Catherine Hardwicke Won’t Direct the “Twilight” Sequel. Thank Goodness.

I can’t help but feel sad at the news that Catherine Hardwicke’s been fired from directing the next installment of the Twilight franchise.

I disliked Twilight for a long, long list of reasons, and I’ll have to be paid well to bother seeing the sequel. But it’s not often that a female director scores a box office hit like this, and shouldn’t the studio show her some respect for giving them this year’s surprise blockbuster?

Having said that, while I feel bad for Hardwicke, I also think it’s probably for the best. Hardwicke proved herself a  talented director with her debut film–Thirteen. Since then, she’s been attached to projects that did not suit the strengths she demonstrated in her first outing.

She clearly sought to bring some realism to The Nativity Story, and that was the best thing about the film. But the story of the Virgin’s pregnancy, the heavenly host, the star in the east, and the Christ Child in the manger should be a pageant that inspires awe, wonder, and hope… and that movie did not. It felt trapped between “gritty” authenticity and Hallmark-card imagery.

Twilight was a silly, forgettable project to begin with. Sure, Stephenie Myer’s story appeals to almost everybody one level: It appeals to our desire to be told that we’re special. Who doesn’t want to discover that, for their flaws, they might still be loved and cherished by someone extraordinary?

But Myer’s particular version of that fundamental fairy tale is grossly distorted. It gave Hardwicke very little chance of turning those two hours into anything more than adolescent wish-fulfillment, reinforcing the  insecurities of awkward adolescents. (I’m grateful for Laura Miller’s article at Salon for shedding so much light on the Myer phenomenon. I’m also grateful for Steven D. Greydanus’s insightful examination, and Gina R. Dalfonzo’s piece in The National Review. And check out “How Twilight is Destroying America and Harming Our Nation’s Youth“, over at /FILM.)

It gave her an unremarkable paranormal romance with a maddening “heroine.” But wait… is Bella really a heroine? What does Bella ever do?

Imagine a revised Pride and Prejudice: This time Mr. Darcy chooses to pursue a girl who’s both sensationally glamorous and completely incapable of taking care of herself. He decides that she’s better than them all, but we see absolutely no evidence of why… unless we’re to assume that being hot has everything to do with being special. (Let’s face it: Bella is clearly the hottest girl in the school, but she’s just going to feel mopey and awkward and sorry for herself unless the school’s hottest boy validates her existence by desiring her above all else in the world.)

And this Mr. Darcy… he’s a Prince Charming who sucks blood from rodents and slaughters deer for nourishment. (Thank goodness, we never have to face that reality onscreen.) Moreover, in spite of living for hundreds of years, Edward’s stuck in a case of arrested development, adolescent emotionalism, and bad boy antics.

Just imagine if Mr. Darcy had decided to enable the heroine’s weaknesses by making all her decisions for her, taking her away from her family, and plunging her into moral danger. Imagine if he remained unconcerned about her obsession with him. Edward doesn’t do anything to help Bella grow and gain confidence. He just delivers her from one peril after another… perils that she never worried about before selling her soul to his reckless, self-absorbed pretty boy.

Meanwhile, all of those much more interesting characters in the background… characters who learn to cope, who take risks, who reach out to each other… they’re nowhere near as sexy, and ultimately they’re just not as special either. In this movie’s aesthetic, the couple that looks most like a Gap commercial are the pair who most deserve our sympathy and support — and Gap Boy saves Gap Girl by declaring her the hottest of them all. This film actually affirms that it’s not half-bad to yearn for the company of the coolest clique in school, and that if they accept you, life will be so much more exciting than it is for all of those boring, unfashionable classmates.

Now, if Edward and Bella became the villains in the sequel, I’d suddenly be a big fan.

But I’ve strayed from the point… which was this: Why waste Catherine Hardwicke’s talents on this?

The realism of Thirteen seemed like a perfect fit for Hardwicke. I completely believed in the relationship between Holly Hunter and Evan Rachel Wood in that film. That was a movie that blazed with emotion and authenticity. And it might have even served as a meaningful challenge to mothers and daughters, encouraging them make better choices and forge stronger relationships.

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  • Mara

    I just wanted to tell you that I’m an almost 15-year-old writer and disliker of the Twilight series (for all of the reasons you listed above-I find the characters infuriating and full of cliches), and it means SO much for me to see writers who agree with me. Granted, I know there are a lot more people who dislike the Twilight books than I’m aware of…seeing as my friends who are fans are all part of the target age group…but it was still really encouraging to see your feelings for it. In fact, your feelings for it just convinced me to go ahead and buy your books (I found the recommendation via Sara Zarr’s blog); I’m really excited to read it, because what you said, I’m sure your heroine is a great character, and I’m excited to (finally!) read about a character I admire.

  • Gaith

    From what I’ve read here, Jeff, I’ve little doubt that you’ve authored a character girls can be proud of. ;)

    A crucial thing about these Twilight movies is that that Edward kid shouldn’t age, so in a sense the studio would be imperiling the franchise if it didn’t gear up the next installments asap. I don’t therefore necessarily think Hardwicke’s departure an injustice.

    And that same blog you cited has just reported Chris Weitz may be the replacement. What an irony that’d be! Warners is sitting on some 45 min. or more of “Golden Compass” footage, though there are rumors that many effects remain incomplete. I only hope that if Weitz took this gig he’d front the necessary funds to finish a “Compass” Director’s Cut, as the theatrical release, as you correctly noted, was choppy and badly paced.

    I’ll certainly be staying tuned…

  • Might I offer Auralia as an alternative to either Lyra or Bella? :)

  • Gaith

    Hear, hear! And a hearty cheer to all those who passed up the seemingly grotesque (and also female-directed) “Punisher: War Zone”.

    I’m delighted to see you repeated criticize this franchise and its protagonist, Jeff, but I can’t help noticing that Bella seems to be the total inverse of Philip Pullman’s Lyra. Bella has chronically low self-esteem; Lyra has confidence and poise. Bella always needs rescuing; Lyra repeatedly saves herself through cleverness. Bella falls in love with a cad; Lyra with an equally brave and good-hearted boy her own age.

    In your “Golden Compass” review, you wrote that Lyra was portrayed as “off-puttingly shrill [and] severe, like the kind of girl who would constantly be in trouble for disrespecting her elders and breaking the rules.” I always thought this was somewhat unfair, as the character clearly lacked proper parenting, and while her accomplishments were certainly celebrated, her troubled past was not, unlike in “Harry Potter”, which often glamorizes being parent-less.

    Well, we won’t be seeing Lyra onscreen again for an unknowingly long time, but Bella will be back. I wouldn’t be so sophomoric as to ask you to choose between the two as your conception of an ideal heroine, but I still think you allowed your understandable anti-Pullman perspective to bias your view of the Lyra character.

  • YES! Well spoken!!!

  • My concern with Twilight was the unhealthy nature of the relationship, which I think came across even more in the book, but also somewhat in the movie as I found myself feeling a little uncomfortable. I read another article recently along the lines of “If only Twlight was more like Buffy” and I have to agree. Interesting thoughts.

  • Dan Cramer

    Her talents suited Lords of Dogtown surprisingly well. She had a great cast. Heath Ledger is unrecognizable as Skip. The leads Emile Hirsc, Victor Rusuk and John Robinson were perfectly cast. It’s not a perfect film. But it captures the youthful passion of the birth of modern skateboarding.

  • I’d forgotten about that film… and as I haven’t seen it, I guess I can’t comment yet.

  • Just wondering, have you seen Lords of Dogtown? If so, where does that fit on the talented-vs.-the-project-didn’t-suit-her-strengths spectrum?