series are like Young Adult Fiction on muscle relaxers. For example, the character of Jacob, a studly Native American and childhood friend of heroine Bella, is introduced at the beginning of the original Twilight. He shows up a couple of more times, his long black hair making him look like a reject from a parody of a J-Horror film. Ancillary to almost everything that’s going on during Part 1, he steps up in Part 2 to become Bella’s new beau, a member of an elite shirtless werewolf gang (?), and via insinuation and conjected cliché, a thorn in the side of his gal pal’s plans with vampire lover Edward. If this were a Lifetime TV movie, we’d get this plus about 37 other subplots before the inevitable ads for feminine hygiene products and infomercial kitchen gadgets.
But not Twilight and the more awkwardly labeled sequel The Twilight Saga: New Moon. The plot for each can be summed up in a single sentence: lonely teen babe Bella falls for the ethereal charms of “vegetarian” vampire Edward Cullen, much to the chagrin of shapeshifting childhood pal Jacob and a competing band of bad neckbiters who look like Eurotrash. The End. That’s right—add in a Anne Rice rip-off called The Volturi (undead royalty who rule the subspecies, apparently) and a moustached dad who has a hard time understanding his ghoul-craving daughter and you’ve got everything you need for nearly 270 minutes of meandering emo nonsense. Morrissey was never as mopey as this somnambulist stupidity—and he had a girlfriend in a coma.
It wouldn’t be so bad if the acting amplified the feeling of force storyline contrivance, but in the persona of Kristen Stewart, Rob Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner, Bella, Edward, and Jacob become escaped wax museum figurines. She can’t speak a single line without fluttering her eyelids like a silent movie star and adding huge trailer truck sized dramatic pauses. Blood-drinking he could teach the members of the mumblecore generation a thing or two about whispered indignation while our reluctant lycanthrope let’s his eyebrows and electric white teeth do most of the heavy lifting. Conversations between these three are like watching Alzheimers victims remember their past—painful, with significantly more lapses in logic than lucid moments. And when you stick them inside a story which is nothing more than masturbation fodder for the hard-up, homely, and horny, you’re bound to be disappointed—perhaps, suicidally so.
So how, exactly, does Rifftrax make this tolerable? How does it take the sloppy direction of the original, the dragged out nothingness of the sequel, the bland, faceless sense of worthless wish fulfillment and the feeling of having lost a significant slice of your life listening to losers whine about their interminable, endless love and turn it into something engaging and fun? Easy, call it “taking the piss out of the pathetic”, or “mocking the readily apparent”. Rifftrax can often degenerate into juvenilia, making jokes that should be left to the 14-year-olds and pandering right back to said demo, but for the most part, their extensive skill at slice and dice criticism highlights what many may overlook—or simply ignore. They will point out Lautner’s six-pack limitations, Pattinson’s pug-faced feyness, and Stewart’s incapacity to say a single sentence without breaking several times for multi-second thespian lapses.
They will pick apart Meyer’s Church of the Latter Day Saints sense of celibacy, balk at all the hushed asexual tension. When the Cullen clan invites Bella to their pre-thunderstorm baseball game (that’s right, the new world Dracula and his brood love them some national past time), the resulting confrontation with the creature feature version of Kajagoogoo is perfect farce fodder. Even better, Rifftrax turns the entire experience into a mixed meta media exploration, commenting both on the film itself and the obvious outside reaction to same. In both instances, the narrative track begins with baffling questions about the omnipresent impact of the franchise, the questionable attractiveness of the leads, and the general lack of intelligence, quality, talent, and overall value in the books and/or films.
Of course, trying to pawn these versions of the movies off on your Team Edward/Jacob significant other may be difficult. Luckily, you can transport these sound files to your favorite music machine. Just hook up the iPod, insert ear buds, sync up the spoofing, and enjoy an evening with veiled vampyrotechnics without any significant loss of brain cells—or scoring potential. Sure, your mate may wonder why you need a separate soundtrack in order to spend time with then (and you should really question any relationship that would expect Twilight to be a sensible shared experience), but at least you will survive… somewhat. While it’s clear that Rifftrax can be a hit or miss investment—their work on good films like The Matrix and JJ Abrams Star Trek are rather uninspired reaches—in the case of The Twilight Saga, it’s the only way for a Twi-hater to rebel against the growing cult of conformity.