It’s the day teenage girls around the nation have had pegged to their Edward Cullen calendars and Bella Swan diaries since the phenomenal success of the Twilight film franchise began in November last year. Tonight is the night. Chapter two of the Twilight Saga, New Moon, is released in cinemas to sold-out screenings across the nation.
Despite being reluctant to be drawn into the Twilight hype only a year after being unwittingly subjected to the dribbling mess of the original film, I take up a female friend’s offer of a last-minute ticket to the midnight opening screening of its sequel with almost instant regret.
But there’s no sign of regret left as we pull into the Village Cinemas car park; only hesitation and trepidation, as the ominous hissing of hundreds upon hundreds of excited young girls come within earshot. It was hard enough finding a car park remotely close to the cinema entrance, but enduring the Twilight brigade becomes positively unbearable as the clock moves closer to midnight.
On the way in from the car park we spot one car sporting a numberplate reading TEAM-ED, which I later learned is a reference to fans supporting one or the other of Bella’s monstrous suitors. Odd considering most of these die-hard fans have read all the books and know how they end. Nearby, two parents are pulling their children—around five or six years old—from their SUV, obviously beyond their bedtime and in serious need of a Red Bull shot.
As the entrance looms, the crowds thicken with gaggles of young girls huddled in their obsessive cliques, Twilight merchandise and all, as otherwise entirely normal-looking people walk by with painted faces adorning imaginative slogans such as ‘I <3 Jacob’.
This is the heart of the Twilight phenomenon. These are the people that led to New Moon to a record-breaking opening weekend at the Australian box office, where it earned more than $16 million. In the US, it’s takings were $US140.7 million, the third highest of all time after The Dark Knight (2008) and Spider-Man 3 (2007)]
These people are what the Urban Dictionary describes as Twihards:
“A serious/obsessive reader of the Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer, one leap above Twilighters. The difference between being a Twilighter and being a Twihard, is that Twihards have embraced a new Twiligion based on Twilight. They live and breathe Twilight. Point out one thing to a Twihard, and they can relate it to Twilight instantly. Savage and wild, they need every single thing to be perfect in the upcoming Twilight movie.”
And tonight, the Twihards are out in full force, selling-out midnight screening sessions in cavernous cinemas across the country with such fervour that there has to be some serious vampiric night-dwellers in the crowd.
As we enter our local multiplex and come face-to-face with lines that stretch so far I can’t see where it begins, a female employee greets us by asking what team we’re on. I answer with a blank face, much to her annoyance. “This film has teams?” I finally reply as she rolls her eyes and moves on to a group of girls behind us who are far more receptive, professing with excitedly raised voices their love for Edward Cullen, the vampire suitor, or Jacob Black, the werewolf suitor, to the series’ protagonist Bella Swan.
We arrived late apparently, an hour before the film began, and are met with stories circulating through the crowd of obsessed fans lining up as soon as school finished. No biggie, Village has reserved seats to this spectacle of female geekdom, which begs the question why there are lines at all. As we join the queue for the 12:30 session, the second ‘midnight screening’ of the night, excitement hits fever pitch as excited girls – an unusual number of them over 40 years of age – jostle for position in the four-person-deep, 200-metre line that stretches all the way outside the multiplex.
Cinema employees look like deer caught in headlights as the velvet rope floodgates open. At the theatre entrance another line awaits to rip our tickets before entering the theatre. Once inside, another line awaits for an usher to show us to our seats. We finally make it to our seats as the almost-full theatre waits in noisy anticipation for the lights to fade.
Despite nearly every person in the audience shelling out exorbitant amounts at the concession stand, a cinema manager wearing a suit makes an announcement that anyone who buys from the in-cinema concession carts will be put in the draw to win a New Moon poster. Almost every seat in the theatre empties as they rush to the ushers standing near the entrance, starting another monstrous line that delays the film another 15 minutes.
As the lights finally dim, deafening cheers erupt before being met by hissing hushes as Bella’s voice fills the theatre with voice-over. The girl next to me recites the lines religiously, and seems upset when she’s relegated to a passenger in the story as the voice-over concludes. Just as in Stephanie Meyer’s novels, the female audience are encouraged to surrogate themselves into the story as Bella, which isn’t hard to do considering the character is vapid, vacant and devoid of any recognisable human emotion.
However the males in the film don’t fare much better. Robert Pattinson struggles constantly in the film as Edward Cullen, despite announcing earlier this year he only had two scenes. His lusty protective stare makes him look even more like a creepy stalker than in the first film, while his airbrushed abs late in the film fooled nobody, with the theatre erupting with laughter as he exposed his sparkly midsection.
Speaking of abs, Jacob Black, played by Taylor Lautner, spent a hell of a lot of time in the gym since his throwaway role in the first film, and New Moon wants us to know, making him go shirtless at all times, even in the freezing rain. Giving the film it’s only real spark, aside from some inspired but hit-and-miss direction and cinematography, Taylor is the most likely of any of New Moon’s cast to have a future in Hollywood when the franchise runs out of legs.
As the film ends with its inconsistent and obligatory cliff-hanger, surprised gasps come from the crowd despite most of them knowing the books ending. The lights fade up and the theatre breaks out with the same inane chatter that permeated the lines, with the general consensus that New Moon was cinematic genius and the greatest film of all time.
It’s at this point I finally get the obsessive fangirl nature of the Twilight cult because I’ve done this before. Only four years ago I was at this very same multiplex, possibly even the same cinema, lining up at 9pm for a midnight session of the final of the Star Wars prequels. I ate up the same kind of unjustified hype, poor filmmaking and ridiculous characterisations that plague New Moon four years ago simply because it was Star Wars, and bad Star Wars is better than no Star Wars.
The backlash to the Twilight phenomenon is not due to the series’ lacklustre content – even though it may play a role – but because we’re not used to this type of rabid mass-fanboy following in a female audience. With women accounting for 80% of American box office takings for New Moon, the Twilight series has broken the misconception that a movie needs to appeal to all audiences to be a box office behemoth. The cultural phenomenon of Twilight is the first of its kind for females, one that may ultimately move female targeted films beyond the stereotypically inane romantic-comedies and further into the realm of genre film that New Moon flirts with occasionally.
The real triumph of New Moon’s opening night is not its exceptional box office performance, but its ability to break down the preconceived standards of the female-targeted romance film in much the same way last year’s The Dark Knight obliterated the stereotypical masculine-drenched action film. It may not be a well made movie, but New Moon proves once again that audiences, in particular female audiences, want more from the usual blockbuster film.
Michael Calle is an emerging journalist who is on the cusp of comleting his Bachelor of Journalism degree at La Trobe University. His previous upstart contribution was a review of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas for our #topjournobooks project. His blog is called TERMINALS.