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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

wtf: I wasn’t looking for ‘Gandhi’ in ‘Twilight’ — were you?

Screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg talks to The Wall Street Journal about all the mean meanies who make her feel bad because her scripts for Twilight movies — her work includes Twilight and New Moon as well as the upcoming Eclipse — kinda suck. And not in the cool vampire way. Waaah!:

“It’s tough,” Ms. Rosenberg said of the drubbing “Twilight” and “New Moon” took in the press. “It sinks in a lot more than the praise. It speaks to the inner demons that say I’m a hack anyway. I have to not listen to it.” The films are clearly critic proof: “You’re not wondering if the fans will show up. They will,” Ms. Rosenberg explained.

Still, she admitted that the “Twilight” movies “are not trying to be ‘Gandhi.’ Is it high art? No. But it’s not trying to be.”

I certainly wasn’t expecting high art from Twilight, but how about low art? I do kinda find the idea of fantasy vampirisim sorta sexy — lots of women do. So I would have been happy with a sparkly-vampire-boyfriend franchise that was a cheesy guilty pleasure. But the first two Twilight movies have just been boring, and it doesn’t look like Eclipse will be any less boring.

But, so what? The movies aren’t to my taste, but clearly they are appealing to many, many people. I get Rosenberg’s fear-of-the-inner-hack thing, but it seems a little disingenuous at this point. She was brought back to write Eclipse, and now she’s working on the two-part Breaking Dawn. If you keep getting rehired — and at, presumably, ever increasingly obscene fees — there’s really no reason to complain. If you really worry about being a hack, use that money to subsidize work on something truly meaningful and important.



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  • bats :[

    I think Rosenberg has done a good job translating the Twilight books to screenplays. Because, honestly (and having read all four novels), they are sluggish, mawkish pieces of writing.
    If this is damning with faint praise, so be it. Anyone who is inspired to read the books after seeing the movies, hoping that the books “will be better,” will be disappointed.

  • Alli

    If you really worry about being a hack, use that money to subsidize work on something truly meaningful and important.

    Like Dexter, which I enjoy a lot (though season 3 pretty boring, but last season was awesome).

    I think Melissa Rosenberg does the best she can with bad source material. Fans complain about the dialog or the lack of Edward in movie 2, but IT’S IN THE DAMN BOOK. There is no plot until page 350 in the first book. Every time there is a battle, Bella is either unconscious or simply not there, and is later told what happens. So I don’t blame the writer for crappy movies when you’re desperate to please the rabid fan base of a poorly written series.

    I have heard, however, that this movie is more like a horror film, which will really irritate the Twilighters, but might be fun for everyone else.

  • Eli

    Did you read the book?
    Melissa Rosenberg cut or shortened Edward’s scenes but give more screentime for Jacob. The only removed Jacob’s scene was in the end when he shows his jerkish side.
    People who didn’t read the books thought that this is Jacob’s and Bella’s love story.

  • Alli

    I read the first one, and have spoken to many people who have read New Moon, and they all say the same thing regarding how much Edward was in the book. What exactly did you think that book was about? It’s about Jacob and Bella forming a friendship after Edward ditches her, and that friendship becomes complicated. Bella then spends the next two books jerking him around. That’s the point of the book: to introduce a second fantasy scenario where two hot boys are obsessed with you instead of just the one.

    Even if Edward scenes were cut, how would it have affected the plot? Isn’t it kind of sad that the success of a film according to fans is based on how much screen time Robert Pattison has? If you want to complain about crucial scenes being cut from films that affect future plot points, talk to a Harry Potter fan. But, since there is no plot in any of these stories, I don’t see how cutting out all the dialog in Italy really changes the outcome of a story.

  • Is it high art? No. But it’s not trying to be.

    Okay, honestly, can we retire this lame excuse for producing crap? The Evil Dead wasn’t trying to be Gandhi, either, but it’s still a great movie. Even an action film needs a smart script to be any good, or at least not terrible. People who use this excuse are blaming the genre they work in for their own failure to produce something decent. ‘It’s not me! [Insert genre title here] can’t compare to Citizen Kane!’

    The endless number of genre titles that have and will continue to outdo [Insert ‘high’ art film title here] doesn’t seem enough to put this excuse out of its long-overdue misery.

    I think Melissa Rosenberg does the best she can with bad source material.

    I disagree. I think her script for Twilight is awful because it’s essentially the book cut for time (though it does at least introduce the villains before the last fifteen minutes, for all the good it does). If they were going to do that, they might as well have just aped Stanley Kubrick and gone without a script, giving everybody a copy of the book.

    A screenwriter’s job is to write a good script. ‘The source material sucks!’ is not an excuse. See Jaws, Total Recall, Conan the Barbarian, The Hunt for Red October, Dr. Strangelove. (Not all of the source material for these films was awful, but each film was a marked improvement over its source.)

  • Abhi

    I think it says a lot about her writing skills and appreciation of movies in general that her prototypical example of ‘high art’ was Gandhi!

  • A screenwriter’s job is to write a good script. ‘The source material sucks!’ is not an excuse. See Jaws, Total Recall, Conan the Barbarian, The Hunt for Red October, Dr. Strangelove. (Not all of the source material for these films was awful, but each film was a marked improvement over its source.

    While it was an enjoyable film, there is no way Conan the Barbarian was a marked improvement over the Robert E. Howard stories.

  • Total Recall was an improvement over the original Philip K. Dick story? I’ll admit that Dick’s stories aren’t for all tastes and that part of me actually preferred Blade Runner–or at least the version that ends with Olmos’s final quote–to Do Electric Androids Dream of Sleep? but Total Recall always struck me as a remarkably dumbed down piece of science fiction whose director has a bit of a “It’s not like I’m making Gandhi” complex himself.

    But then I’m not really a big fan of that director. It seems like whatever source he’s cribbing from–Hitchcock, Heinlein, Dick, Ellison, etc.–he always acts like he’s sneering at the type of Americans who would prefer such work over his own Soldier of Orange. Which wouldn’t be so bad if he seemed capable of topping the original material but all too often I get the impression from his work that I’m watching the European equivalent of the Scary Movie guys–not capable of making a good genre movie on his own terms unless he deliberately plays it for laughs and calls it a “satire.”

  • Total Recall was an improvement over the original Philip K. Dick story?

    Yes, if only because “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” is one of Dick’s weaker stories. Verhoeven attempts a mindscrew, suggesting that the action-packed part of the film might not be real but instead Quaid’s having been lost his mind during the memory implantation process. It doesn’t really work, but it’s an interesting approach, a good ten years before that sort of science fiction became cliche.

    I deliberately didn’t choose Blade Runner because I think both the novel and the film work very well in their own quite different ways. That said, many would point to Blade Runner as an example of improving on the source material.

  • These people (the script writer, the actors) rented out their talent for a big check, a big fat check probably more than any of us will ever make in our entire lives (if they had a decent agent). They should cash out and stop whining.

    Hey, Rosenburg! Those aren’t your inner demons! That’s your inner angel scolding you!

  • deering

    “I have heard, however, that this movie is more like a horror film,”

    Hee–making BREAKING DAWN into horror films would be a vast improvement, since the book is a horror already.

  • deering

    IIRC, Stephenie Meyer has script approval on this franchise–and Summit execs. don’t want changes from the books because of the rabid TWILIGHT fan base. Result: writer’s nightmare. And even though Rosenberg is earning ungodly sums, I’d liefer be a blood donor myself–that kind of banking your talent for four-plus-scripts-worth of crap is bound to tell on ya at some point.

  • MaryAnn

    ‘The source material sucks!’ is not an excuse.

    Indeed, it is not.

    IIRC, Stephenie Meyer has script approval on this franchise–and Summit execs. don’t want changes from the books because of the rabid TWILIGHT fan base. Result: writer’s nightmare.

    If this is true, then Rosenberg is right to worry that she’s a hack. Because the situation is the very definition of hackitude.

  • Matt C

    J.K. Rowling has script approval over the Harry Potter films. However, she’s far more lenient than Meyer with letting the producers and screenwriters truly adapt her books into workable, cinematic screenplays. The screenwriters did an effective and brutal job of paring the fourth and fifth books down into workable films.

    Boil it down to this: J.K.R. wants the films to be true to the spirit of the books. Meyer doesn’t want too many cuts or changes — she wants 80-85% of the book into the movie, no less.

  • deering

    “If this is true, then Rosenberg is right to worry that she’s a hack. Because the situation is the very definition of hackitude.”

    Heh. I can’t imagine why she’s sweating this, then–she knew what the deal was from the start. And it’s not like she was going broke writing for DEXTER. And why, for the love of God, would anyone think they could get anything remotely resembling a good movie out of such lousy material?

  • Matt C

    And why, for the love of God, would anyone think they could get anything remotely resembling a good movie out of such lousy material?

    You can make a good script out of lousy material. Dramatic licence and making these characters independent and intelligent.

    Heck, you could use the same story but punch up the dialogue and give the characters some development. There was only one scene in “New Moon” where it looked like Rosenberg knew what she was doing — actually building a nice rapport between pre-buff Jacob and Bella in the garage.

    Such a shame.

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