What Made The Twilight Movies Bearable Was How Meta They Were

If you look at all five Twilight movie posters, you can see the tone slowly shift from almost painfully serious (vampiric Edward looming over frail Bella) to ridiculous (werewolves and vamps charging across the snow in the final battle). This change reflects the movies’ eventual descent into entirely meta self-awareness, making 2012’s Breaking Dawn, Part 2 into nearly a parody of 2008’s Twilight.

By the time that Twilight first hit theaters, Stephenie Meyer’s novels were already a literary and pop culture phenomenon. Fans breathlessly awaited the first movie adaptation; and like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, it was almost entirely by-the-book. But as Summit Entertainment released each subsequent sequel, it became clear that the Twilight movies have two very different audiences: the “Twihard” fanbase, and those who see the films ironically.

This latter subset attended midnight screenings to observe the fans who cheered when Taylor Lautner inevitably took off his shirt, cried when Edward told Bella he couldn’t be with her, and—in light of this summer’s Kristen Stewart/Robert Pattinson cheating scandal—booed the series’ heroine at every turn in the last movie. But at the same time, these detached audiences depended on these unintentionally hilarious moments as landmarks of a typical Twilight movie.

So the producers started making them intentional. Around the time of 2009’s New Moon, which is also when the Team Edward vs. Team Jacob battle lines were drawn on-screen, the dialogue became more self-aware. Whereas Twilight had several lines that prompted stunned laughter—“Hold on tight, spider monkey!”—they were moments of levity in an otherwise dramatic film. In New Moon, a similarly ridiculous line from Bella casts her as the mouthpiece for screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg:

Jared: These are trade secrets! She runs with vampires!

Bella: You can’t really run with vampires. They’re very fast.

The meta levels hit record highs in 2010’s Eclipse, thanks in great part to director David Slade. Rosenberg made a smart choice in having the two male leads snark at each other as proxies for Team Edward and Team Jacob. Like when Edward literally hands Bella off to Jacob, who happens to be standing around shirtless in the middle of winter:

Edward: Doesn’t he own a shirt?

I still remember our audience roaring with surprised laughter. Later in the film comes the series’ most self-aware moment: While hiding in the mountains away from Victoria and her army, Bella starts to suffer hypothermia since she’s, you know, human. Edward tries to warm her up, but to no avail since he’s colder than her. The only solution is for the hotblooded Jacob to take over, but it doesn’t help that he’s snarky about it:

Jacob (to Edward): Let’s face it, I am hotter than you.

Everyone in Breaking Dawn, Part 1 cannot stop talking about Bella losing her virginity, because the fans couldn’t stop ruminating on if the honeymoon scene would match the book, broken headboard and all. Consider quotes like this directed at Bella before and (poor thing) during her wedding:

Emmett: I’d like to propose a toast, to my new sister. Bella, I hope you’ve got enough sleep these last 18 years ’cause you won’t be getting any more for a while.

However, the best one-liners come from Jacob. Rosenberg has clearly decided that since he couldn’t get the girl, Jacob would stand in for the fans.

Edward: Jacob just had an idea.

Jacob: It wasn’t an idea. It was more of a snide comment.

Later, he gets the chance to snark some more when Bella confides in him about her choice of name for the vampire fetus currently consuming her from the inside:

Bella: I was playing around with our moms’ names — Renee and Esme — and I was thinking, Renesmee.

Jacob: Renesmee?

Bella: Too weird?

Jacob: Um.

As I mentioned in my review, Breaking Dawn, Part 2 has its fair share of head-scratchers. When tackling the thorny issue of Jacob imprinting on Bella and Edward’s daughter Renesmee, Jacob seems to be talking more to the fans than to his future mother-in-law:

Bella: You imprinted on my baby?

Jacob: Bella, it’s not what you think. Nessie and I—

Bella: You nicknamed my daughter after the Loch Ness monster?

Bella here stands in for the fans, many of whom derided this twist as way too bizarre when Breaking Dawn was first published in 2008. A similarly random scene, again starring Jacob, is when he has to reveal himself as a werewolf to Bella’s father Charlie. As PopMatters points out in their review, Charlie is strangely nonchalant as Jacob strips off his clothes—exasperated, even. His impatience reflects all the audience members rolling their eyes at how obvious this franchise has gotten with making Taylor Lautner show off his abs.

Of course, to some extent Stephenie Meyer must know how absurd her series is. Consider that the most memorable line from the first book is this exchange between Edward and Bella:

“And so the lion fell in love with the lamb…” he murmured.
I looked away, hiding my eyes as I thrilled to the word.
“What a stupid lamb,” I sighed.
“What a sick, masochistic lion.”

As awful as the Twilight movies are, you have to applaud the producers for realizing early in the process that their initial plan of churning out supernatural dramas wasn’t viable. They embraced how ludicrous the source material was and made some pretty campy movies.

Because the films were more comedic by nature, inserting more dramatic and/or violent scenes—like that fight scene in Breaking Dawn, Part 2—were much more effective because of how unexpected they were. (Also, that fight scene is a clear callback to the WTF-worthy baseball game from the first movie.) By tapping into less what Twihards expected and more what the haters were going to movie theaters for, they wound up pleasing both.

Natalie Zutter is a playwright, foodie, and the co-creator of Leftovers, a webcomic about food trucks in the zombie apocalypse. She’s currently the Associate Editor at Crushable, where she discusses movies, celebrity culture, and internet memes. Weekly you can find her commenting on pop culture on KoPoint’s podcast AFK On Air, and on Twitter.


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